What do you do when you come out into the dark after a good play? Do you go out and have dessert, or go home and have some of that sweet Honey? Does it make you itch to write? What does good theatre do for You?
Here are two examples:
Twists and Turns and Quirks
Playwright Martin McDonagh wrote drafts of all seven of his plays in a single year, 1994, at the age of 24. He had not written a play before and has not written another since. Six of those seven plays, the best known The Beauty Queen of Leenane, have been staged over the years—a pretty intriguing history for the writer of this very very dark social/political critique verging on a slasher/horror story. He also teases us with unanswerable questions:
What is the writer's responsibility for the actions of others that are based on one's imaginative creations?
How should a writer respond to the pressures that the State exerts on the process and products of the creative imagination through its various policing functions?
Where is the boundary between the realm of the fantastic and the mundane world of depredations daily carried out by both individuals and agents of the State?
The characters often directly address these issues, playing with the ideas, riffing on them and then laughing at us and each other about the whole mess. And of course not reaching any fixed conclusion, though they do settle briefly on some tentative ones along the way.
McDonagh sets the action in an unnamed totalitarian dictatorship after a writer of rather gory gothic short stories is arrested for possible connection to a series of murders of children, that mimic the murders in his writings.
He is told from the start he will be executed in an hour no matter what he confesses to the investigating police officers, so he'd just as well tell them "the truth".
What spins out from there, over the course of two and a half hours of stage time, is never predictable, full of twists and turns and quirks and wonderful language.
McDonagh's dialogue is a grand game that often evokes heavy laughter, though the subject matter is never funny. Rather it is by turns horrifying, unjust, traumatic and ghastly, expanding the border realm between reality and nightmare.
The Berkeley Rep staging is appropriately stark (except for the insistent flash-backs that might better have been left to the audience's imagination). The main players are uniformly excellent, with outstanding work by Tony Amendola and Andy Murray as the Good Cop/Bad Cop team of Tupolski and Ariel. Erik Lochtefeld, as the writer at the center of the action, and Matthew Maher, as his not-quite-all-there brother, carry the heavy dramatic burden of their scenes together with wit and grace.
All in all, this thoroughly engaging production of a challenging and scary play is the Rep's best work since the 2001 staging of The Laramie Project.
They Don't Always Have to Die
When we moved into the first house my parents actually owned, I was almost five. There were lots of kids in the brand new neighborhood. I latched onto Colleen, who lived two doors away on the corner, and my brother Phil latched onto Jack, who lived two doors down towards the creek. His was a Navy family: Jim, Bob, Jack, Lani, Tom (and later when they got back from a year in Japan, Jeannie.) The first three all played baseball and I think I was 'aware' of them in a bothersome itchy sort of way, but didn't know what to do with the information yet.
Jack didn't know either, of course. If he and Phil were playing catch in our backyard and I didn't have a mitt, sometimes they would dredge one up for me, and that's how I learned how to throw and handle a baseball. Jack got a sled for Christmas one year and we all tried it; no snow of course—it don't snow in Concord CA—but that was what he wished for, so that's what he got. We played until it was too dark to see, riding bicycles, hide-n-seek, something called 'Anty-Over' where we threw things over the house and they most always landed on the roof. Me & Phil got pogo sticks, and those were popular for awhile.
On a rainy day, there was marbles, which always made my right thumb-cuticle all sore from shooting. We had corrugated boxes with which we created a fancy two level western-style saloon for Phil's little plastic cowboys; we'd seen enough TV to know that saloons all had to have stairs going up to a walkway so the guys could fight and fall over the railings.
We had clay, too. When Jack was over and he and Phil couldn't go out, we had the kitchen table to ourselves and we invented stories with clay people. Our clay figures, because of their particular style, couldn't stand up or move about--they were more like tiny cadavers. When your clay was soft enough from being squeezed in your hand, you pinched off whatever you needed for torso, head, arms, legs. With toothpicks you made holes for the tiny eyeballs, and squashed a miniscule snake above each eye for eyebrows and such. At some point we all had adopted the gruesome habit of giving our people innards.
This drizzly afternoon, we didn't have any idea that my dad had turned on his reel-to-reel and caught one of our sessions. The audio reveals our innocence of both the world and human anatomy: Phil was fine-tuning the facial expression on his little man as though the guy was under the plastic surgeon's knife without anesthetic; I was busy carving out a womb for my figure and forming a miniature of her to stuff inside it. Of course this required the same kind of carefully crafted sheet of clay we used to seal in brains and hearts and stomachs and such. I was having a hard time with this bit.
Jack was seized with the idea of adding commentary to my poor pregnant lady's woes. He sent her off to the hospital complete with ambulance siren sounds, even though she never moved from her frozen place on the table. Upon 'arrival', Jack calmly announced to the figure, 'Lady, yer baby is Dead' causing me to cry out in anguish 'You guys always do that! The baby doesn't have to die! They don't always have to die.' Jack replied instantly 'Look, Lady! Yer baby! It's awake! It's crying for its momma!'
That's where the tape ends.