An Epilogue

I did a panicked double-check this past Monday, worried that I had somehow miscalculated. Perhaps a miscount would send me on an emergency read of The Normal Heart or Moon For The Misbegotten. But here they are, 52 plays read and commented on in one year.

Hamlet, The Children's Hour, Machinal, A Doll House, A Dream Play, Living In The Present Tense, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The Laramie Project, Riders To The Sea, Lovecraft's Follies, A Night At An Inn, Frankenstein In Love, The Weird, Man And Superman, The Three Sisters, Doctor Faustus, Oedipus Rex, Our Town, Three Tall Women, Boston Marriage, The Little Dog Laughed, An Ideal Husband, Angels In America: Perestroika, Angels In America: Millenium Approaches, Civil Sex, The Crucible, The Piano Lesson, We Happy Few, Eurydice, A Lie Of The Mind, Take Me Out, The Brothers Size, The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, The Changeling, Three Days Of Rain, Aria Da Capo, Actor's Nightmare, Stage Directions, Exception And The Rule, Women In Arms, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Dancing At Lughnasa, DEAD CITY, Shining City, Riding The Bull, The Invention Of Love, Betrayal, Love Song, Topdog/underdog, Black Watch, The Guys, Waiting For Lefty

... and?

What'd I learn? How'd I change? What life lessons did it teach me?

It wasn't exactly a transformative experience. Harold Ramis won't be playing me in the blog-to-book-to-movie. Truth be told it became a slog for a few reasons. Other than a few notorious culprits, it wasn't the reading itself ... it was the blogging.

  • The writing became a chore because it fell in such a middle ground. I wanted something more compelling than a "thumbs up/thumbs down" but the pace and format didn't allow for a truly deep analysis. I tried to remain honest with my reactions, but often I had little reaction other than "another one bites the bust".

  • The scattershot reading list didn't help. I think more focus would have helped. Had I stuck purely to new plays, or to classics I've neglected, or even just reading the Shakespearean canon in a year I would have had a more cohesive experience (and blog).

  • As a corollary to that last point, I probably should have stuck to "new to me" plays at minimum. What can I say about The Cherry Orchard or Hamlet in 300 words?

  • I really wanted to have the reading lists out in advance so people could read along, but that proved to hamstring me. I should have tossed any vague themes, and merely read from week to week as inspiration took me. As it stands, I have a huge play reading list in front of me, consisting of the plays I wanted to read but never got around to.

Obviously I re-read some amazing plays I'd discovered before. But the year's discoveries? The plays I'd rush out and shove in anyone's hand who'd listen? Machinal, The Children's Hour, Love Song, The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, and Dead City.

This sounds like quite a bit of whinging, doesn't it? The fact is, I made a tangible goal and I stuck to it. Every week of 2009, I spent some time making myself a better theatre-maker, a better actor and director and teacher. Complacency can be so tempting. It's so tempting, especially as an actor, to sink back into that "primordial ooze" between shows and not continually work. This was an effort to awaken some of the drive to better myself that I used to have.

I think it worked, and the discipline helped me in many areas, as 2009 became a pretty good year: a farewell to smoking, 35 lbs. lost, landed a directing gig, was accepted into the Director's Lab, and played Macbeth.

And I read 52 plays.

... And Some Change

Of course, I didn't limit myself to just the 52 plays here, I had some others I read for various reasons.

Come On Over by Conor McPherson
Included in the Shining City paperback, this isn't a bad little "gotcha" piece about miracles and faith and Bad Priests. I read it because I had the book in hand and a bit of extra time to kill.

The Caretaker by Harold Pinter
Read for an audition at the Salt Lake Acting Company. Wasn't cast ... which does not affect my opinion of the play: it's good Pinter, but not great Pinter.

The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter
This is great Pinter, and was the fifth of those plays I read during April for the Plan-B/Meat & Potato Directors' Lab.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
God Of Carnage by Yasmina Reza
Various readings with friends in living rooms over a glass of wine. It' was a spring/summer of that in SLC.

Too Much Memory by Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson
Charm by Kathleen Cahill
Again with the reading for auditions at the Salt Lake Acting Company. Again with the not-being-cast. Both plays I'll look forward to seeing.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
In a very fast process, I had about 24 hours to prepare myself to read for an audition. Though I had read it many times, and been involved in two productions it's always worth a refresh. It's a lightning read - I think it was about 90 minutes total, and 90 minutes well spent as I ended up playing it for Salt Lake Shakespeare.

Amerigo by Eric Samuelson
Again with the reading for auditions. This time, with success.

Bumps by Eric Samuelson
Believing by Matthew Ivan Bennett
Written for the fantastic kids at the Theatre Arts Conservatory.

There may be some others I've forgotten, but I'm well over 60 on the year. Not bad.

(Yes, many were for auditions. You all do read the complete play before auditioning, right?..... Right?)


"Who are you trying to fool that you haven't read Hamlet before?" says Jerry. And he's right, of course. I've read Hamlet more than a few times.

But it's different every time I read it, like catching up with an old friend. I always find a different reaction to the text. This time I forced myself not to read the footnotes or any material other than the text itself. I'm a bit of a footnote junkie, which is why I love the Arden editions. But this time would be just the play, just my reaction to Hamlet.

My reaction? To question my own reaction.

I read the play as most "right-thinking" theatrepeople do these days. I read the play as a taut, plotted Jacobean Revenge Tragedy. It's a thriller and a murder mystery. It's an action flick much closer to Gibson than Olivier. "To be or not to be" isn't a meditation on suicide, it's a strategem designed to deceive the people Hamlet knows are spying on him. To me, Hamlet is a play of politics and surveillance and murder.

But am I just trapped in our "modern" interpretation? We like to think all those earlier generations that saw a lyric poem and a madman were wrong. But I wonder what Hamlet will be 100 years from now and what my granddaughter will think of my interpretation. We think we see so damn clearly, like we finally were the ones to figure it out. We think that the advice to the players reflects our sensibilities ... but didn't every generation?

We may have figured out our Hamlet, but Hamlet remains. It'll be their Hamlet soon enough. What will it be?

The Children's Hour

How have I missed this play? Even avoided it? I think I had assumed it to be a hoary old melodrama. But The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman is a wonderful script, with that polished-diamond craft of the Golden Age of Broadway. At the same time, though, there's heart and subtlety. When contrasted with the ham-handed sermonizing of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, there's some reality here. This could still happen today, and the play wisely focuses more on the small tragedies the a witch hunt can bring. Or even the small tragedies of unrequited love.

It's fun reading a play like this cold. I'm sure I should know what the received wisdom is on this play. I should know if what I read in that ending is what everyone else reads. Perhaps I'll try and find out at some point ... or perhaps I'll gladly keep my Children's Hour in my head.

(This wonderful photo is from a production at Southeast Missouri State University. Just a brilliant publicity image.)


Running late, I know. Extenuating circumstances, not the least of which being the imminent end of the project. I have one play left to read, and while I'm looking forward to wrapping up I am also procrastinating in order to stretch it all out.

Anyways, the nigh-penultimate play of the marathon is Sophie Treadwell's Machinal, an expressionist masterpiece that was largely neglected until a 1993 revival at the Royal National Theatre. Since then, it's made the rounds in reinvention after reinvention.

I just can't figure out why it was neglected. What an amazing script, one that flies off the page with rhythm and energy and excitement. Reading, I could feel the pulse of it all, an electric sense of the pace and beat of the the play. It's almost a musical, infused with jazz. (Speaking of which, has no-one done a musical adaptation? It seems like a natural.)

Part of it is, I suppose, waiting for modern theatre to catch up with this 1928 script. It must have seemed like an alien artifact dropped in amongst the landscape of the day. Now the open set, highly doubled casting, and epic storytelling style are part of our vocabulary and seem effortlessly modern. It is cold and beautiful and classic.


It's Christmas. A tree is being brought home, presents are being wrapped, and there are Christmas parties to go to.

Someone's lost their job, and is desperate to get it back. Desperate enough to blackmail.

Debt hangs in the air, weighing heavily: Over-shopping, and costs incurred from healthcare issues. Crushing debt that threatens to tear a family apart.

But it's Norway in 1879, not the United States in 2009.

How has A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen never struck me as being so current, so timely? Maybe I've never read it near Christmas before, because I don't think I even remembered it was a Christmas play. I thought the recent Mabou Mines production would overwhelm my reading, but it never came to mind. Instead I thought of this Christmas, Christmas in the midst of The Great Recession.

For every classic I read that makes me feel it's time has passed, there is another like this that reminds me there is art which transcends time and taps into a deep current that makes it relevant again and again.

(Much thanks to Eric Samuelsen for letting me read his unpublished, but should-be-published translation.)

A Dream Play

I feel I've been here before. I know I've been here before. Certain themes are emerging from a weekly playread, and one of them goes a little something like this: I imagine August Strindberg's A Dream Play blew minds when it premiered in 1901. A trippy hallucination of a dream state, it navigates a territory between music and theatre, eschewing narrative in favor of theme and tone. It is a disorienting read, as perspectives shift and stages are described which seem unbuildable. It is a mind poem, so throughly different than the naturalism he had built his career on with works like Miss Julie and The Father.

But it's not blowing my mind now. Could Wilson or Lepage have existed before Strindberg? Of course not ... but having seen them, Strindberg's first cracks in the naturalistic shell seem archaic and fumbling. Though there are moments of pure dream logic, too much gets filtered again through the logical mind and turned into on-the-nose symbolism that is heavy handed and unsubtle.

.... But I'd still love to have been in that 1901 Opening Night audience.