Week #3 of Locally Grown Readings: COLD NOVEMBER LIGHT and the Completion of THE PROSTATE DIALOGUES

Fascinating unfoldings on Monday and Tuesday of this most recent week of “Locally Grown” readings. Let’s hear from those who attended COLD NOVEMBER LIGHT by Stephen Spottswood.

Christopher Sellers (stage directions), John Lescault (Harry), and Gwen Grastorf (Gwen) in COLD NOVEMBER LIGHT.

We’ve received two interesting, contrasting readings of Stephen’s play from students in our “Theater of Politics/The Politics of Theater” course. COLD NOVEMBER LIGHT is a play that moves backwards in time and the simple question asked during the talk-back was, “what’s the function of such a reverse-action structure in a two-character play like this?” That question led to some insightful reflection as the night went on — a play that BEGINS with a bittersweet leave-taking between friends who’ve clearly had a positive impact on each other but are, nonetheless, saying goodbye to each other… (why must they part?, we wonder) and then we move forward in theater time while backwards in story-time to find out how difficult Harry, a largely autistic, genius painter, turns out to be and how uncivil so much of his interaction with his wheelchair-bound model, Gwen, turns out to be. But as the play unfolds, are we monitoring, or actively engaged in trying to deduce the answer to a Larger Dramatic Question hanging over the action? One student below is entirely captivated. Another less so, but still appreciative of much of the work. So what’s next for the playwright and the play? Stay tuned.

We look forward to more comments once others have caught up with the script.

Jon Spelman in THE PROSTATE DIALOGUES.


The night after COLD NOVEMBER LIGHT reading, we shared the complete version of Jon Spelman’s THE PROSTATE DIALOGUES. The play, presented so auspiciously as a 50 minute excerpt on January 10 (see the wonderful comments here), allowed itself to become a much fuller experience clocking in at 120 minutes, not counting the 10 minute intermission. And so the evening, the 2nd of 4 presentations, became a very useful experiment where we found a kind of “law of diminishing returns” for a piece that needs to be more tightly focussed on the narrator’s journey in order to make its most effective point. Material that played brilliantly at the 30 minute mark on january 10, did less well at the 55 minute mark. Fascinating how a play will reveal its vulnerabilities — its true structure — through trial and error — through bold (and sometimes fool-hearty) experimentation, we find the truest shape of a play and intuit a journey, both for character, artist, and audience. We’re on that wonderful road of discovery now with Jon. Come back on Sunday February 12 or 19 at 5 pm for the more-perfect-length (which is to say 60-80 minute journey) version. As the work goes on…

5 thoughts on “Week #3 of Locally Grown Readings: COLD NOVEMBER LIGHT and the Completion of THE PROSTATE DIALOGUES

  1. Cold November Light was a study of a very unlikely relationship. I’m not only talking about the obvious difference in age and physicality of the characters. Harry is lacks certain social skills and is not aware of how his personality can come off as abrasive to other people, or perhaps he just doesn’t care, before he meets Gwen. Gwen, on the other hand, is very aware of how she is perceived by others, and is dependent on those close to her, but as her relationship with Harry progresses, so does her ability to take risks. These characteristics, I feel, are particularly clear because of how Stephen Spotswood reverse sequence of the play.

    Harry became louder and louder as the play continued, which made it clear that the more time he spent with Gwen, the more compassionate he became. In the first Act, Harry describes a date he went on. I would have never expected the Harry in Act III to be able to handle a date or be asked out in the first place. What I liked best about the play was that in know way were either characters treated as disabled people, for example, Harry was not described ever as being psychotic and Gwen did not treat him as such. In the same vein, it didn’t even occur to Harry that he had offended Gwen when he made “the crack about the chair.” I feel that it was refreshing for both characters to be able to talk candidly about their experiences with therapists upon first meeting each other. I think Spotswood did a great job of making it clear from the beginning that both characters needed each other, instead of developing this point. By starting the play later in the relationship, this fact was more apparent.

    I want to acknowledged the incredible talent of both the actors, but particularly John Lescault, who played Harry. I don’t remember the last time I saw an actor put every ounce of feeling as Lescault put into Harry’s frightening outbursts. I couldn’t tell if members of the audience were laughing because they actually thought his extremely loud yelling towards Gwen was funny or if they felt as uncomfortable as I did. It was Lescault’s acting in these scenes, were Harry would freak-out, which emphasized how important his relationship with Gwen was as the years progressed.

  2. Tiffany H
    Cold November Light
    There was an inquiry of what question would be answered by watching this play. What should the audience look for while watching the play, what is the message, or overarching theme? The play served simply as a backwards illustration of a relationship between an artist and physically impaired woman, at least for me. I saw the progression in Gwen and Harry’s relationship, but I did not feel there were significant events that would contribute to me feeling any type of way about Gwen leaving in the end.

    During the play it was clear that there was a sense of comfort, trust, and, I would even say, a therapeutic outlet built during Gwen and Harry’s time together. But there wasn’t a significant breakthrough during the relationship that would provoke any reaction towards Gwen leaving. To some extent, it was not a surprise that their relationship ended the way it did. From the beginning Harry lacked a filter when responding to anything that interfered with his art or routine. Gwen seemed like she was never quite stable in life and just determined her decisions based on the day, not a life plan. After watching the whole play it was not shocking to hear Harry say an offensive remark. It should have been expected after Gwen revealed that her questionable singing opportunity was the reason behind her relocating. When Gwen left it seemed like it was either the ending to a temporary relationship that both Gwen and Harry were suppose to grow from. The grand fight during the beginning seemed like a disagreement between friends, not something to lure an audience.

    I have to say there were some very notable characteristics this play embodied. The descriptions were very detailed and essential to engaging the audience in the lives of the characters. The performance of Harry’s character contributed greatly to the quality of this play as well.

  3. I saw the Prostate Dialogues on February 12, after Jon Spelman had already performed several different iterations of it. This particular showing was in the relatively small library of the Jewish Community Center. Spelman read a compressed version of his full piece to a small crowd of about 25 peope. I am a 20 year-old college student and I did not fit the average demographic in the room, which was generally older people. I instantly felt like I had miniscule life experiences to bring to the table when I walked into the library and I felt like I wouldn’t be able to relate to the content of the reading as much of many people in the room.
    Spelman’s reading was funny, informational, and touching at times. His work is an extremely personal and genuine piece, and I think I liked that best about the whole thing. As a few people in the room confessed afterwards, I learned a lot from this work, since I didn’t know about prostates or prostate cancer going into it. Another great thing about this work was that it served to show that everyone has a different experience. Spelman may not have shared the same type of journey with this disease that others have and he expressed that early on. However, I feel like this would be a helpful piece for men attempting to express their own story. I applaud Spelman for delving into this particularly trying time in his life to create such a unique work of art.
    I thought it was revealing that Spelman did not focus so much on how this disease affected his masculinity. This was brought up in the talk back. Spelman decided to focus more on how the disease his “immortality,” which a common theme throughout the reading. I could relate to this more than I could have to any talk of masculinity. I can admit to feeling like I will live forever, or rather, never wanting to die.
    One point that was brought up in the talk back was how a man’s reproductive organs, specifically the penis, relates to women. A woman brought up that a man’s inability to have an erection after having prostate surgery can affect how a woman feels about herself. The penis is a symbol of desire and that loss can affect both a man and his partner. I think it’s unfair to place so much emphasis on one organ; I don’t view a man’s worth as correlated with the size of his penis. But then again, as I saw through the play and the talk back, every one has a different experience. I hope that Spelman incorporates some of the stories of the partners of those who have had prostate cancer.

  4. As someone with a short attention span, I prefer performances with multiple speakers/performers. Jon Spelman, surprisingly, was able to hold my attention for the majority of the reading. During the talkback the idea of multiple people participating in the “dialogue” was discussed. I feel that having more than one person involved in the performance would ultimately serve as a distraction. Jon was not only capable but a captivating storyteller. The intimacy of performing the reading in the library also contributed to my enjoyment of the piece.

    As a college student, I found myself drawn towards the story of Jon hiking with his daughter in Spain. It provided me with the opportunity to reflect upon my relationship with my father and ponder how I would want to spend time with him if he was experiencing a situation similar to Jon’s. I am interested to know more about the relationship between Jon and his daughter. At the same time, I am interested in learning less about the history of where they were hiking. I, specifically, was curious about their relationship prior to the diagnosis and how the effect of the diagnosis on their relationship.

    The story of Liz’s accident was another piece of the performance that I found myself able to relate to easily. The description of the accident was both well written and delivered. When discussing Liz’s recovery, a line about needing emotional walkers was use. I found this, and the part following it, that spoke of being extra cautious when crossing the street, to remind me of my own life experiences that have served as reminders about life’s sacredness.

    I am still unsure of how I feel about the end of the play. It definitely caught me off guard. I found myself vying for more information. The darkness 100% signaled death to me. But death of what? That I do not, but would like to, know.

    • Prior to seeing Jon Spelman’s performance I had doubts on if he would be able to keep me engaged in this play, seeing that it was a one man show. When I think of plays I think of multiple performers and I have to say I prefer seeing multiple performers as well –but, I agree Jon Spelman was enough for this play. To my surprise Jon Spelman’s was able to hold my attention throughout the play. there were multiply performers it probably would have taken away from the play. I only say this because I think the additional people would have served more as distractions than enhancers. The stories he told were pretty cautioning and to some extent relatable. The relatable and cautioning stories played a great part in my engagement.

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