10/20/2023 From the Bookshelf: DPS Broadway Book Club: Third Quarter Surge
NEVER SUCH A THING AS TOO MANY SCRIPTS
It has befallen my mind, on this gloomy October day, to render another series of Book Club Thumbnails, short peeks into a box full of theatrical gems, none of which had crossed my notice until this day, all of which await Atlanta productions. And, since I had to back out of wending my way through weekend construction to a Sunday matinee of an about-to-close show, and since my Alliance Ushering gig Saturday afternoon was a pre-opening (and therefore review-immune Into the Burrow, which was a true delight even in its not-ready -for-prime-time state), my opinion-starved laptop is left with sucking up the lamest of outputs – the thumbnail.
For those late to the party, script publisher Dramatists Play Service has started a book club, where, once a quarter, they will deliver to your doorstep a box of scripts, curated by an established playwright, brimming with talent and creative life force. I look forward to every shipment as, to put it bluntly, I love reading scripts, even those for plays I know not and may never see brought to life on stage. It is why I look forward to judging the Gene-Gabriel Moore Suzi Playwrighting Award every year. (Note to the Suzi staff – will that be happening this year? I’ve heard nothing yet…)
This quarter’s package was curated by playwright Lloyd Suh, whose Bina’s Six Apples was given a crackerjack production last year by the Alliance Theatre. All six titles were unfamiliar to me, and the seventh, Mr. Suh’s Charles Francis Chan Jr.’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery, equally unknown. All involved characters of an underserved community or ethnicity, all created moments of surprise and wonder, all were an unabashed joy to read, all deserve attention from local season-building committees.
So, forthwith are my thoughts on the fifth seven-script set. Once again, it didn’t take me long to read them all. And, because I must, there will be a pair of additional scripts from my July visit to NYC’s Drama Book Shelf as a post-wallow encore,
DESCRIBE THE NIGHT
By Rajiv Joseph
First Produced in 2014 in a student production at N.Y.U.
Produced by the Alley Theatre Co, New York City, October 2017
Plays about writing can be a delicate balance between self-indulgence and literary pontificating. This play avoids both those extremes by giving us 70 years of Soviet history from 1920 through 2010. Time is not a straight line here, scenes ping-ponging from era to era, character to character, in a style guaranteed to warm the heart of fast-change-weary costume designers. These are historical figures you can Google at will – we meet writer Isaac Babel and soldier Nikolai Yezhov, two whose fates are historically inevitable, but history can be malleable, especially when the records are created and kept and altered under an authoritarian state. And, of course, we meet their descendants, their friends, and those whose lives intersected with theirs. Mr. Joseph (whose Guards at the Taj was an earlier Book Club offering) is a dynamic writer and this one appealed to my sense of history and my sense of literacy. Want to be a writer? Describe the Night without using the words dark or black.
one in two
By Donja R. Love
Originally Produced by The New Group, New York City, November 2019
This is a totally original and compelling three-hander about a statistic. It is a truth statistically recognized that one in every two gay black men will be diagnosed with H.I.V. At rise, we see three nameless men in a theatrical waiting room. In due time, the audience assigns them characters, a man living with H.I.V. and every other person in his family and circle and experience. Since the selection is random, any of the actors can be selected for any of the roles on a nightly basis. This, of course, underscores the horrific sameness, the inevitability of certain experiences, certain evasions, certain couplings and mis-couplings. All are underscored and fueled by intense anger. Playwright Love is a black man living with H.I.V. so this play is from the heart, driven by an out-of-the-box creativity and theatricality that drips off every scene, every page. (Be forewarned, there is nudity and explicit sexual activity in this one.)
By Martyna Majok
Originally Produced by the Round House Theatre Co, Bethesda MD, September 2015
First New York Performance by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and Women’s Project Theater, New York City, March 2016
Set at a Bus Stop (a cold and streetside stop, not a warm and comfy café) by an abandoned warehouse, this is a vivid portrait of an immigrant woman left behind by the economy and struggling to find the connection between love and security. Two ex-husbands and a friendly man (of a profession I will leave for you to discover) interact with Darja in 1992, 2006, and 2014 (not necessarily in chronological order). Darja is a remarkable creation, a woman whose dialogue alters from Polish to broken English to heights of passionate lyricism. Ms. Majok is a major talent – her Sanctuary City was one of the 10-most produced plays of this year and her Cost of Living was nominated for a Tony this past year and won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize. This play is a singularly memorable achievement.
By charly evon simpson
Originally Produced by Vineyard Theatre and WP Theatre, New York City, February 2022
In the tradition of classic absurdist theatre, this play is a surreal riff on life as a black woman, on celebrity, on the pieces of yourself left behind by life, by men, and the screaming demands of an adoring public. The Place is described as “where the sand is / the beach should feel different than the desert”, the Time as “now. / after. / future.” And yet, it is affecting in a disarming way that emphasizes dry wit and surprising choices. A totally fun read, for those with a taste for the absurd, and for strong female characters. OTOH, I once directed a play requiring sand. Not an easy challenge!
By Mfoniso Udofia
Workshopped with the National Black Theatre in 2015
World Premiere at New York Theatre Workshop in 2017
Abasiama Ufot has two daughters, Iniabasi Ekpeyong and Adiaha Ufot. Adiaha was raised in America with her mother while Ekpeyong was taken by her father back to Nigeria and raised there. Ekpeyong is visiting Adiaha’s small cramped New York apartment. Adiaha has forgotten most Nigerian / Ibibio traditions and Ekpeyong has no interest in learning the new American traditions. What can possibly go wrong? This is part of a massively ambitious epic cycle about one Nigerian immigrant family, and this play is a perfect entry point. To be honest, it made me want to see/read the rest of the cycle (only one script is currently available – Sojourners, but two others have been produced, so it won’t be long).
By Leah Nanako Winkler
Originally Produced by Ensemble Studio Theatre April 2016
This one is a wonderful little portrait of an American mixed ethnicity family. Hiro and Sophie are the daughters of James, a mean white drunk and Masako a bright (if submissive) Japanese immigrant. Hiro escaped from their Kentucky home, but Sophie remained behind, becoming a born-again Christian, and is planning a wedding. Hiro comes back home, ostensibly to be a bridesmaid, but really to break up her sister’s wedding to bring her back to New York, by force if necessary. This is my favorite of this batch of scripts, primarily because of the vibrant characters and the sparkling dialogue. There are heroes and villains, and truth to tell, our main character has moments of being the villain. But the script is dead accurate with its portrait of family dysfunction and reconciliation. And, happily, there is another play with this family (God Said This) that I hope to read soon.
CHARLES FRANCIS CHAN JR.’S EXOTIC ORIENTAL MURDER MYSTERY
By Lloyd Suh
Originally Commissioned and Produced by NAATCO at Walkerspace, New York City, October 2015
This is not the first play in this series about the portrayal of Asian Americans in American popular culture – David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face was in a very recent reading binge. Here Mr. Suh tackles stereotypes and cross-ethnic casting directly, giving us a hokey Charlie Chan mystery – Chan played by a white actor, all the white characters played by Asian actors. He also gives us the actors in the play and their confrontation (usually on a daily basis) with false assumptions and self-stereotypes. This conceit is a brilliant construct, showing us every side of the preconceptions and paradigms and stereotypes that blind us to the depth of character and the real diversity that defines what it means to be “Asian-American.” This is a wonderful little play!
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!
In the meantime, here is a link to set up your own subscription:
Just as an addendum, here are a couple more scripts from my Drama Book Club marathon binge from last July.
LIFE OF PI
Based on the novel by Yann Martel
Adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti
First Performed at Sheffield Crucible June 2019 and at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, November 2021
US Premiere at American Repertory Theatre, Boston MA, December 2022
Published by Methuen Drama London
If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you may not be prepared for the sheer theatricality of this play that combines puppetry and projections all in support of its remarkable story. If you don’t know the story, Pi is a 17-year-old boy stranded on a lifeboat following a shipwreck. His surviving companion is a hungry Bengal Tiger. After reading this I had to watch the movie AND read the novel – it’s that compelling. If you can find them there are also YouTube videos out there with excerpts from various productions. A truly remarkable work that I MUST see on stage. Soon!
POTUS, OR, BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE
By Selina Fillinger
Originally Produced on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre New York, April 2022
Published by Concord Theatricals (Samuel French)
This is one of the funniest scripts I have read in ages – one that left me laughing like a loon, my wife worried that my age had finally rotted my brain. The president has said something that cannot be legally repeated anywhere (including here). Seven women in his orbit battle the press and each other to save his unworthy posterior. There’s his Chief of Staff, his Press Secretary, his secretary, his dalliance, his sister, a journalist, and the First Lady, This is (allegedly) their order in emotional proximity to him, which should give you a good idea of his personality. Full of surprises and non-partisan politics, this would be an asset on any theatre’s schedule!
As usual, thank you for indulging my Bibliowallow! There will be more soon!
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #DramatistsPlayService #LloydSuh #DramaBookShop)