From Tension to Breakthrough

I’ve spent the greater part of this season worrying about our new plays – all 4 of them, each in need of work of some kind or another; each, to my mind, incredibly worthy endeavors written by authors of merit and distinction, though many of these authors haven’t necessarily been American Playwrights first; they’ve been authors who’ve excelled in other mediums previously, or in other languages (like Hebrew), and the risk we’ve undertaken in launching their ambitious new offerings has been considerable, to say the least.

Tom Keneally’s play has fascinated me since the day I read it. But it’s worried me too. I’ve loved its provocation, its detail, its content and its contemporary resonance, but I’ve worried about its episodic-laden structure. Would Tom get to all the rewrites? Would we be wise enough guides? How seamlessly would this all flow? Or was this the case of material better handled by film?

Too often we submerge our hopes and dreams and brightest wishes as a project moves to fruition for fear we jinx it. We focus on all there is to do, and all that isn’t right. But the harnessing and articulating of genuine excitement: How often does that come? Well, it’s gonna happen now.

After today’s run through of EITHER OR in the Community Hall, I officially want to declare that I, for one, am juiced, psyched, relieved, and counting chickens, dreaming of motion pictures, and am pleased as hell that we’ve all got so much of this right. Did it go well? It went better than well. Keep reading → The play has spine and shape; it’s tight, it moves, it’s devastating, it’s relevant, it’s gonna kick the Washington theater season in the ass, and Paul Morella will earn audience plaudits and critical hosannas as we thank the stars that preside over musical theater for allowing Paul to step into the lead role after Andrew Long left to be a supporting player in SAVING AIMMEE so that he might appear on a cast album in which he does not sing. Hmm. I’ll come to understand his decision to leave our show for the more lucrative pastures of Kathy Lee Gifford someday. For now, I rest easy with the eternal vindication that Paul Morella is a superb collaborator, deeply invested in the process, and that as a result, what we’ve labored on mightily in our extra dramaturgy sessions, with and without the actors, has resulted in a splendid new iteration, with gorgeous proportions (each act less than an hour), and devastating swiftness. We’re in business.

Now we just need a sound design. It’s coming, we hope. Our guy is only getting sicker. But his assistant did show up today with samples. We hope he’s on it. A production is only as strong as its weakest link. And in the professional theater, you can’t afford to have a Weakest Link.

So the thrust forward in our drive continues; it’s a drive for fulfillment; perfecting – if not achieving full perfection – then enacting a compulsion to make all this work before a challenging audience–our Theater J audience–which is to say one not predisposed to loving evangelical Nazis. I think this play may be the surprise of the season – because of how it will suck so many of us into identifying with the conundrums of a good soldier fighting a terrible war; a German church goer who wants to do God’s will and then meets up with the heartlessness of the Vatican; a Nazi who wants to save Jews. After the Kennedy Center workshop last Labor Day, I wrote in my journal, “We’re all Germans now.” Here in America, we’re fighting a lost war. Our officers are witnesses to terrible killings. We’re not enacting genocide, but we’re doing the Wrong Thing. And in denial about the all the death we’re inflicting. This play speaks to the present in disturbing ways. And it’s also a superior history lesson, though the meanings of that lesson will be open to healthy, pungent debate.

We’ve got a week to go before our first Pay-What-You-Can Preview next Wednesday, May 2. For tonight/today, suffice to say we turned a corner. And oh, how happy this new draft, and this amazing cast, have all made us, and me.