Relevant Reading

It’s Shirley.

A few things that are related to the 09/10 season and Theater J in general that I’ve been reading about today…

This didn’t exactly come from the internets, rather from the Dramaturgs and Literary Managers Listserve, for which I receive daily updates in my inbox. It’s managed by the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas and it’s a fantastic resource for theater-makers everywhere. Imagine you have several hundred of your smartest, best-read, most research-savvy friends ready to help out withthe click of a “send button” and that’s the listserve.

A week ago a reader from NY posted this:
I’m prepping for an upcoming discussion of THE SEAGULL. And my mind started wandering as I thought about crazy production concepts for this beautiful play. I’m curious: what are some of the strangest ideas the rest of you have come across when working on the play or talking about it?

I thought about sending along the list of adaptations we’d generated for the program during SEAGULL ON 16TH STREET. But I wondered if they truly qualified as “strange” since most were pretty well known productions. Then a few days ago I was pleased to see that Theater J had indeed added something to the dialogue, courtesy of an audience member (perhaps a Theater J friend? Not a name that I know) who wrote:

This summer Theater J in D.C. performed an adaptation of “The Seagull” entitled “The Seagull on 16th Street,” modeled structurally along the lines of Louis Malle’s “Vanya on 42nd Street.” Theater J is in residence at the D.C. Jewish Community Center on 16th and Q, hence the title. The adaptation by A.D. Ari Roth is of relevance to this thread because it takes a substantial departure from the text in recasting Arkadina’s family, including the extended family of Polina, Masha, etc. as assimilated Jews. Konstantin, rejecting his mother’s distance from her roots, as well as the theater into which she has assimilated, is seeking a resurrection of his traditions and faith. His play in Act I is inspired by the traditional Friday night service of welcoming the Sabbath bride (Nina’s role), and the opening curtain is preceded by rituals such as lighting a Sabbath candle and the blowing of the shofar(normally associated withthe High Holidays rather than the Sabbath). Roth adds to Chekhov’s tensions between Konstantine andhis mother the issue of faith found and faith lost.

I found that Roth’s theme was most successful and resonant in the fourth act, specifically in Konstantin’s despair after seeing that Nina had found faith but that he had failed to do so. Just before he tears his manuscropts, Konstantin slowly and methodically takes from a shelf the symbols of his faith, the candlestick, the shofar, etc. and quietly places them in a box to be stored away and forgotten. In that gesture I felt a striking resonance between Chekhov’s text and Roth’s adaptation. It certainly was an unusual approach to the play, so I thought it worth mentioning in light of the current discussion.

Of course, we always love to be talked about (especially when it’s positive) and it’s nice to see we are making people think about theater and faith and other big ideas.

And a final SEAGULL tidbit–this note was also posted as a response by the wise and wonderful director/dramaturg/educator Rick Davis from George Mason University:

Guthrie production, late 80s early 90s? Lucian Pintilie directed. Last scene first.

Next, to continue my thought yesterday about the connections between RUINED and IN DARFUR, The Washington Post has a feature today about the Rape epidemic still raging in the Congo. We read a fair amount about systematic rape while researching the Bosnian War, as it was that conflict that brought the issue to international attention. While the motives seem somewhat less pointed in Africa than in the Balkans (where rape was a decidedly effective tool for ethnic cleansing) the results are no less devastating.

And finally, on a lighter note, check out this fantastic and illuminating interview with Itamar Moseswhose play THE FOUR OF US we’ll be producing next January (scroll down to August 6). The post is from the blog of another fantastic playwright, Adam Szymkowicz, who has dedicated the last several months of his blog to writing about up-and-coming playwrights. The posted chats are all really engaging–if you are at all interested in tracking the next generation of superstar theater writers, chances are you’ll find them on his blog. We’ve not had much contact with Itamar here in the office yet (except for Ari, who is addicted to the buzz of the facebook chat) but I will admit, I kind of love what he writes as advice to emerging playwrights, “Begin to treat rejection as totally neutral and anything shy of rejection as enormous encouragement”. I think it’s sound advice for anyone pursuing a career in the arts–be they writing, acting, directing or producing.