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Becoming Cuba Response

Let me start by saying, I really wanted to like this play. I know Melinda Lopez, I like her writing, and I like her as an artist and a human being. Melinda even gave my wife a children’s book when my daughter was born, and it is one of her favorites. I also find fictionalized explorations of historical moments to be incredibly engaging. Frayn’s Copenhagen and Democracy are two of my favorite plays from the last 20 years. I also find America’s complex history with Cuba to be fascinating, and worthy of dramatic exploration by playwrights of any background. I was ready to enjoy the work of an artist I admire. Unfortunately, I did not have the theatrical experience I was hoping to have. It is not that I actively disliked the play or the production, but neither lived up to the potential I saw for a moving and majestic piece of theatre. A piece of theatre that captured the spirit of Cuba, its long struggles to find freedom on its own terms (something that continues to this day), and the analogous Arab Spring of the modern era—a connection that Lopez herself makes clear in an interview.

And the thing is, I was set up for this kind of story from the moment I sat down in my seat in the Wimberly Theater at the Calderwood Pavilion. The very first thing I saw was a towering set (designed by Cameron Anderson), full of bottles that contain the agents necessary for the craft of a pharmacist. This was further augmented by the abstract images and colors that filled the backdrop upstage of the playing space. Interestingly, the pharmacy, owned by the deceased husband of the protagonist Adela (played by Christina Pumariega), did not fill the stage. It had space to the left and right, and was slightly elevated from the deck of the stage. While I did not understand why this was the case when I first saw the set, I quickly came to realize that the pharmacy was an island unto itself on the island of Cuba. Visual elements that I found viscerally engaging, that encouraged me to look for a similar reaction in the storytelling.

Additionally, as I followed Adela’s story, I was introduced to the world of Havana in 1897 via a gorgeous soundscape. The sound design (by Arshan Gailus) helped create a concrete world. The Havana outside the pharmacy’s walls was a very real place, full of simple occurrences and nation shattering events. The sound scape surrounded and buoyed the island that the pharmacy became.

Unfortunately, I never felt like the play or the rest of the production lived up to scope the scenic and sound design promised. I watched Adela reside in a generally detached state for most of the play. This does make some sense, as she was trapped/torn between the rebels of her family and the loyalty to Spain demonstrated by her deceased husband. But whenever the stakes changed, or called for new, strong emotions Adela would often fall into shouting—which just served to mudded the argument being made. There were multiple times that I literally could not follow the dialogue because the characters where shouting at and on top of each other. The shouting matches often occurred between Adela and her half (as we are repeatedly told) brother, Manny (played by Juan Javier Cardenas).

The relationship between Adela and Manny had the potential to match the scope the spectacle offered. Siblings who have lived all of their lives in war, who have lost their home and any sense of stability because of the war, but are not striving towards a solution together. Manny, a rebel fighting against the Spanish soldiers, argues passionately for the rebellion and what it means. He urges his sister to give up the safety of her pharmacy and join her family fighting the good fight. However, Adela’s husband died at the hands of the rebels, but not those with Manny. This is undoubtedly a hard sell, and Adela has every right to laugh in Manny’s face. But the argument never seems to go any further than that. I would have loved to have seen Adela dive even deeper into the atrocities of which the rebels were guilty—to present several, factual counterpoints to Manny’s attempts to persuade her. This way I would feel Adela’s long march to becoming the representation of her country, her march to becoming Cuba, matched the depth of the historical context that is the backdrop of the play.

I was drawn to the one American character in the play (and I really hope it wasn’t because I identified with the American, too cliche), Davis (played by Christopher Tarjan). In Act one in particular, Davis was witty and engaging, and deeply committed to getting the story of Cuba to the US—to encourage US engagement in the war. There were times throughout the play when I felt I was watching a more sympathetic version of Graham Greene’s Quite American. And I dug that. But then, at the beginning of Act II, it comes to light that Davis is deeply in love with Adela.

This addition of the love story brings the play to a grinding halt. Any momentum towards a change in Adela’s engagement with the war stops, and has to get moving again, which takes time. The love story became awkward on stage, and not because the characters were awkward.

Ultimately, I understand that both Adela and Davis are allegorical representations of their respective countries and the complex relationship that the US has with Cuba. I just wanted it to fit into the scope of the revolution more completely.

I think I was so dissatisfied with Becoming Cuba because there was so much potential for a deeply engaging show. And there were certainly elements that grabbed my attention (particularly Marianna Bassham as Fancy), which may add to my disappointment. I do hope the play has additional productions, and that those productions help the play find the deeper heart and potential I know the play has.

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Screenwriting Playwrights (and other LA Art Musings)

There is an old opinion looming over the state of theatre in Los Angeles that it is weak or insignificant but I can say firmly and with conviction and proof that the theatre scene is not dead, not even dying. It is electric and innovative and exciting. The artists there are daring and fighting to keep the scene alive. Even in the large, regional or commercial theatre scene, the artists strive for excellence, new plays are developed and seasons are created with an artistic consciousness, not solely to put butts in seats. On the opposite side of the commercial theatre, the 99-seat-theater agreement is alive and well in Los Angeles and is also a direct contrast to the flashy, exuberant film world. The intimate approach to the artistry brings out a different side and exciting potential in the scene out west. And it works with the industry there, not in opposition to it. What’s exciting about the future of the state of art in Los Angeles is that this connection and collaboration is on the horizon and extremely fruitful.

Playwrights writing for television is not a new thing- David Mamet, for example, did well in the film/tv world. But something about the forays of playwriting to screenwriting is exciting right now. The Los Angeles scene is full of artists, and one could be quick to say that all it is out there is “the industry”. Even playwrights now are making their way to the big screen for more job opportunities but also for different learning opportunities. Theater maker Sheila Callaghan speaks directly to this point:


SCRIPT: Do you find your process is different for writing theatrical plays, screenplays, and television?

SHEILA CALLAGHAN: When you’re writing plays, other people, their function is to serve the play, so you’re the boss. It’s your total vision, and you’re responsible for everything which is awesome and also a little terrifying. In TV,  you’re making this show in a room full of people, and hopefully they’re smart and exciting people like there were on my staff, and they compensate in areas that I’m not good at, like I’m not very good at plotting, I’m more of a character person. For screenplays, you’re getting a large amount of notes that are unreal. You have to be a writer, but you also have to be a superb interpreter. I think that’s the real craft of writing screenplays.

Her foray into screenwriting expands her knowledge of the form and deepens the learning process. It is an important clarification in the Los Angeles arts world to remember that the industry is not separate from artistic integrity. It has gotten a bad, shallow reputation but, as evidenced by Callaghan and many other playwrights find their art through the industry as well as the theatre scene. What also seems to be true from the HowlRound article is that while the industry can seem white-male dominated, the playwrights highlighted in the article that are finding their ways to the screen are women and playwrights of color who have had their work produced at many different ethnic theater companies. This is also possible in part to diversity programs instated by studios that have become aware of the overwhelmingly white male presence. These artists are cookin’ up some cool things for the screen and for the stage, keeping the LA arts scene sizzlin. The article’s closing sentence reflects my personal sentiment: “Their talent and diversity will both enrich our art and connect our theater to a larger culture of American storytelling.”

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50 Years of bringing new work to life

Thank goodness for TCG and their journal, American Theatre.  I began my subscription to American Theatre because I realized that I was very focused on what was happening in the Boston Theatre scene, but was not aware of what was happening in my art form in the rest of the country.  This was a problem.  American Theatre has helped rectify that gap in my awareness of the work in which my colleagues around the country are engaging.

The most recent issue brought to my attention that the O’Neill is rapidly approaching its 50th Anniversary.  I am embarrassed that I was unaware of that fact.  I am embarrassed because I did not allow my curiosity to drive me to the O’Neill’s website to take a look at what was coming up for the 2014 National Playwright Conference this summer.  I am embarrassed because I did not seek out the work coming out of one of the country’s best (and most egalitarian) incubators for new work.  I was fully unaware of how the process even worked.  That is no longer the case.  I have now spent time on the O’Neill Center’s website, and read about the submission process, and confirmed their commitment to bringing along the most promising new works possible, regardless of the experience of the playwright.

The O’Neill typically receives approximately 1,000 scripts during this month-long window. The plays are sent to readers across the country; the work is read blindly and narrowed down into a semi-finalist pool and then a finalist pool. This process is maintained by our on-site literary office and is monitored carefully.

The majority of selected plays come from this Open Submission process. Each year, there might be one or two invitations for a prominent playwright to participate. This policy has been in place since the inception of the Conference under Lloyd Richards. For example, in 2009, seven plays were developed, five of which came directly from the Open Submissions process, one from our international Irish project, and one from an invitation. In 2010, all seven plays were found through the open submission process, and for the past three years, seven of eight plays were found in our open submission pool, with one artistic invitation.

I find this level of commitment to seeking the best new plays, without barrier to be wholly in line with the work that I myself want to create.  And the O’Neill is striving to remove all barriers to submission–they are actively working to end the $35 submission fee (which doesn’t even feel like a giant hurdle to me, but I know it can be.  The O’Neill wants to remove it).

The submission fee is $35 dollars. This covers the costs of the process itself. The O’Neill is making active efforts to reduce this fee, including the establishment of the Wendy Wasserstein Endowment Fund. As funds continue to grow, this Endowment will eventually reduce and eliminate the fee, and will guarantee the process remains open in perpetuity, a process dear to Wendy’s heart.

All of this came to my attention through the excerpt American Theatre published from Jeffrey Sweet’s upcoming history of the O’Neill Center:  The O’Neill:  The Transformation of Modern American Theater.  The excerpt is from the beginning of the book, and I was so taken with Sweet’s writing and the story of the O’Neill, I was disappointed, on an almost visceral level, when the excerpt ended.  The thrill of the creative process, and the commitment to the craft of the playwright was present and necessary right from the start.  The history being made at that first conference is present on the page, and extremely exciting.  Of course some of that may come from the fact that Sam Shepard walked out of the conference in a huff.  He basically said, “F this noise,” and left.  From the excerpt

More confrontations came during a panel on criticism, which featured, among others, Boston eminence Elliot Norton.  Says Gagliano, “I seem to remember Eliot Norton bringing up Shakespeare and Sam Shepard getting up and saying, ‘Fuck Shakespeare! It’s not about him anymore!’”  Shepard left Waterford midway through the conference.  White shrugs at the memory.  “Landford tried to get him to stay.  But we served a great purpose for Sam:  He needed some place to walk out of.  I mean he really did.  To make a statement.  He was 19.”

One would think that I would have sought out the work that the O’Neill fosters based off of the scripts Contemporary Drama has introduced,  or the fact that I am invested in the future of American Theatre.  But I did not.  That has forever changed.  And I strongly suspect that Jeffrey Sweet’s upcoming history will soon find its way on to my bookshelf.

The O’Neill:  The Transformation of Modern American Theater will be published in May, 2014 by Yale University Press.

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A Response to Over There by Mark Ravenhill

I recently came across a Facebook story that documents how a young woman, Anais, who was adopted from South Korea and grew up in France, ended up finding and reaching out to her twin sister, Samantha, from whom she was separated at birth. A friend alerted Anais to a movie trailer which featured a young woman who looked just like her, and upon researching her IMDB article (Samantha is a working actress and an alum of BU’s School of Theatre program!) Anais discovered that Samantha was also adopted from South Korea and was born on the same day. Anais reached out to Samantha via social media, and the two ended up connecting via Skype, meeting in person, and launching a successful Kickstarter campaign to make a documentary of their story.

This remarkable tale got me thinking what it would be like to have a twin, especially one that I did not grow up with. The photos and commentary from the article show how close Anais and Samantha became, how they have so much in common, and how they talk all the time. My initial thought was that if I discovered I had a twin, I would freak out and have an identity crisis. All of a sudden, someone out there has my same face, birthday, and age; wouldn’t that shake up my idea of my own individuality? Though I suppose I could connect strongly with someone who I felt was very much like me, and it isn’t wild to think that surprise twins could connect so beautifully and so easily. All relationships are based around a strong degree of sameness, when you think about it.

To relate all this to theatre, as I was perusing the fare on Digital Play TV, the recording of Over There at the Royal Court Theatre caught my eye. Written by Mark Ravenhill and featuring the acting twins Luke and Harry Treadaway, it was part of a series called Off the Wall: a series of new plays about Germany. It premiered in March 2009 and follows two brothers, Franz and Karl, who were separated by the Berlin Wall when their mother fled from East Germany to West with Franz while Karl and their father stayed behind. Unlike Samantha and Anais, they spent their early childhood together and know the other exists, so Franz is able to visit Karl as he pleases, but Karl is not allowed to leave East Berlin and glimpse into Franz’s life. Karl does, however, hear about Franz’s house, young son, and career, so when the Berlin Wall collapses, he is ecstatic to experience Franz’s life for himself. At first, he is enamored of Franz’s world and all things West Germanic: he buys decadent food, spends quality time with Franz and his son, as well as dressing in Franz’s clothes and standing in for him at his job (unbeknownst to Franz on his sick day). After a while of enduring this, Franz takes a stand against Karl, asserting that he has his own life and that Karl cannot be him. This causes Karl to have an identity crisis and unravel, and the only way he can piece himself back together is to more boldly embody the Communist ideals and rhetoric of his father and East Berlin, thereby separating himself from Franz and his world.

This resonated with me both on a symbolic scale as well as a personal one. The meat of this play lies in the metaphor of the two brothers personifying a divided East and West Germany. As soon as the wall falls down, one of the first things Karl exclaims to Franz is “I get to be you!” rather than “I get to see you!” However, Karl has more trouble assimilating than he thought, and much like West Germany, Franz’s efforts to help Karl get back on his feet again were in vain because they were still too different to completely reconcile.

Their dynamic in some way reminds me of Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Both men come from privileged backgrounds, are of a similar age, and look alike. However, while Charles has managed to develop and adhere to a high moral code, win the love of Lucie Manet, and build a life for himself, Sydney has made the least of his gifts as a lawyer by way of alcoholism and his own blend of cynical nonchalance. It is only when he sees a man who resembles him in most aspects but who has done more with his life than he has that he is able to reflect upon his own choices and begin to become a different person. That is what intrigued me most about Anais and Samantha’s story; if I ever found my twin or doppelganger, would I compare my life to theirs? Would it hold up? Would it inspire me to make different life choices?

That is also what resonated most with me on a personal level when I watched Over There. Karl’s desire to possess all the wonderful things he perceives Franz to have – a great job, a nice house, and a son – is palpable at the beginning of the play. He is aware of his disadvantage in East Berlin, however much he ascribes to his father’s socialist values. He is eager to take part in and of Franz’s life until Franz abruptly reminds him, “You’re not me!” What must it be like to see someone who looks exactly like you living your dream life? Does Karl feel he is owed the same things that Franz has because they came from the same background and are essentially the same person? However similar Karl and Franz may be, though, they are not the same person. They are distinct individuals who happen to look alike. They have different values and desires, even if they have similar tastes. They even have different upbringings, although they come from the same parents. Much like the peoples they represent, East and West Germany have their own distinct experiences even if they can trace their heritage back to the same source.

I suppose that was one of the strange things I took away from this play: how appearance and heritage are not sole markers of identity. Life experience, as well as personal choices, have a much greater effect on personality. Anais and Samantha were able to establish a sisterly connection after so many years of separation, but it wasn’t just their past that drew them together; it was because the people they became still had a lot in common. For Karl and Franz, their shared heritage was not enough for them to mesh. They had to find a greater connection between their present selves, a shared bond, in order to have a successful relationship. And unfortunately, that just wasn’t present.

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Target Demographic

How on earth is my demographic (18-34 year-old, male, (and, let’s be honest, straight and white), or possibly 18-49, etc.)  still the most coveted in terms of sales, advertising, and apparently Broadway?  I really want to know, because I find it a bit baffling.  It can’t be because there are more of us.  Data indicates that in 2012 50.8% of the population in the US was female.  And today, the split for move going audiences is evenly split.  From Think Progress:

The gender split of American moviegoers is just about 50/50 for every age group, which means that women hold half the power of the wallet over which movies make money. Why wouldn’t they want to see a nuanced, realistic depiction of gender and race that they see in their own lives? After all, films aren’t only accessible to white men who want to see themselves depicted in every role.

And it can’t be because my demographic is the sole driver of the economy (no matter what marketers may think).  Two years ago The Atlantic wanted to make sure I understood that, “Sorry, Young Man, You’re Not the Most Important Demographic in Tech.”  The number of areas where women are the leading adopters of new technology is quite impressive.

  • Internet usage
  • Mobile phone voice usage
  • Mobile phone location-based services
  • Text messaging
  • Skype
  • Every social networking site aside from LinkedIn
  • All Internet-enabled devices
  • E-readers
  • Health-care devices
  • GPS

And yet, the New York Times considers men (not just those of us in the coveted 18-34/18-49 demographic) to be such an important demographic that they ran a story on page A1 of the Sunday, March 30, 2014 edition about how men are, “steering clear of Broadway.”  Please keep in mind that for the purposes of this article the New York Times really means straight men.

While men have been hanging back for years, their current scarcity, at a time when overall Broadway attendance is down, is particularly stark. Only 32 percent of audience members last year were men, or 3.7 million, compared with 42 percent (or 4.2 million) in 1980.

Of course this paragraph does require the reader to not think to much about math.  The 10% decrease in the number of men as a total of the audience for each year, for the years 1980 and 2013, is roughly 500,000 audience members.  And that is a big drop, but I am not sure that it should be panic inducing.  Especially since, despite the statement that, “overall Broadway attendance is down,” 2013 saw 11.56 million audience members, while 1980 saw 10 million.  Granted I did not do additional research for these numbers, I simply used what the Times provided.  4.2 million is 42% of 10 million (10 x .42 = 4.2) and 3.7 million is 32% of 11.5625 million.  Math!

The article then goes on to state that this season has not been any better

This season is not providing any relief. Yankees fans skipped the baseball-themed “Bronx Bombers,” which flopped fast. John Grisham guys passed on the adaptation of “A Time to Kill,” which closed after seven weeks. Among musicals, “Big Fish” was all about dads, and “First Date” sold shot glasses to underscore its dude appeal, yet both shows were strikingly poor sellers.

But the article fails to put the shows in context in terms of quality.  Were these good shows, to which audiences (or men, I suppose) just didn’t respond, or were they gimmicks intended to entice men regardless of the quality of the work.  We, and by we I mean audiences, are pretty good at sniffing out gimmicks, and “First Date” was clearly using a gimmick to bring in an audience.

I fail, however, to see why men (don’t forget this is straight men) should be so important that our absence from Broadway should warrant a front page New York Times article.  An exploration of a decrease in audience numbers overall, and an examination of the root causes (with some potential solutions), that is the front page story I want to read.  That speaks to the country, and the state of commercial theatre as a whole.  That strikes me as a conversation worth having.  A decline in just men, doesn’t cut it.  We are not, nor should we be, the final arbiters of success–both artistic and financial.  Appealing solely to men, for a theatrical experience, is clearly not worth it.

Yet appealing too exclusively to men can backfire. The lack of men at recent sports plays on Broadway — “Bronx Bombers,” “Magic/Bird” and “Lombardi” — surprised their producers, given the promotional support from the professional baseball, basketball and football leagues. (No leagues or teams put money into the shows, the producers said.) Tony Ponturo, a lead producer of the plays, said he and his partners were “taking a breath” before deciding whether to do another sports play.

“Tony Ponturo, a lead producer of the plays, said he and his partners were “taking a breath” before deciding whether to do another sports play.”  And perhaps that is the crux of the issue.  This all seems to be about business decisions and not the quality of the work.  What can sell?  Not, what can inspire?  And if you rely on just reaching out to men, even what you think can sell clearly can’t.

For a fun response to the New York Times piece check out this post by Paul Rudnick:  http://paulrudnick.com/secret/straight-men-and-theater/

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The problem with Privilege: A response to Witness: Uganda

A little while ago, I went to see the American Repertory Theatre’s production of Witness: Uganda. Last semester, I had seen a preview of the production that the writers, Griffin Matthews and Matt Gould (who is a BU graduate) did during the first semester, and I was hooked on the music and the story, and decided that if there was going to be any show that I saw in Boston this semester, it was going to be Witness: Uganda. The play relates the real life story of the writer/star, Griffin, who travels to Uganda with a mission organization to build up a school for the local children. He becomes distraught when he learns that the organization he is working for is not only not effectively helping the local children, but actually swindling money at their expense. His personal life gets involved as he tries to set up a structure where the children can get an education.

The play struck a nerve with me because like Griffin, I have participated in mission organizations before. Thankfully, unlike Griffin, the organization that I worked for, through the United Methodist Church, has found a way to responsibly and sustainably set up internships that are both beneficial for the local community and valuable learning experiences for the volunteers. All that aside, though, I related to the feelings that I wasn’t doing anything effectively and the frustration at the learning curve inherent in doing ministry in different cultures. I was an American, working in Hong Kong, with a population made up of almost entirely Filipina and Indonesian women, so that learning curve was exceptionally steep.

Voluntourism has been a topic that has gotten a lot of press recently, mostly because of an article that went viral to the max online a short while ago called “The Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys)”. The blog post discussed with complicated issues with doing aide work in the “developing” world. It explores how the impulse to go into poverty stricken countries and save the locals from their squalor stems from imperialistic attitudes towards the global South. As the author Pippa Biddle tells us, “On paper I am, by most people’s standards, highly qualified to do international aid. But I shouldn’t be. I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries.”

Witness: Uganda left me very conflicted regarding how the show dealt with that privilege. I keep going back and forth between thinking that it was a representation of dangerous savior mentality, and thinking that it was an honest exploration of the realities of international aide work. I thought it problematic that the only real perspective that is explored is that of the person in privilege, but would it be more problematic for the person in that position to have written on behalf of those he was serving? And wasn’t it at least honest that Griffin wrote only about his experience and didn’t try to tell someone else’s story? If the narrative wasn’t presented by the two educated, privileged Americans, would the story be told at all?

Like I said, I have done mission work before, and I will be working with marginalized communities in Cleveland next year. And I like to think that I do it sustainably and responsibly, with a focus on enabling local communities to continue the work on their own. In her voluntourism article, Pippa Biddle said, “I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother.” At the end of the day, what is most empowering about the play was that Griffin was able to find a way to use his talents (his art) most effectively to create sustainable change in Uganda, which was accomplished by empowering the children he was supporting to use their education for a greater good. I think that with a bit of further development, the show will really come into its own in exploring this issue with greater depth.

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Critical Response “The Flick”

Company One’s production of The Flick honored and illuminated Annie Baker’s story of three mismatched movie workers with great truth and passion. Baker’s fifth fully produced full-length play had its New England premiere at Company One this February, re-introducing me and the Boston Theatre Community to the powerful nature of Baker’s work. Company One is no stranger to Baker’s cannon, having produced The Aliens in 2010, and The Flick is a clear cut and graceful example of Baker’s writing philosophy: theatre should portray the truth rather than the hypothesized idea around the truth. The striking thing about her writing is that the play exists in the moments between: the reaching, and the stop starting of interaction. The poetry of human connection becomes clear.

Two of the dominant aspects in the performance were the space created and impeccable use of time. These two features of the play are noticeable because they are a union of playwrighting and production: what Baker wanted in her stage directions is the only way that this play could work, and Company One did a brilliant job illuminating these choices. They mounted the play with great respect to the script and story.

The production, at The Modern Theatre in the Theatre District of Boston, begins as the audience walks into the space to find their seats and sees dozens of other chairs mirrored back at them. As they puzzle where to sit and where the action is to take place, the set itself has already given a clue that the audience is to serve as an uninvited observer of the action. Having this layout present from before the beginning of the play puts the audience in a place of unease, initiating the idea that everything they are about to see is something that they are not allowed to be seeing. Because Baker’s text focuses on the intimate interactions shared between the characters, putting the audience in a place of the silent and unsolicited observer forces the audience to bear serious witness to the humanity of the characters and private moments of the play.

When Rose starts to kiss and touch Avery, it is clear that he is using the movie screen as his focus point to keep it together. However, because the audience is the real receptor of this moment, I not only felt pain for Avery in watching the scene, but I also felt like I was being forced to bear witness to something that I had not signed up for. Baker’s reflective stage encourages audience members to be actively uncomfortable in seeing personal moments between characters not usually seen onstage or in film. “The main characters in the play are a black guy, a woman, and a Jew (although I no longer make Sam’s Jewishness obvious). And that was important to me when I started writing the play”(Baker, Interview with Tim Sanford.) By putting the audience in a relationship that mirrors that of the characters, Baker is asking the audience to engage with the play in a way of seeing non-traditional characters and being on level with them: meeting them eye to eye.

The space also is home to another critically important character: the projector. The projector itself houses the 35 mm film which inspired Avery to being working at “The Flick” in the first place, as film is one of the few things helping Avery deal with his depression. The projector serves as another energy as it symbolizes moving up in the world of “The Flick” (Sam always wants to learn and is never given the chance, Avery gets to do it almost immediately, creating a large conflict between the two) but it also symbolizes something that each of the characters are looking for: a sense of authenticity. Avery, Rose, and Sam all struggle with who they are on the inside and how they are being perceived by one another. They struggle to convey the truth. The projector is what Avery considers to be the most authentic as it plays real film, which him has deemed better than digital. This is why he heavily identifies himself with the projector: it gives him a sense of truthfulness in a world made of “stereotypes” of people.

While the projector itself means very different things to the three of them, in the end, the ceremonial gifting of the projector to Avery is a moment of unity. Sam is giving away his goal from the beginning of the show to help Avery move past his depression and back into school. Avery accepts this as Sam’s unspoken apology for the dinner money fiasco and both of them talk about healing and moving on. The projector polarizes them and brings them together, and is authenticity in a world being usurped with new and “better” technology.

The three-hour play is spent splitting the difference between witty character building dialogue and moments of silent interaction and communication. The length in the New York production “polarized viewers” (Wallenberg), and maybe it’s Company One’s decision to divide the play into three acts instead of two, but the play earns every moment from Sam and Avery’s first entrance to Sam’s exit in the very last moments. This is due to the extreme bravery in Baker’s writing to create pauses and open spaces that speak more than her dialogue. Plays are calculated, by many, with how many pages of text they take up. Baker boldly writes in such a way that the characters are able to express potent truth in moments of silence and non-verbal interaction. I say bravely because, as a playwright, Baker must then trust that her words and the people producing the work are enough to create the dynamics within those pauses. In the Company One production, I saw the characters come alive in the moments of silence between one another and even between their own thoughts.

Baker’s work is unique in that the story is never rushed. She allows the characters time to warm up into who they are onstage in order for actions and interactions to happen that could have never happened early on. If Sam’s confession of love to Rose had come sooner it would have been shocking and brash, but because I felt as if I had been watching him pine over her for months, I knew it all needed to explode right then.

The text and production of The Flick fit together like popcorn and butter. Company One produced a show that allowed Baker’s artistic voice to breathe through the room at all times and never apologized for a three hour production or the powerful dynamic of the space. Instead, the play lives like each of the characters: taking time to develop, trying to find a sense of truth, and leaving me with hope.

 

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