Geeks Read Books: Recent Plays from TCG

Reviews by Kitty Drexel

Theatre Communications Group (TCG) recently released plays, Evening at the Talk House by Wallace Shawn, Ripcord by David Lindsay-Abaire, and The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adley Guirgis. These books were offered in exchange for an objective, unbiased review. They were all pretty good. Two of the three will appeal more to Boston-area actors and theatre than the other. I’ll let you guess which ones are which. 
Evening at the Talk House
Wallace Shawn
Theatre Communications Group
$14.95
New York, 2017

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d like this one… until I did. I’d forgotten that Wallace Shawn is not interested in delivering a straightforward play.

Evening at the Talk House convinces you that it’s a typical regular drama until it’s too late. It’s Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery meets any reunion play. There’s some friendly reminiscing, and some not so friendly fisticuffs. Nothing seems amiss until we’re told about the dystopian world leadership that preaches better living through paranoia. We’re lucky that Senator McCarthy didn’t have the internet.

Robert is a playwright famous for the mediocre but very popular play, Midnight in a Clearing with Moon. He’s invited to a cast reunion at the Talk House club, a previous cast and crew favorite, by Ted. Ted has gathered everyone, from lead actress Nellie to unpopular, bit part actor Dick. The eight of them gather, rehash old times and new opportunities. Truths come out; life and death decisions are made.

There are five men and three women in this show. Shawn is careful to tell potential directors to trust their casting judgement. The actors for the premier productions were in their 50’s and 60’s. Shawn instructs us to make decisions based on actor fit and availability. That’s thoughtful of him.

The roles are meaty. Lead role “Robert” has a hefty eight page monologue that starts the show. He is responsible for carrying the production. Other characters have their scene-stealing moments but, in general, Robert retains the focus. The role will be demanding of any actor that takes it.

The set is fairly simple: all action occurs in one room with implied off-stage action that the audience doesn’t need to see in order to comprehend. Lighting can be as creative as the designer wishes. A costume designer can dress the cast in their own clothes or decide to take a stab at futuristic fashion.  

Wallace Shawn is a noted actor and writer. His often politically charged and controversial plays include The Fever, Aunt Dan and Lemon, Marie and Bruce, and The Designated Mourner. With Andre´ Gregory, he co-wrote My Dinner with Andre´, in which he also starred. He adapted the classic Ibsen play A Master Builder for film.

 

Ripcord
David Lindsay-Abaire
Theatre Communications Group
$14.95
New York, 2017
Cover design by Rodrigo Corral Studio/June Park

Abby Binder is a sensitive woman who’s cranky because life has dealt her more than her fair share of pain. She takes her pain out on others. Marilyn Dunne is Abby’s polar opposite: sunny and warm. Marilyn refuses to accept Abby’s bad attitude. They make a bet that if Marilyn can inspire fear in Abby, then Marilyn gets Abby’s side of the room. If Abby can make Marilyn angry, then Marilyn will move out. These two vastly different women push each other to the brink of absurdity to achieve their aims. Results of success vary depend on audience perspective.

Ripcord is funny if one can overlook the atrocious ways they treat each other. This comedy of manners completely ignores subtlety, and hits its characters over the head with defensive pranks. For example: Marilyn drugs Abby and then forces her to skydive while still under the influence. This is incredibly illegal, and morally wrong. In response, Abby posts the colorful police record of Marilyn’s deceased husband around their senior living facility. While not illegal, it’s deeply unkind. So traumatized by their own little war, they are drawn together as compatriots.

Marilyn and Abby are roles written for mature actresses. They are described as being in their seventies-eighties. The role of Colleen is meant for a woman in her thirties-forties. Three nice, plump roles for a frequently neglected population. Women can be funny, and at any age. Duh.   

Lindsay-Abaire presents some staging and scenic design challenges. There is a skydiving scene that starts in a plane and ends on the ground. Directors will either need to be extremely clever in their work, or Theaters will need to employ wirework in their productions. These technical needs may attract or repel interested artists.

Ripcord will play at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company May – June 2017. It will be directed by Jessica Stone (previously of the same company’s production of Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike). More information can be found here.  

David Lindsay-Abaire is the author of Rabbit Hole, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His other theatre works include Good People, Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo, and Shrek the Musical. He is Co-Chair of the playwriting program at Julliard.

 

The Motherfucker with the Hat
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Theatre Communications Group
$14.95
New York, 2017

This Motherfucker is darkly funny. It evokes the kind of chuckles that make you a bad person for laughing. Guirgis’ dialogue is funny. His story is unfortunate. It’s a play that punches up, down and sideways. Everybody gets punched, and not in the fun way.

Jackie is on finally parole. He’s ready to reconnect (if you know what I mean) with his girlfriend Veronica when he spies a man’s hat that isn’t his on Veronica’s dresser. He accuses Veronica of cheating on him. Veronica accuses him of paranoid jealousy. This interaction starts a downward spiral that puts Jackie, his sponsor Ralph D, Ralph’s wife Victoria, and Cousin Julio, the only sensible character, at odds. He buys a gun, starts using again, and completely ignores his Program. No matter how hard he tries to do the right thing, Jackie ends up doing the illegal, stupid thing.

Motherfucker contains a lot of bad language. In the first few pages, “fuck” is used every other word. It’s violent, and it’s sexy. These people are convinced they are doing their best when, in reality, they are doing the opposite. It’s a hilarious show, but it’s definitely not for kids. Or, it’s not for the kind of kids most upstanding parents want to admit to having.  

SpeakEasy Stage Co. produced The Mother Fucker with the Hat in 2012. It ran September 14 – October 13, and was directed by David R. Gammons. The cast included Jamie Carrillo, Evelyn Howe, Melinda Lopez, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, and Alejandro Simoes as Cousin Julio. The New England Theatre Geek review of this production can be found here.

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s other plays include Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, Our Lady of 121st Street, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and The Little Flower of East Orange. His play Between Riverside and Crazy won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He is a former co-artistic director of Labyrinth Theater Company. He is a creator and writer of Netflix’s The Get Down. Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train will be performed by Praxis Stage from May 4 – 21, 2017 in Dorchester, MA.

 

Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned bigot to the office of the President dead set on turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. His plan to slash the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities is HERE. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so. Fight him. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

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