(Ignore the Typo in the Shipment Card Above. It's REALLY the FEBRUARY 2023 COLLECTION)
5/5/2023 From the Bookshelf: DPS Broadway Book Club: Scripts of the Third Order
NEVER SUCH A THING AS TOO MANY SCRIPTS
Last year, I offered some thumbnail sketches of seven scripts from the Dramatists Play Service’s New Broadway Book Club. Twice. The third batch arrived on my doorstep in February, and I semi-sorts-kinda put them on the back burner until the fourth batch arrived last week. I’m such a slacker!
So, last week I dove into the 2023 Quarter 1 selections, and hereby offer you similar thumbnails, the purpose of which is perhaps to stimulate ideas when planning your new seasons (and independent productions). I’ve already started reading the Quarter 2 treasure trove and will have another batch of thumbnails ready for you by Memorial Day. Maybe. I Hope.
This quarter’s package was curated by playwright Lucas Hnath (whose A Doll’s House, Part II was given a memorable co-production in 2018 and 2019 by Actor’s Express and Aurora Theatre, and whose The Christians has been staged often around the area). His A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney was included in this batch, and is especially relevant today, given the political tempest-in-a-teapot stirred up by Florida’s (here remaining unnamed) governor.
So, forthwith are my thoughts on the third seven-script set. Once again, it didn’t take me long to read them all. At least once I got started. Which did take an unusually long time:
SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHAMBER
By Adrienne Kennedy and Adam P. Kennedy
Originally Produced by the Signature Theatre Co at the Public Theatre in New York City February 1996
A young black man is pulled from his car in his own driveway by a white police officer and savagely beaten. The court case that follows is grist for this semi-auto-biographical play by Adrienne Kennedy and her son, Adam P. Kennedy to whom this all occurred. Both Kennedys work in the theatre, so you can be sure this play is soaked in the tropes and themes of Hamlet. Did I mention that this play was written and first staged in 1996, long before BLM and the Woke Generation? Depressingly still relevant, moving, and well-written.
By Laura Marks
Originally Produced by Women’s Project Theatre in New York City January 20, 2013
At the height of the foreclosure crisis, a young mother loses her home and is reduced to squatting in abandoned homes in dying neighborhoods. She is a salesperson at a Saturn Dealership. As her income is ONLY commission, she is working to “reel in” a potential customer with the lot’s highest-end model. But the buyer is not all he seems and may be just a little bit stalkery-creepery. But not half as creepy as the guy living upstairs at Crystal’s current squat. Who is Bethany? I leave it for you to discover. This is a sharply written, crackling little thriller steeped in our current housing crisis, and bathed in a familiar “I’d do anything for love” ethos. My favorite play of this batch.
EVENING AT THE TALK HOUSE
By Wallace Shawn
Originally Produced by the National Theatre of Great Britain in London November 24, 2015
First American Reading by The New Group in New York City February 16,2017
Wallace Shawn is a popular character actor who (‘inconceivably”) is also a playwright of edgy little plays designed to press buttons and shatter expectations. Here, the cast and crew of a failed play from twenty years past gather for a reunion of sorts. Some have gone on to greater fame, one has become insanely popular as a TV star, some have disappeared into obscurity, some are doing exactly what they were doing when Midnight in the Clearing With Moon and Stars opened and closed in rapid succession. Then there’s Dick who wasn’t in the production but wishes he had been. The evening starts with the typical theatre repartee and banter, but soon (and subtly) we realize we are in an alternate present where the government is strong-man fascist and “The Purge” may be just another job between gigs. Dark and memorable, I would LOVE to see this produced in Atlanta, especially because its brand of authoritarianism-at-any-cost is growing (depressingly) more popular.
THE AMERICA PLAY
By Suzan-Lori Parks
Originally Produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival March 1994
Produced in Atlanta by Actor’s Express January 14, 2001
Imagine, if you will, a “Great Hole of History,” a theme park in which great moments from the story of America are re-enacted for your entertainment. Chief among these is the assassination of Lincoln, which YOU are invited to perpetrate. Imagine, if you will, a “digger” of holes, the best ever, who is also is a dead ringer (pun intended) for Lincoln himself. Imagine his widow and orphaned son, sifting through the rubble of a failed new “Great Hole of History.” That, my friends, is the backbone of Suzi-Lori Parks’ sly and funny play. Is it a parable? An allegory? A rant? All of the above? As any self-respecting playwright would do, Ms. Parks leaves the answers to us.
By David Henry Hwang
Originally Produced by the Center Theatre Group / Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, May 10, 2007
Produced in Atlanta by DramaTech Theatre (Georgia Tech) November 8, 2019
A semi-autobiographical play, this is David Henry Hwang’s account of the brou-haha surrounding the casting of a British actor in “yellow face” in the American production of Miss Saigon. At least that’s how it starts. By play’s end, “DHH” (the character) has taken on the anti-Asian “purges” following the Wen Ho Lee affair and his own inherent racist blind sides. A funny, moving, and self-deprecating examination of the creation of a play, the one we are in fact reading now.
By Doug Wright
Originally Produced by New York Theatre Workshop in New York City November 3, 1995
Produced in Atlanta by Horizon Theatre in 1999
Produced in Atlanta by Mixed Revues at 7 Stages August 22, 2013
A “Grand Guignol” spectacle of the battle of wills (and morals) between the Marquis de Sade and a self-righteous religious man, set in a mental asylum against the background of France’s “Reign of Terror.” This is compellingly readable script and play focused on moral hypocrisy and over-the-top theatrical blood and gore. Hardly historically accurate, it is nevertheless a powerful work that cannot fail to disturb. What do YOU find offensive? What does that reveal about YOUR darker impulses? (Full disclosure, I was lighting designer for the 2013 Mixed Revues production, so I have the technical means to shine a (colorfully gelled) spotlight on my own “dark impulses.” And yes, I DID re-read the fresh script this week, just to refresh – sans notes and cues – my memory of the piece.)
A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY
By Lucas Hnath
Originally Produced by Soho Rep New York City May 10, 2013
Tonight, Walt and his brother Roy are going to read you a screenplay he wrote. It’s about his dream of building a city in the center of Florida. It’s about his legacy (why WON’T his daughter name her son after him?) It’s about a man with power powerless against his declining health. That he prevailed in his conflict with the State of Florida is a tribute to his acumen and his determination. That this 9-year-old play resonates even more today (thank you Governor ***********) is a tribute to Mr. Hnath’s skill and terse dialogue. Who wants to do a public reading of this one? And how did Disney’s lawyers let it fly?
I hope you get a chance to check out any (or all) of these plays and hope you find them as satisfying to read as I did. Better yet, I hope they create a desire to see them live on stage! I will be back SOON with thumbnails of the new quarter’s group of plays, curated by Jocelyn Bioh (and including her adaptation of Merry Wives, currently viewable on PBS Passport).
In the meantime, here is a link to set up your own subscription:
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #DramatistsPlayService #LucasHnath)