Tag Archives: Stage

To Hear Hamlet (In a Cemetery)

Graveyard

This weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing a live production of Hamlet by Lincoln’s Flatwater Shakespeare Company. The performance was held in the Swan Theater, which also happens to be in Lincoln’s historic Wyuka Cemetery. The show started at sunset; as the characters progressed into madness and scheming, the night grew darker and colder, and the full moon rose higher and higher. The experience was exhilarating.

Ham1As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I love theater despite my minimal experience with it. Plays are not meant to be read, but seen, and heard. Words are powerful enough in print, but when given a voice, they have so much more power to move the audience. Some readers are familiar with how important voice is to me. I’m drawn to people with strong voices; to me, it’s the first part of attraction. I grew up caring about voice more than any other part of a person. Garrison Keillor’s rusty voice on the radio; the beautiful harmonies produced by folk singers, The Wailin’ Jennys or Peter, Paul, and Mary. Of course Renaissance theater isn’t for everyone; nothing is. But hearing Shakespeare’s words put to the instrumentation of a cast of strong voices makes it impossible for me not to enjoy those words.

But the experience of hearing Hamlet in a cemetery was even more gripping. When the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears, the audience is reminded that hundreds of ghosts are in the ground behind him. When Hamlet contemplates mortality, that undiscovered country, we are forced to remember that emigrants to that undiscovered country are just a few yards away. Finally, when a clown digs up a grave, tossing skulls out of the earth, we cannot help but think that an actual gravedigger is performing the same task, under the full moon. We are surrounded by actual skulls while Hamlet picks up Yorick’s skull; we are surrounded by actual corpses while Ophelia is placed in the grave.

The very ground the audience walks on to reach the stage is defined by mortality. The theatricality of undoing the grave’s permanence, of waking up the dead and gazing into their empty eye sockets, hits us uncomfortably close. The stage mocks the dead we struggle to leave hallowed; we depart from the performance facing the cemetery illuminated by a full moon wondering if our own skulls will be unburied, if a tragedy will be staged on the field we’re confined to.

In this case, the play’s the thing wherein the audience finds its own conscience, and as we all know, conscience does make cowards of us all. That’s the power of theater, and poetry, and art. It places mortality in our face and invites us to wonder. To look around. To investigate. To consider that soon we’ll be departing for an undiscovered country, and we can either go mad waiting in line for our plane ticket, or we can enjoy the graces the terminal has to offer. Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, unless we muster up the courage to laugh at all the skulls surrounding us. Why not laugh? Aye, there’s the rub.

-jk

 

Play Wins Contest, Writer Absent

stage fright

I’m pleased to announce that my ten-minute play “The Real Deal” is one of seven winning plays in this year’s Northern Arizona Playwriting Showcase. The seven short plays will be given a staged reading on August 28, 29, and 30. I’ve submitted to the contest before, under the guidance of various NAU Creative Writing faculty. Last year, I volunteered to be a reader for NAPS 2014, and was typecast to read for “Morons,” by William Baer. This year I’m honored the judges selected one of my plays, and I hope my Flagstaff friends will be able to attend. However, I will be absent, as I will be starting graduate school in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s a two-day drive back to Flagstaff, and plane tickets are expensive.

The few times I’ve dabbled in theater have been rewarding, as well as painful. I’ve written, directed, and acted for fundraiser plays, and my experiences taught me that volunteer theater is a collectively-driven form of indentured servitude. The drama you see on stage is nothing like the drama behind the curtain. As a moron for NAPS 2014, I discovered the difficulty in holding a script while using props on stage. As with all volunteer activities, there is the challenge of people committing but dropping out at crucial moments.

Although I’ll be several states away from the stage, I’m still proud of my little play. Perhaps I’ll find similar contests in Lincoln; perhaps I’ll even see a full-length play of mine performed. Of course, that will never happen unless I keep writing.

Time to break a leg.

-jk

Three Nights, Three Theaters, Three Plays

PlaysThis week, I attended three plays in Galway, three nights in a row. The marathon of shows was part of the Galway International Arts Festival. I do not attend plays regularly, and seeing three in a row was a unique experience for me. I barely had a moment to process the last show before sitting down for the next one, until today when I paused to contemplate them separately.  At the end of each performance, the venues sold copies of the scripts, and I decided they would make good souvenirs from a city embedded in art, music, and theater.

The first show, at An Taibhdearc, was a trio of three short plays by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. The plays were Not I, Footfalls, and Rockaby. They were performed in total darkness; even the exit lights were turned off. The first is a monologue spoken so quick that much of it is lost. The only light is shown on the actress’s mouth, so that all the audience can see is a disembodied mouth babbling intensely. The second portrays a daughter pacing as her mother passes away. They speak to one another as the actress (providing the voice for both characters) walks slowly like a clock, from left to right. The last, and perhaps most disturbing, shows an elderly woman in a rocking chair. She is motionless; the chair is not. The chair rocks her face into and out of a pale beam of light as she reflects morosely on her last days and lonely life. Each play is darker than the last, more disturbing, unsettling, and saddening. Evidently, Samuel Beckett does with plays what Stephen King does with novels.

The second was a new play by Christian O’Reilly, entitled Chapatti, at Town Hall Theater. Costarring American actor John Mahoney, it was a cheerful romantic comedy about a dog-owner and a cat-owner. For all its cute jokes and warm humor, it touches on several serious issues: terminal illness, dissatisfaction in marriage, suicide, and the poor way men treat women. The author places two lonely, elderly characters close together and draws them closer, but each time the plot delves into the complexities of the characters’ pasts, the plot veers in another, more lighthearted direction.  There are many instances when the author brushes aside these disconcerting issues, but the humor is well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable, especially after three live nightmares courtesy of Samuel Beckett.

The third play was another new show, Be Infants in Evil by Brian Martin, performed at the Mick Lally Theater, or Druid Theater. This play remains my favorite of the three. The audience walks into a room filled with incense and a Catholic Priest kneels and prays on stage. The author focuses on what first seems like too many issues to balance in a one-act play. The priest hides numerous secrets, a young woman and long-time friend has converted to Islam to marry a wealthy man, an elderly blind woman is beginning to catch on to the priest’s secrets, and a thirteen-year-old boy from the priest’s past has just shown up. The play juggles science and religion, child abuse scandals, abortion, forgiveness, guilt, and revelation, and ties them together by slowly binding the characters into concentric rings of conflict and secrecy. There is humor where there shouldn’t be, and love for characters who should not be loved.

I have often thought that the two primary centers of culture in the U.S. are Hollywood and Broadway, and while I love films, I find myself daydreaming about attending a new play on Broadway, but I have never once dreamed of going to Hollywood. I regret that I do not go to plays more often, and that I do not participate in theater more. Flagstaff has what I believe to be a rich but precarious theatrical culture. When I return, I hope to participate in that culture. Theater is far more intimate than cinema. The silences are more unsettling, and the noise is more overwhelming. The audience becomes a part of the show, and there is always the possibility that the players will improvise, develop a set of inside jokes with the audience, and wait outside to meet the fans. These three plays were written, staged, and performed brilliantly. Each was different from the last, and it’s thrilling to see the house lights dim and see the first characters step on stage to deliver the opening lines. It’s a thrill I hope to feel more often.

-jk