This is Shirley, sending New Year’s Wishes as well, and happy to give a play-by-play of our most-busy last weekend!
Theater J was honored to take place in the ninth annual Page-to-Stage festival at the Kennedy Center last weekend. As Ari noted in his pre-show speeches, this is the ninth year that the festival has made Labor Day weekend one of the busiest for theater-goers and theater-creators in DC; and the ninth year that Theater J has been a part of it!
For us, the weekend kicked off on Saturday, with a day time rehearsal of Sam Forman’s THE MOSCOWS OF NANTUCKET. At noon, we heard the latest draft of Sam’s play out loud for the very first time; we then worked through the play for the next couple of hours and headed over to the family theater at the KC. Our Director of Marketing, Grace Overbeke was there–here are her impressions of the event:
Grace here. I attended last weekend’s reading of “The Moscows of Nantucket,” which is my personal favorite script of Theater J’s season, very eager to hear the piece aloud for the first time. I got to listen to a snippet at the Theater J season sneak preview, but I was particularly excited to hear it play in the Kennedy Center’s Family Theatre, which was packed with over 200 people. New play development is always a rather dramatic and fraught process, and I’m sure that the responses were as varied as the audience members. Personally, I floated away on that particular high that you get from laughing and crying in the dark with strangers, all in the space of 90 minutes.
Some of the best advice I ever got about playwriting and dramaturgy was from the amazing writer Laura Schellhardt. She said that characters should be put in situations where they are at their strongest and at their weakest— or, as Laura put it, “both in and out of their element. “ * Sam Forman is a master of this technique. The shifts in status that his characters experience as they move in and out of their elements, from bravado to vulnerability, are so effective because they are so natural. Too many times, the gears show when a writer is trying to give a character a dramatic arc, but with Forman, it’s seamless.
While the exemplary character development appeals to the part of me that evaluates scripts on a technical basis, I don’t know that it accounts for the reason I love this play in such a personal way. That explanation probably lies in the fact that it’s hit on something I can relate to. Maybe it’s narcissistic, but I think so much of why people read or go to the theatre or what-have-you is because they want to find their own story in someone else’s—because they want confirmation that someone else has once felt what they’ve felt, or thought what they’ve thought. It’s a release from the loneliness we all feel at being trapped in our own skulls. I can relate to Ben in his situation of being a young person trying to become an adult—trying to break free of your family while at the same time knowing that you never can, any more than you can break free of your DNA- Trying to reconcile expectations with reality, trying to fend off loneliness and disappointment-taking yourself too seriously and then mocking yourself for doing just that, (this may be a particularly Jewish hobby of meta-neuroses—watching your own neurosis from a distance and laughing cynically at them). Sam Forman taps into something that so many twenty/thirty-somethings are dealing with, and he does so with such quickly-moving, smart, funny dialogue. The combination of seeing Ben in moments of weakness and strength, and being able to relate to both those extremes is so moving. He’s one of those characters who, as Alan Bennet puts it, makes you feel as though “a hand has reached out and grabbed you” and assured you that you’re not the only one. For me, at least, that’s the most important thing: give me a character I can love, and I’ll sit and watch him or her do just about anything. I’m sure that anyone who sees this play will recognize Forman’s wit, skill, and writing talent. But what I hope most dearly is that they will, like me, have the fortunate experience of finding a character they can love.
*Incidentally, this turns out to be the best way to get to know people in real life as well.
As we wrapped up on Saturday we felt sure we’d given our audience a great taste of this funny family play, and we–the artists involved–had learned quite a bit about the play as well.
Sunday we stuck to our home ground, with two performances of SOMETHING YOU DID and a fantastic discussion–the first in our new “Scripture Unscripted: Intercultural Dialogues” series of talks. This one was titled: Clerical Perspectives on Protest & Punishment, Prisons & Parole and was moderated by Rabbi Tamara Miller (Educator and Spiritual Counselor); joined by John W. Wimberly, Jr. (Pastor, Western Presbyterian Church); and Naeem M. Baig (Executive Director, Islamic Circle of North America Council for Social Justice). The panel was both illuminating and inspiring–we’ll post some photos and videos from the afternoon soon!
Monday meant a return visit to the Kennedy Center, this time for a reading of Anna Ziegler’s PHOTOGRAPH 51 in the Terrace Gallery. This too was a chance to hear a brand new version of a play we love, out loud. Interesting fact: Anna’s play, a poetic and moving story based on the life of British scientist Rosalind Franklin, was originally part of Anna’s play WHITE HYACINTH LETTER–which told the stories of three ground-breaking female scientists (in addition to Franklin, she introduced us to Rachel Carson and Roger Arliner Young). Three years ago I had the chance to see a reading of that play, produced by Active Cultures Theater, at the 2007 Page-to-Stage Festival. After that Anna honed in on the Rosalind Franklin narrative of the story, and Active Cultures produced an earlier version of PHOTOGRAPH 51 in the winter of 2008. This year Anna’s play has really taken off, with productions of the play opening both in New York, and at Theater J.
The reading allowed for a 90-minute journey back in time to the mid-1950s at King’s College London. The play gives us a glimpse into the minds and psyches of these most important scientific figures; it also animates the story of the science itself. A packed house in the Terrace Gallery laughed and, indeed, cried as Rosalind, her geeky assistant Gosling, and awkward lab partner Wilkins struggled to keep up in the race to find the “meaning of life” — that is, to determine the structure of DNA. In the process they learn much more about life than it’s molecular structure. I think, in seeing this play, you will too.
Join us for the main stage presentations of both of these plays, PHOTOGRAPH 51 from March 23-April 24, 2011; and THE MOSCOWS OF NANTUCKET from May 11-June 12, 2011.