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.

Living In The Present Tense

Honestly, I shouldn't have picked this play. Not because it's a bad script - far from it. It's just that reading Living In The Present Tense by ian pierce is a profoundly strange experience of cognitive dissonance. I can't write about this script as a script because I can't step back far enough from that strangeness. "Cognitive dissonance" is the experience of holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously, so I suppose it's not quite the right word. I'm holding two contradictory timelines simultaneously.

I know this cast and creative team intimately. Or, rather, knew. These are all folks I worked with, and then separated from when I left Chicago. Theatre's odd like that (Anne Bogart talkes a bit about it here): we form these incredibly tight relationships, when then can become so transitory when we move on to the next show or next town. This is a play done by my theater family, and I can't help but see that alternate timeline where I'm not simply reading this script but am a part of it. Hence the cognitive temporal dissonance. I know this script almost as well as if I'd been there, but I'm also coming at it completely fresh and unawares.

This script - more than any this year - proves that a published playscript is a piece of amber, fossilizing and preserving the living contents it describes. It is a snapshot of a moment in time, the remains of an ephemeral event. I can almost see this production, hear every word, see each movement clearer than if I was watching a videotape of the proceedings.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

As I stated when setting this month up, I am very thankful for the complete works of William Shakespeare.

I am not, however, so thankful for The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by Jess Winfield, Adam Long, Daniel Singer .

I don't know I have a whole lot to say about it, either. I know it's incredibly popular, and have no idea how I've never seen it. I'm sure that, given enough actor charisma, it can play. But as a script it is ossification in action, a regretful setting down of lazzi that were probably great improvs, but are now simply Someone Else's Schtick. As a show ... I get the joke, but I suppose I can't image why I'd want to watch this condensed Hamlet over Tom Stoppard's The Fifteen Minute Hamlet.

Looking Forward

Here we are at the end of the road. Four more to go, and and I'll call it a year.

I won't be doing this again in 2010, so this last month is a goodbye to 2009 and a welcome to whatever comes next.

I initially considered using this month to look back on other plays by my favorite writers of the year ... but instead I want to look forward. I've made no secret that I fully intend to get back behind the producing/directing chair and I hope to make that happen in the next year. I've also made no secret that I am deeply inspired by the task of breathing fresh, clear life into classic work. I'm inspired by things like David Cromer's Our Town, the work of The Hypocrites, the Goodman's O'Neill Festival, and other reinventions of plays we might otherwise roll our eyes at. It's not something you can force: that's how you end up with crappy concept theatre like "Moon For The Misbegotten ... on the moon!" One of the keys is reading and reading and reading until that spark fires and you can suddenly see through the layers of accumulated cultural detritus.

December 7: A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen I won't be reading the version I've linked to, but an unpublished new translation by acclaimed local playwright Eric Samuelson. Can I read this without thinking of the recent Mabou Mines version?

December 14: Machinal by Sophie TreadwellIt's attracted both Moisés Kaufman and Sean Graney. Good enough for me.

December 21: The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman This is the kind of play that fascinates me, a play with an excellent skeleton that's become neglected because we think we know what it is. (I'm also reading it because I happen to know some fantastic young actresses. I believe part of successful producing is, in part, figuring out your resources and using them effectively.)

December 28: Hamlet by William Shakespeare .... because it's Hamlet.

The Laramie Project

Looking back, Rapier said the first "Laramie Project" changed Plan-B in every possible way.

"We really found our voice as a company that socially conscious theater really was what we do well. ... It was a unique, moving experience for everyone involved. It wasn't just another show," Rapier said.

I'm very thankful for Plan-B, and glad I finally found an excuse to read The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. I don't know it put the company "on the map" ... but it sure established a new map.

It's a daunting read, encountering it on the page: a sprawling list of characters and settings and perspectives. It's like the transcript of a documentary that was never made. Mary Dickson's Exposed is a similar kind of play: excerpts of interviews all very true-to-life. It's a fascinating form, this cross between journalism (or New Journalism) and theatre, especially when it includes the journalist(s). Laramie, in particular, gives a feeling of objectivity: a feeling that this is direct truth, that even a huge prose nonfiction work would be wrought with biases that don't appear here, because everyone is simply speaking for themselves.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a discussion with Moises Kaufman when he was in town for The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, An Epilogue, and this very feeling of ovjectivity is something he addressed. Because , of course it's bullshit ... in the best possible meaning of the word. The stage docudrama feels objective but once you cut, edit and arrange you are creating context and thereby commentary. There no sleight-of-hand here, as it's the nature of all journalism and all history. It's a fascinating form, and perhaps the perfect form for a socially active theatre that foregrounds issues. Theatre is a medium, not a message ... we needn't restrict ourselves to fiction any more than film or prose does.

Perhaps it's just my own reading experience this year, but I wonder how intentional this is:

The Laramie Project, Act III
The stage is now empty except for several chairs stage right. They occupy that half of the stage. [...] As the lights come up, several actors are sitting there dressed in black.

Our Town, Act III
On the right-hand side, a little right of the center, ten or twelve ordinary chairs have been placed in three openly spaced rows facing the audience. These are graves in the cemetery.

Riders To The Sea

The month of Thanksgiving kicks off with the wonderful Riders to the Sea by J. M. Synge (you can also find a free copy here). It's part of the work I'm doing in the Plan-B/Meat & Potato Lab, work for which I am incredibly thankful. There has been a perfect storm of events this year that kicked my theatrical ass into high gear, making the second half of 2009 unexpectedly fruitful in terms of my development. The Lab is one of them.

Now ... for Riders To The Sea. It's hard to encapsulate what I'm thinking about this play but at the forefront is the idea of compression. It's 10 pages in my edition, an extremely short script that probably runs at about 20-25 minutes maximum. There's such a tremendous amount of content in those pages, more than many modern plays manage in two hours (or an intermissionless 90 minutes) of stage time. There's been a continuing discussion in the comic book world for a while now about "decompressed storytelling", versus the traditional forms of the 50's and 60's that packed immense amounts of story and concept into each page (start here and here for some background). Probably the clearest example of theatrical decompression would be some of the work Robert Wilson does, stretching moments across time until they reform into metaphor. (In fact, I'd love to see a Wilson Riders To The Sea ... that'd be pretty mind-blowing.)

It has been said that the hallmark of poetry is a compression, the idea that every word chosen must be unpackable and crammed with meaning. In that case, Riders is a pure stage poem where each moment has layers of meaning and nothing is wasted. I seem to spend a lot of time on ten-minute plays lately, and it's a shock what you see what really can be achieved in under 10 pages of typeset text.

Lovecraft's Follies

Never judge a book by its cover.

But with a cover like that, how was I to resist? I think I dug this up at the fantastic Moe's of Berkeley years ago, solely based on that cover, and my twin loves of theatre and Howard Phillips Lovecraft. "What a Slam Dunk!", I surely thought.

I never actually read Lovecraft's Follies by James Schevill until just now.

I could tell you what it's about, analyze how its weird scripted-Happening aesthetic just never gels, hypothesize how those poor folks at the legendary Trinity Square must have reacted in 1970... but I might have to open it again and re-read some of it.

That's not gonna happen.

I feel like I just got egged.

Happy Halloween!

November Plays

Fall leaves, football, pumpkin pie ... and an end in sight for this project. It's a time to be thankful.

November 2: Riders to the Sea by J. M. Synge Though we're only a few meetings in, I am thankful for The Director's Laboratory, a partnership between Plan-B and the good folks at Meat & Potato. It has energized me like nothing else.(Riders is November's assignment for the class, so I'm also thankful I can double-up.)

November 9: The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project More than anything else theatrical, I am thankful for Plan-B Theatre Company. How would I have ever guessed that a move to Salt Lake would find me a truly exciting and inspiring theatre company, and a theatrical home? This is the play that put them on the map.

November 16: The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by Jess Winfield, Adam Long, Daniel Singer Because I am thankful for Shakespeare. If the theatre gods came down and said I had to choose: a life of just Shakespeare or a life of everyone but Shakespeare ... I'd choose those 38 or 39 plays. I'll pay my respects with this little ditty.

November 23: Living In The Present Tense by ian pierce Because I am thankful for my Chicago years, deeply thankful. I worked with an incredibly talented multi-hyphenate in those days, and one of those projects is fossilized in this book ... but I want to read where he went afterward.

November 30: A Dream Play by August Strindberg I am thankful for those nights when my delightful wife has baked something wonderful, and friends come over and talk about theatre and inspire me. This reading is a result of one such evening and one such talk and one such inspiration.

A Night At An Inn

A Night At An Inn by Lord Dunsany is exactly the kind of horror potboiler that I was looking for this month. Like Eric Samuelsen's Inversion that inspired me, it is unapologetic about its horror roots and does not hide behind a mask of pomo cynicism.

But unlike Inversion, A Night At An Inn is nothing more than that scare. Adventurers have stolen a gem from an idol, and are now hunted by worshipers trying to get it back. Worshipers .... and SOMETHING MORE! (Cue the violent violins!)

Dunsany was a smash hit on Broadway in the early 20th century, and A Night At An Inn was hailed as "one of the best one-act plays ever written". A staged Twilight Zone, it speaks of a time before television and movies when the theatre was the way we told stories - stories that did not need to be deep or profound ... they just needed to entertain. It's a blast from another theater.

I think I miss that theatre.

Frankenstein In Love

I was introduced to Clive Barker originally by some works of his that were adapted for the stage by Charley Sherman at Chicago's Organic Theatre. They were a fantastic evening of theatre, and led me to the stories which proved to me that there was much more to Barker than Pinhead.

He started in the theatre, however ... and I'd never read a play of his until now. Frankenstein In Love is a true horrorshow that marries Bananna Republic politics with the Frankenstein myth. It's a shocking and difficult read, as blood and brains and bodily fluids fill the stage. Everyone's a monster here: we're just choosing the ones we want to call hero.

It clear there's an attempt here to tap into the Theatre of Cruelty and Grand Guignol. But Barker's far more successful with the latter than the former. There certainly is a deep reveling in gore and blood, a visceral enjoyment of shock and disgust ... but there is no transcendence past traditional dramaturgy. Strip away the special effects, and you have a relatively traditional play where the bad guys lose and the hero gets the girl. The Theatre Of Cruelty works differently, specifically in its language and narrative. Artaud was talking about something more than Karo syrup.

But the Grand Guignol? Well, that works. It's a designer's playground, and the combination of the horrors of war with the horrors of horror make for a pretty compelling play. It's an intense evening, to be sure. I'd love to see it sometime, but I imagine it would be a pretty hard thing to be a part of, a difficult world to inhabit as an actor or director.

The Weird

The Weird by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa isn't exactly a lasting piece of theatre art that will span the decades ... but as a way to start off a month of Spoooooooky plays and cleanse the palette after Shaw, it couldn't be better. It's a collection of six short plays trading on horror and pulp ideas, strung together by a narrator that's a clear tribute to the Crypt Keeper.

Bloody Mary is the star of the bunch, cleverly riffing on movie cliches and urban legends while still building to a conclusion that should make any audience scream out loud. It's the curtain-raiser, and nothing afterwards quite matches that mix of fun and horror and theatricality, but the whole play is still pretty entertaining. I got a particular kick out of Swamp Gothic, which references Alan Moore's seminal run on Swamp Thing while also evoking Tennessee Williams ... then twisting the whole thing upside down.

It's simple fun, like a haunted house. And we shouldn't forget that thrills and entertainment is part of what we can do, too. We don't need to cede that to film: it's much more terrifying when the monster is in the same room as you, isn;t it?

(Pictured above is Jedadiah Schultz in the New York production of Bloody Mary. As if to prove theatre is a small world, he is also in SLC this weekend working with my favorite theatre company, Plan-B.)

Man And Superman

Well, now I can put this misbegotten month of plays behind me. I am well and truly off schedule ... but I'll catch up very soon. Expect the first of our month of horror plays to get read in the next day or two. This past month has been a bit of resistance training - it'll all seem easier from here on out. Something about this era just makes the reading slow going. Both Shaw and Wilde do it to me.

It's not that I don't enjoy the plays - I do. I truly regret that my acting career will pass without having played John Tanner, a role I'd love to have sunk my teeth into at some point. But as a reader, it's difficult to make these plays engage. In many ways, Man And Superman is about as dramatic and theatrical as the Socratic Dialogues. These are philosophies given flesh, and set to expound against each other. There's little development of character or plot, there is purely development of thought and language.

I wonder how it all played in the era it was written, an era where speaking tours and lectures were hot tickets, and intelligent conversation was the sort of aspirational behavior that people would want to see modeled on stage. I imagine it played like a house afire, but I don't know how it translates now.

ANN [Looking at him with fond pride and caressing his arm] Never mind her, dear. Go on talking.
TANNER Talking!
[Universal laughter.]


What is it with these guys?

Around 40 weeks into this thing, and I've been late once: Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband.

Make it twice now, because George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman has defeated me. To be exact, Don Juan In Hell has temporarily defeated me.

I'll be back on schedule soon enough, but really? Shaw and Wilde? What is up with that?

The Three Sisters

Is there any writer as aware of the weight of age and time and history as Chekhov? There are many playwrights who can look back on history and write a play putting it in context ... but Chekhov is writing plays in his time and of his time which place his present moment firmly in historical context. It's achingly sad, there's a sepia-tone to all these small, tragic characters, and I always think of the doomed Romanovs. Here's a passage from The Three Sisters, in the Eugene K. Bristow translation that I swear by:

TUZENBAKH. This longing for work, oh, dear God in Heaven, how clear that is to me! I've never worked, not once in my life. I was born in Petersburg, a city cold and idle, in a family that understood neither work nor worry. On coming home form military school, I remember there was even a valet to pull off my boots. At the time I was a bit silly - I'd say and do the first thing that came to mind - and my mother would always look adoringly at me. And she was always surprised when other people looked at me in a different way. I was protected against work. Only I doubt that the protection was completely successful. I really do! The time has come, something huge and immense is coming nearer and nearer to all of us - a strong, exhilarating storm is beginning to gather, it's on its way, it's almost here, a storm that will soon cleanse our whole society - sweep away all the laziness, the indifference, the prejudice against work, the rotten boredom. I shall work, and in another twenty-five or thirty years every person will be working. Everyone.

This is written in 1900, the Bolsheviks are still just a twinkle in Lenin's eye. The revolution is looming and the Romanovs will fall in 18 years. What must Chekhov have been like? How aware of the rumblings in the crust of the earth?

October Plays

Try not to be afraid. I know it's a shocking image, and could send you scurrying for the safety of your bed. Try to whistle past the graveyard ...

In Theatre Arts Conservatory's Student Slam 2008, Eric Samuelsen turned in a play that took me completely by surprise. What at first seemed a surrealist ensemble piece slowly transformed into a horror/suspense play, and it struck me that we've completely lost that in the modern theatre. Scary plays used to be a staple of sorts, and we've now happily walked away from the table and ceded the genre to television and film.

In honor of October, I'm spending the month looking at horror plays. It will be Spoooooooky, to be sure.

But there'll be candy at the end.

October 5: The Weird: A Collection of Short Horror and Pulp Plays by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

October 12: Frankenstein In Love by Clive Barker

October 19: A Night At An Inn by Lord Dunsany

October 26: Lovecraft's Follies by James Schevill

Doctor Faustus

The first Marlowe I read was Edward II, and it fundamentally influenced the way I saw him. I completely bought into the idea that he was a dramatist who could have outshone Shakespeare, and may have been the truly brilliant mind of his generation. I've read Edward II many times since, and my opinion of that play has never wavered ... but then there's Faustus.

This is Marlowe at his most maddening. Clunky "low" scenes (that may not actually be his work), wooden blank verse, and theatrical forms that seem like they are centuries before Shakespeare's best, instead of decades. The introduction is quick and dirty, then we plow through episode after episode where Faustus uses his powers to mock the powerful and satiate his own gluttony. There's no development of character, plot, or theme until perhaps the last monologues as Faustus must confront his fate.

But then there are these pieces of magic, of pure rock-and-roll that stick out from the text like a blaring beacon. Here is a playwright boldly exposing himself on stage far before it was accepted.
FAUST. How comes it then that thou art out of hell?

MEPH. Why this is hell, nor am I out of it:

Think'st thou that I, that saw the face of God,

And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,

Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,

In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?

FAUST. Tell me, where is the place that men call hell?

MEPH. Under the Heavens.

FAUST. Aye, so are all things else, but wherabouts?

MEPH. Within the bowels of these elements,

Where we are tortur'd and remain for ever:

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib'd

In one self place; but where we are is hell,

And where hell is, there must we ever be

And, to be short, when all the world dissolves,

And every creature shall be purified,

All places shall be hell that is not heaven.

It's electrifying and alarming and exciting. I don't know how you stage the rest of the play to match that cold modernity.

.... As a side not, as thinking about this, I came up with the following: let's compare Elizabethan playwrights to classic rock. So ... Shakespeare's the Beatles, right? Then Marlowe is Jim Morrison. I need to figure out John Webster and Ben Johnson.