12/3/2022 From the Bookshelf: Dramatist Play Service’s Broadway Book Club: The Sequel
STILL NO SUCH THING AS TOO MANY SCRIPTS
Back on September 1, I offered some thumbnail sketches of seven scripts from the Dramatists Play Service’s New Broadway Book Club. Well, the second package has arrived, and, of course, was rabidly read by someone with more years than you can imagine and more free time than a sane person would tolerate.
This quarter’s package was curated by playwright Anna Ziegler (whose Photograph 51 was a favorite in the last batch). Her The Minotaur was included this time, and, truth be told, I liked all these scripts, and hope this column gives you ideas when planning future seasons.
So, forthwith are my thoughts on the second seven scripts (once again, it didn’t take me long to read them all):
GUARDS AT THE TAJ
By Rajiv Joseph
Originally Produced at The Atlantic Theatre Co in New York City June 11, 2015
It’s 1648. It’s India, and the Taj Mahal is about to be seen for the first time. Two guards, who are forbidden to speak, walk that razor edge that divides wonder and horror, friendship and betrayal, obedience and self. This is a gripping and funny play and includes an incredibly gory middle that will be sure to delight any theatre with an unlimited supply of stage blood and the ability to drain the stage. Those who remember the history of the Taj Mahal’s construction and the fates of its thousands of workers can guess the source of the gore.
By Brian Friel
Originally Produced by Roundabout Theatre Co in New York City December 26, 1995
I’ve actually had this script in hardcover form (from Fireside Theatre of course) since 1996, but it has languished on my “to read” pile since then. It’s a good thing said pile has no statute of limitations. That being said, this is an incredibly moving and challenging piece for three actors and groups with a penchant for Irish theatre (Aris?). Mr. Friel, who also gave us Dancing at Lughnasa and Philadelphia, Here I Come, has created here a compelling portrait of three characters – Molly, blind since infancy, Frank, her husband whose fondness for causes is more about self-aggrandizement than charity, and Mr. Rice, a “defrocked” physician who just may have the secret for giving Molly sight. A moving tapestry told in a series of monologues, this play shows us the distressingly huge gap between seeing and perceiving and the equally distressingly miniscule gap between reality and madness.
BRIGHT HALF LIFE
By Tanya Barfield
Originally Produced by the Woman’s Project Theatre in New York City 2015
Produced in Atlanta by Theatrical Outfit February 2022
(Sorry to have missed this production)
Two women, lovers and partners, must navigate decades of love and tension and the changing political landscape of race and marriage and parenthood and sexuality. Told with a non-linear sequence scheme, Vicky and Erica populate a moving tapestry of what it truly means to be a couple, highs and lows, joys and tensions, companionship and solitude. I really with I hadn’t missed Theatrical Outfit’s production earlier this year.
IF I FORGET
By Steven Levenson
Originally Produced by Roundabout Theatre Co New York City February 22, 2017
Imagine, if you will, August: Osage County with a quintessentially Jewish family. Patriarch Lou is dying and has long since rented out the family shop to an immigrant family who have turned it into a bodega. Son Michael has written a book denouncing Jewish obsessions with Israel and the Holocaust and has lost his University position as a result. Daughter Sharon is Lou’s caregiver and has made Passive-Aggressiveness a way of life. Daughter Holly wants to start a business but needs Dad’s store to set up shop. Add in a granddaughter who may need lifetime of psychiatric care, a grandson who is alienated from everyone, and gird your loins for a family encounter that will draw blood. With sharp characters, crackling dialogue, and some pointed monologues that get to the heart of Jewish identity, this is my favorite play amongst this group, and I am BEGGING any local theatre to dare to stage it.
By Nina Raine
Originally Produced at Royal Court Theatre in London, England, October 14, 2010
Billy was born deaf into a hearing family but was raised as if he weren’t. When he meets a woman who teaches him ASL, a whole new world opens up to him, and he begins to question his family’s choices. A moving, often funny portrait of the Us vs Them culture we seem to be hiding ourselves within.
SUITCASE, OR THOSE THAT RESEMBLE FLIES FROM A DISTANCE
By Melissa James Gibson
Originally Produced by Soho Rep in New York City January 24 2004
Two 30-something academic couples ride the razors edge of interpersonal negotiations, as the women do all they can avoid face-to-face contact with the men. This is a brilliantly-written piece, with clever, often musical dialogue filling each page with snippets of thoughts and ideas and songs. At one point, Ms. Gibson spends three pages just having the characters say each others’ names with a wide spectrum of nuance. Essentially, this is a play about intellectually brilliant adults who are unfortunately completely emotionally illiterate. A challenge for a set designer – two apartments and a stairwell leading up to them would defeat any small theatre – it is nevertheless a compellingly original piece that I won’t soon forget.
By Anna Ziegler
First produced as a joint production between Synchronicity Theatre Atlanta GA (October 26,2012) and Rorschach Theatre Washington DC (January 18, 2013)
A Rabbi, a Priest, and a Lawyer walk into a bar and tell us the age-old story of the Minotaur, the half-man half-bull monster betrayed by his sister Ariadne and slain by the arch-hero Theseus. Well, that’s what Ovid says happened. Our storytellers here are not so sure. A wildly original piece about love and family and treachery and defining the real monsters. What was I thinking in 2012 that I missed this? Oh yes, it was October – I was probably Netherworlding …..
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 in February with thumbnails of next quarter’s already-anticipated group of plays.
In the meantime, here is a link to set up your own subscription:
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #DramatistsPlayService #AnnaZiegler)