It came to me one night after a post-show hurrah during Durang/Durang.
The plan had been to do Shakespeare this fall – The Comedy of Errors at Raleigh Little Theatre’s amphitheater. Shakespeare and amphitheater go together like brie and bacon, and I was getting pretty fired up about the show. However, there was a problem.
The trouble was threefold:
- Hopscotch is at the beginning of September and SPARKcon is mid-September.
- Actor’s Comedy Lab is doing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at RLT at the end of September, and there is not enough parking for two shows.
- It’s cold at night in October.
So September was not possible and RLT was only available during October. No sweat, right? Find another venue. We’ve made a firm commitment to performing in Raleigh from now on – it’s where most of us live, and there is a relatively large theatre crowd here.
The only problem is that finding performance space in Raleigh is one of the most difficult challenges I face as a managing director, especially after the closure of Raleigh Ensemble Players.
Being a vagabond theatre company is a lot of fun, but also at times like this a royal pain in the arse.
Theatres in Raleigh in the fall are busy with their own seasons, and most don’t really want to squeeze another show in when they’re trying to rehearse and get ready for their next opening. Trying to book consecutive weeks in Raleigh and Durham makes it even trickier.
So it was time to do something different. I had already been wrestling with the idea of using non-theatre spaces, and the next best thing I could come up with was art galleries. Sure, they don’t have raked floors or lighting plots, but they understand the challenges of finding spaces and getting work seen.
I figured if we weren’t going to go big with a grand amphitheater show, we should do exactly the opposite. It was time to think of an intimate, funky show that wouldn’t need a lot of space, but that would make an impact.
That’s what occurred to me that Saturday night after Durang. Then I realized we shouldn’t do Shakespeare this fall. There’s at least four other productions of Shakespeare plays going on in the Triangle, anyway.
I thought about a show I had seen 17 years ago, one that I still remember because it made such an impact. It was an original adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s “The Leader,” an absurdist comedy about people excitedly (and blindly) following a mysterious leader figure.
“The Leader” is only about 10 pages long, but the production I saw had sliced up the script and inserted several original sketches and movement pieces, making a full length play.
Immediately I knew we needed to do this piece in the fall – right in time for the 2012 election.
Expanding the play will be a challenge, and it’s not what we normally do, but I think it will be a great experience. I’ve already got some ideas for clown pieces and vignettes that we can try out. We’ll spend the next few weeks playing theater games and work-shopping, and the ensemble will devise the show together.
I went to two of the fine ladies at ground zero of SPARKcon – the two Sarahs at Visual Art Exchange – and they turned out to be as wonderfully supportive as I thought they’d be. We have ourselves a show.
The Leader goes up October 25-28 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham and November 3-11 at Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh.
See you then,
With one week of rehearsal for DURANG/DURANG under our collective belt, we’re feeling good. We always manage to find great people, and Olivia has assembled a lethally funny crew for this show. There’s a lot of unique personalities, but with six short plays and 32 characters we need unique personalities.
When I tell people we’re doing DURANG/DURANG, the main question I get is, “What?” So I’d like to take this opportunity to break it down a little.
DURANG/DURANG is a collection of short one-act comedies written by Christopher Durang that was first produced in New York in 1994. The plays were not originally written together – in fact, “Wanda’s Visit” originated as a teleplay for PBS back in 1986. “Mrs. Sorken” and “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” had also been produced earlier in New York in one-act festivals.
Mrs. Sorken, the title character from the first play, lays the show out in her opening monologue. The first half is “Theatre,” and the second half is “Everything Else.” She then goes on to give a spontaneous lecture about drama after realizing she has forgotten her notes. Mrs. Sorken is one of those people that gives you the impression they like going to theatre, but don’t necessarily like it.
We included “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” in ONE NIGHT OF ABSOLUTE DISMAY back in February (check out photos on our Facebook page), and had so much fun doing it that it was a major reason why we decided to do the entire DURANG program. While it is a twisted tale of American dysfunction that is funny in its own right, it’s a spot on parody of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE.
I gave MENAGERIE a re-read back in January when we were rehearsing for DISMAY. I have to say it not only helped me catch some of the more detailed jokes Durang included, but it reminded me why that play is such a classic. It truly is beautiful and sad, and Williams has some really interesting stage directions that I did not remember from reading in high school (film projections for a play that was written during WWII?).
So, if you’re looking for a quick read of great American literature, give MENAGERIE a go (or re-read) and then come laugh at “Belle.”
While Durang makes fun of MENAGERIE’s Laura (Lawrence in “Belle”), you can tell he loves Williams’ script. The same cannot be said for A LIE OF THE MIND, Sam Shepard’s saga of abuse and Americana that premiered in 1985. Durang turns this into “A Stye of the Eye,” and proceeds to skewer what he perceives as some pretty pretentious theatre.
A LIE OF THE MIND’s original cast included Harvey Keitel and Amanda Plummer, and featured music composed and played by North Carolina’s very own Red Clay Ramblers. It received critical acclaim, but according to Durang it ran 4 hours and he couldn’t understand why it got the praise it did.
With “A Stye of the Eye” Durang blasts away at heavy-handed symbolism and theatre that really wants to be “real.” While the parody mostly focuses on A LIE OF THE MIND, he works in references to AGNES OF GOD and GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. If you haven’t read or seen A LIE OF THE MIND, feel free to pick up a copy (you’ll likely have to order it because our local book stores and libraries don’t seem to carry it). This may help you get the more specific references to the Shepard play, but reading this one is not required to enjoy “Stye!” Just come prepared to see some craziness and laugh.
If you’re feeling especially in the mood for reading, you may want to go ahead and check out John Pielmeier’s AGNES OF GOD and David Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. If you’d rather watch the movie versions, they are both critically acclaimed and have great casts:
That concludes this portion of the Bare Theatre Book/AV Club.
The second half of DURANG/DURANG is pure fun. “Nina in the Morning” is an Edward Gorey-esque portrait of a woman who has everything, and all the neuroses that go with that. Nina reminds me of the Norma Desmond character in SUNSET BOULEVARD, played by Gloria Swanson in the Billy Wilder movie. Her looks are fading and her children are pathetic (similar theme to “Southern Belle”?), and this short is hilariously twisted.
“Wanda’s Visit” is a favorite of mine. It is a classic “dinner guest from hell” story and Wanda is a force of nature. The PBS teleplay Durang wrote it for was for a show called “Trying Times.” It featured works from various authors that centered around “difficult, trying events,” and the original version was just called “The Visit.” It was directed by Alan Arkin and featured Swoosie Kurtz, Jeff Daniels, and Julie Hagerty. Mr. Durang himself played the waiter.
The evening ends with “Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room,” a humorous take on the business end of art. The central character – a playwright named “Chris” – is being pushed by his agent and a Hollywood mogul to write a script for a movie he has no interest in working on. The on-stage depiction of what this script becomes is truly not to be missed, and is an excellent closer for the evening.
We are really excited about this show. It’s not one for people who offend easily, but if you have an open mind and like to laugh at absurdity, we think you’ll enjoy it.
More info on Bare Theatre’s DURANG/DURANG: http://baretheatre.org/upcoming.html
We’ve gotten into a little tradition of winter one-acts in the last few years. Actually, with this being the third year, I think it will officially become tradition.
In the past, we’ve done lots of Shakespeare. We’ve even done seasons where we did nothing BUT Shakespeare. Don’t get me wrong – we love Shakespeare. But it’s not all we do. We’ve also done Pinter, Stoppard, Miller…great writers. However, the one-acts show came about because we wanted to do more than just modern playwrights’ works.
We wanted to do some stuff that no one had ever seen. At least, no one around here had ever seen.
I think Heather originally put the idea out there. I used to work with a company in Greensboro, American Distractions, that did nothing but original works. They were often short plays rolled into an evening with a theme of some sort: monologues about giving something up, a collection of plays that all took place in various storage units at a storage facility.
These were always popular shows over there. I personally think it can be really exciting as an audience member to walk into a theater and really have no idea what you are about to see. There’s an anything-can-happen sort of vibe that can be a very interesting energy to work with.
Bare Theatre’s first venture into the world of original one-acts was in 2010, with an innocently-titled show called Boys and Girls. The three plays that made up that program were so dark and disturbing, I remember looking around at the actors after our very first read-through and seeing the same look on everyone’s face. It was a horrified and yet excited expression that somehow asked “Are we really going to do this?”
In three short plays, Boys and Girls covered death, loss, grief, stalking, murder, abuse, drug use, rape…and then we let the audience decide whether to kill the main character in the last play (Carmen’s “Ask Him in the Morning”). Every other night, the audience passed judgement and decided he should die, in which case his scene partner shot him in the head with a pistol, leaving him face-down in his own blood. No curtain call. Sometimes the audience would clap, sometimes they would just get up and walk out in silence. All good reactions as far as we were concerned.
Last year’s collection was decidedly lighter, so we called it Oh Sh!t, It’s Another Evening of One-Act Plays. While there were some dark twists in the evening, most of the show was comedic.
This year, we are presenting another blend of twisted, hilarious and sad. It could only be called One Night of Absolute Dismay.
With this trajectory, I just want to call next year’s show Aaaggghhhhhhrrhrhhr!!!!!
Our main goal in choosing plays is that we want the directors and artists involved to really be passionate about what they are doing. We have found that trying to plug a season and hire directors to do plays they didn’t choose (and hence haven’t been thinking about) just doesn’t quite bring enough excitement to the project. This show is a lab of sorts, and we want to let the artists try some new stuff, push some boundaries, and go for it.
So, this time around we have three original works by playwrights who have more or less of a connection to the area, and a parody from a well-known author:
“Hot Greek Porn,” by Lucius Robinson and Rajeev Rajendran, is being created for this show and will be presented in installments throughout the evening. Drawing from material ranging from the pornographic films of Kostas Gousgouni to the dark agenda of the instigators of the European debt crisis, no one will be spared.
“Everything Seems So Plausible At 1 A.M.,” by Ben Ferber and Donnie McEwan, is a fast-paced short that, well, you really just need to see. Larry the Lawyer is awakened in the middle of the night by Bob the Banker, Sam the Surgeon, and Emily the Ex-Wife – all of whom need immediate legal advice and protection from a killer, who happens to be one of them.
“Letter From The Editor,” by Mora Harris, is a sometimes humorous, sometimes dark look into faith and belief. An affluent Christian married couple finds their faith in God and each other tested when the husband brings a homeless man into their house.
“For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls,” by Christopher Durang, is a demented twist on a famous play from his collection, Durang Durang. In this parody of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, fading southern belle Amanda desperately tries to prepare her hyper-sensitive, hypochondriacal son Lawrence for “the feminine caller,” who turns out to be a hard-of-hearing dinner guest invited by Amanda’s ambiguously gay son, Tom.
Rehearsals have been a blast so far. More details to come…