As Our New Play Continues Previewing, Many Important Premieres Around Town

Today’s Weekend Feature in The Washington Post Arts section profiles five playwrights reflecting on the process of writing and revising their Charles MacArthur/Helen Hayes Award nominated new plays.

9609_10200851607589746_194492081_nWe’re particularly proud of Renee Calarco and the wonderful reflecting on the process of making THE RELIGION THING; an 8 year process that led to a highly successful run last winter.

As ANDY AND THE SHADOWS enters into a weekend of preview performances, let’s pay homage to some other new plays recently opened, or soon to open around town.  We’ll give folks a chance to respond to the spring awakening of many engaging new works, including:

Mike Daisey’s AMERICAN UTOPIAS at Woolly Mammoth…

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Tazwell Thompson’s MARY T. & LIZZY K. at Arena Stage…

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And soon to be opening at Round House Theatre, HOW TO WRITE A BOOK OF THE BIBLE.

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Will let student subscribers and others share their opinions here about these new productions, and possibly any other new work bursting forth this month.

11 thoughts on “As Our New Play Continues Previewing, Many Important Premieres Around Town

  1. The Mountaintop takes place at the Lorraine hotel on the night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Dr. King encounters a curious hotel maid, Camae.

    Prior to watching the play, I was curious how the play would turn out with only two characters participating in the whole performance. I must say I was impressed. Both of the actors were very eloquent in their dialogue and their acting was very natural- it really seemed like I was witnessing an actual hotel room conversation scene.

    It was interesting to see Dr. King unwind in his hotel room as he began to engage in a conversation with Camae. He even asked her for a cigarette or two and even took a little sip of whiskey. It showed that Dr. King was in fact not a saint and is not a perfect person- he had his weaknesses, fear, worries, and doubts as well. He was still trying to figure out what to write for his speech on his protest against the Vietnam War in the beginning, and at the end of the play, he feared his imminent death because he felt that he was not ready for it yet. He believed that he had more work to do, and there was no other person who could take his place, and most importantly, no one fully understood his vision.

    I felt it was sort of peculiar when Camae revealed herself as an angel sent from God. I was not expecting her to be a supernatural figure, and for her to call God from the phone seemed sort of unrealistic. However, I appreciate the message that she was trying to get at. Toward the end of the play, I was given the impression that life is full of surprises, and we cannot predict what lies ahead of us, but all we can do is keep working hard and keep moving forward without fear.

  2. I had the privilege of attending “The Mountaintop” at Arena Stage a couple of weeks ago. This was a play detailing the last night of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Although this was a fictional representation of what King’s life might have been like during his final hours, it was very much a representation of what his whole life had been during the civil rights movement struggle.

    The first half of the play depicted Dr. King and a hotel maid, Camae, talking and joking and enjoying one another’s company. The second half of the play takes an unexpected twist that turns the play into a very spiritual episode that walks the line between real and supernatural. Aside from the play between the real and “unreal,” I enjoyed the play and the rich history that it displayed.

    One thing that was a light theme during the play was knowing when one’s time has come to an end. The play made a couple references to King somehow knowing that his time was coming to an end—one notable one was when he was talking to Camae and made reference to buying his wife artificial flowers (instead of real ones) for the first time when he left for Tennessee, somehow knowing that she would need flowers to last her forever. In real life, Dr. King was witnessed to have always said that he would not live past 40. I think that this play did an excellent job of highlighting true accounts through a unique interpretation.

    As a student minoring in Afroamerican and African studies and also someone with family that had to struggle to gain equal rights, I felt a connection with the play and the deeper spiritual meaning that it brought during its second half. Having seen the play, I can say with good confidence that it seemed to cater to an African American Christian audience. Sitting next to my friend during the play, who lived half of her childhood in a different country and has secular religious beliefs, it was clear that her perspective did not connect to the play like I did, despite our mutual admiration of Dr. King.

    While I thoroughly enjoyed this play, I would say that for people who are not religious or spiritual it may not be the most enjoyable experience.

  3. “American Utopias” by Mike Daisy
    I was very surprised to discover that “American Utopias” was in fact, a monologue. I was not at all expecting that. In “American Utopias,” playwright and performer Mike Daisy spoke about various aspect of his life and covered many bases; he spoke primarily about his family’s vacation to Disney World, Burning Man, and the Occupy movement. The final sentence in the colophon of the playbill, states, “The management also wishes to remind you that this is a true story, and like every story being told in every medium, all stories are fiction.” To me, this sentence sums up Mike Daisy’s sense of humor and the direction of his performance. No one, except for Mr. Daisy, knows whether he is telling the truth or lies.

    I found the Disney World portion of his performance to be the most entertaining, humorous, and relatable. Mr. Daisy described how his family wanted to be at Magic Kingdom right when the gates opened. He tried to have a good attitude, but there’s just so much going on and as we all know, you either love or you hate Disney World. There’s hardly an in between. From what I gathered, he did not love it. Mr. Daisy described the huge blisters accumulating on the bottom of his feet from the long days of walking about. One of the most interesting aspects of Mr. Daisy’s performance was his ability to intertwine humor and emotion into his realistic experiences while still educating his audience. For example, Mr. Daisy explained that while in Disney World, he visited EPCOT. I learned that Mr. Walt Disney envisioned EPCOT to be a city. He wanted it to be a town of it’s own. However, that vision did not come to life entirely, unfortunately, since he passed away. In addition, I learned that Walt had three brothers, all of whom made it their goal to protect Walt in everyway possible, but especially in the home where their father would beat the boys.

    It is so impressive to me that someone can speak constantly for 2 hours straight while continuously engaging the audience. Mr. Daisy did just that throughout the entirety of his performance. He made people laugh, he swore, he raised his voice, and he did impersonations, all while sitting at a single desk located in the middle of the stage. It is such a talent to be able to entertain a full audience while sitting still to be able to entertain with only stories.

  4. I have not stopped thinking about American Utopias created and performed by Mike Daisey. This monologue could not have had a more brilliant combination of humor and insightful thoughts. I was absolutely blown away. I am hoping to bring my parents to see it for a second time when they come to pick me up from DC before heading home.

    Going into this I did have an idea of what to expect. I knew of Mike Daisey from the Steve Jobbs monolgue and understood that American Utopias would not be a play, but instead a monologue. Although the audience did not converse with Mike Daisey, I felt like we were having a conversation. The way he spoke to the audience felt so genuine, not something that had been rehearsed many, many times before. This is impressive. Question, will Daisey’s monologue change a little bit each to he does it? I have a feeling it might. Hopefully I will be able to see it again and find out. Daisey’s booming voice, crude humor, and roaring laugh was right up my alley. As a SNL super fan, I couldn’t help but compare him to Chris Farley in that sense. But that all aside, the serious undertone of this performance is something I will carry within me from now on–always in the back of my mind.

    Mike Daisey did something in his monologue that I always try to do when doing creative writing. He had three big subplots that he alternated between. The audience knew when there was a “scene change” when Daisey flipped over a fresh page of notes. The three “scenes” were at Disney World, Burning Man, and Zicotti Park. Each scene had its humorous moments, but also a much deeper meaning.

    Mike Daisey really hates Disney World. I haven’t been there since I was probably 7ish but now I totally want to go back. Obviously my #1 desire is to go to Harry Potter world, but I think I would enjoy the park in a more reminiscent way now that I am older. After all, I grew up with Disney. And that is sorta what Daisey talked about, how Walt Disney formed so much of how we imagine. When we think of castles, princesses, evil step-mothers, Disney sets a baseline. And further than that, Mike Daisey actually BLEW MY MIND when we told us about what EPCOT stands for (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). When I reflect back to when I went to Disney World, I do remember being confused by EPCOT because it wasn’t nearly as well organized or structures as the Magic Kingdom or any other parts of Disney World. Daisey explained this–EPCOT wasn’t supposed to be a theme park. It was supposed to be a utopia from Walt Disney’s imagination. I’ve always been a closeted sci-fi fan so this was actually stunning to me. Definitely something I plan to look more into!!

    Burning Man– WHAT IS THIS AND WHERE CAN I SIGN UP??? I grew up camping with my family, so I am relatively confident that I could handle the tent-pitching etc that caused Daisey much stress. What I am not good at dealing with is intense heat. I’m the kind of person that you do not want to mess around with when I am out in the hot sun. How can these people live outside in a dessert (right) with nothing but sun and dust for days on end?? Somehow they all do it, so I imagine I could make it work. The experience sounded very difficult to convey, but I believe Daisey still did a remarkable job. He took something that I had briefly heard of it and entranced me in a way that made me feel like I had been there with him.

    And lasty, Zicotti Park. I’m currently in a journalism class and we talk all about the politics of it. I cannot even believe that there was a “media blackout” when Zicotti park was evacuated. In this day and age full of technology and ever-present media coverage, I can’t believe this happened. Yet, it somehow did. I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t know enough about everything that led up to the Zicotti Park story, but it is something that Daisey spurred me to learn more about.

    How did the show end? With Mike Daisey leading us straight out of the theatre to the street corner, where he yelled the final scene on top of a soap box out in the sunshine where anyone could hear. For the final time during the monologue, my mind was blown.

    This is the longest blog post I have written. I could go on and on raving about this production. It is not something I will soon forget.

    P.S. If you saw this monologue you will understand how funny this is. I was at Whole Foods and by checkout they had all different sorts of Italian sodas. One of my friends bought one and I was dying laughing. “DOES IT TASTE LIKE SHIT????”

    Life changing. YOU NEED TO GO SEE THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T YET.

  5. After seeing Mike Daisey’s American Utopias, I decided to take on the additional extra credit assigment of reading the original “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” as well as the 2.0 version.

    Now, I have to give you some background information. I am also taking a political journalism course this semester at The Washington Post. One week the theme was journalistic deception. We discussed a wide range of specific cases including Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, and Mike Daisey among others. We did not read the original or 2.0 version of “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” but we did read the entire “The American Life” transcript in which the truth about the Apple monologue surfaced. Many of the details in the story were exaggerations or completely made up. To be honest, when I read all of this I absolutely hated Mike Daisey for what he did. He told a story in which many of the things he claimed to have experienced were not at all truthful. Now, to Mike Daisey’s defense, he wrote the Apple piece AS a theatre monologue NOT as a piece of journalism for say The Washington Post or The New York Times. So with that in mind, he did not need to be honest. BUT I wish he had said, “okay this didn’t all happen to me, but this is a collection of stories and facts about what is happening in Apple factories in China.” I would’ve felt much better with that.

    With all of that in mind, I went in to see American Utopias. And to be completely real with you I walked into the theatre thinking “F this guy, I’m interested to hear what lies he is going to spin for us today.” The American Utopias monologue was much different than the Apple monologue in that it wasn’t a big scandalous expose. Did Mike Daisey really go to Disney World, Burning Man, and Zicotti Park and experience the things he did? I don’t think we will ever know… But I don’t really care. It made me THINK regardless and reflect.. And I believe that was the point. Truth or lies, American Utopias did its job. And say his personal experiences he told us about were fiction, it wouldn’t change my takeaway. BUT the Apple story however HAD MUCH BIGGER STAKES. “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” had SERIOUS implications and was very disappointing when it was exposed as not entirely truthful.

    With all of that controversy out of the way, I want to look at the two different versions of “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”.

    Similar to “American Utopias”, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” had a terrific balance of humor and serious connotations. I have to admit, at some points of reading the original script, I had to read parts out loud to my friend studying next to me because I was snorting laughing and couldn’t leave it to myself. Like the part about the Newton device and “HEMORRHOID FISHSTICK”? I couldn’t breathe I was laughing to hard. But then when we got to the part when the man with the disfigured hook hand touched the iPad for the first time and commented on the magic of it, my stomach dropped. It was awful.

    The second version of “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was obviously identical to the first version but with some more details added. The first really large part added was about Sun Danyong, who was responsible for a missing iPhone that resulted in essentially the end of his life. He was beaten and went up to the roof and ended his life before he spend the rest of it rotting away in prison. This very specific recount added more depth to Daisey’s original piece because it humanized the story and played with the emotions of listeners/readers.

    The second version also added a part that would enhance the credibility of the monologue. It says:
    “You could believe the New York Times. Two years after I’m there, they find things I never could have dreamed of. They find workers at Foxconn regularly working double shifts— that’s twenty-four continuous hours—until they drop on the line.
    They find Apple’s quotas so unbelievably tight that iPad factories are pressed into production before the factory is even finished being built—they’re rushing to get them into Apple stores for launch day. That’s how the first iPad factory explodes, killing some workers and maiming others. Apple apologizes, Foxconn apologizes, this will never happen again…until it happens again, three months later, at another iPad factory the exact same way.”
    These details were probably added to increase the believability of the piece and to reach out to readers in a way that shows that Mike Daisey isn’t alone in his discoveries.

    Lastly, the 2.0 piece includes a sit down conversation between Mike Daisey and Steve Wozniak. In this conversation, Wozniak breaks down and basically admits to how awful he feels about what has gone on.

    After reading the official retraction piece and interview, I wonder how much of the added details were true. We know that a lot of details included in the original piece were fabricated, isn’t it likely that the additions were also fraudulent?

    What Mike Daisey did wasn’t right and I know that. BUT I do think he had a reason for what he did. He wanted to raise awareness about what happened in the Apple factories in China. And he may have lied or exaggerated along the way, but at the end of the day he changed public opinion and spurred investigations–and that was his goal.

    As the phrase goes.. The end justifies the means.

  6. The Mountaintop-
    I was pleasantly surprised by this production. I knew the play was about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but I was unaware that this play was about the night before his assassination. This was a very powerful and moving production. This play had only 2 actors, Bowman Wright as Dr. King and Joaquina Kalukango as Camae, and only one set, room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. However, this was a great production. I loved how there was so much humor involved as well as the twist. Both characters in this production were African American. It is learned later in the play that Camae, the maid at the motel, is actually an angel that has been assigned to take Dr. King “to the other side.” At one point, when Dr. King finally understands that that is his final night, he asks to speak to God. He learns God is a woman, and African American. Even Dr. King said that is not what he had envisioned.

    I also thought that fact that Dr. King kept saying he still had so much work to do, so many dreams and goals to accomplish was interesting. He did not want to pass on yet because he hadn’t achieved everything he sought out to do. He was concerned about his mission’s fulfillment and who would lead them. The angel, Camae reassured him that his mission would carry on and no one would let it die.

    This play also pointed out how everyone is imperfect, even someone as well liked and respected as Dr. King. He was tempted, just like everyone is. One of the most important points Dr. King made was that everyone is “scared.” That’s what everyone in the world has in common. I believe this is very true. No one is perfect; everyone has fears, everyone has sorrows, but that is okay.

  7. How to Write a New Book for the Bible-

    I saw “How to Write A New Book for the Bible” at the Round House Theater in Bethesda. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the Round House Theater when the class saw “Glengarry Glen Ross,” so it was nice to be back. This time, the stage was much less crowded and had significantly fewer props than in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” It was exciting to see such a drastic change within the same theater.

    Billy, the main character and storyteller spoke much about his family and familial relationships. Billy acted as the healer in the family, it seems. As the title suggests, this play had many biblical references and a religious tone throughout. Billy states that the bible says, “details matter.” Also, it was stated that belief in God is the easiest to do. The hardest is believing that “this” matters. “This” is referring to everything going on in life, our surroundings, friends, family, everything going on. Another life lesson so to speak that the play presented was finishing ones work. The father said that his family (Billy’s family) never leaves a fight without finishing it first. That’s the family’s motto. No one goes to bed angry, upset or confused because the fight has to be finished first.

    Family, as displayed, is a huge aspect of this play. After his father passes, Billy is the brother that volunteers to help his aging mother. He takes care of her. Another interesting aspect of this play was family story. “If you want to find God, look to your family story.” This was a quote in the play. Family is a true support system. Look to your family for advice and comforting, when excited, and when in need. God lives within your family; he guides them and guides our decisions. With that, much can be accomplished.

  8. When I went and saw Mike Daisey’s “American Utopias” it was unlike any other production I’ve been to before. For starters, it was the first time I’ve ever seen a play alone. Secondly, the lobby was filled with pink fur lined couches, an old marry-go-round horse wearing a gas-mask, a huge stuffed bear in a shopping cart, and temporary Disney tattoos and rhinestone bindi stickers for all. It was the first time I’ve ever attended a play that was actually a monologue, and it was also the first time I’ve experienced a “surprise” interactive ending.

    I couldn’t stop thinking about the performance after I got home (and not just because Daisey asked the audience to think about what we saw as we fell asleep that night). I remember being surprised by the pop rock anthems playing in the lobby, one of which was “We Built this City” by Jefferson Starship. This is significant because throughout his performance Daisey emphasizes the importance of built-environments. He begins by talking about Burning Man, when for one-week people build an entire village in the middle of the desert only to burn it down and remove all the evidence of its existence at the end of the festivities. Daisey then turns to Disney World, the magical, fantastical place Walt Disney created to be his own utopian society. Perfect artificial trees with surprisingly realistic bark and adorable artificial squirrel animatronics mark Disney World as the ultimate built-environment. Finally, Daisey devotes time to a discussion of Zuccotti Park, New York City, where impassioned, grass roots Occupy protestors created a tent village. The protestor camp was removed during a media blackout in the middle of the night by the NYPD.

    The importance of cities built is what I took away as the theme of this both hilarious and heart-wrenching performance. At the end of the production Daisey reminds audiences that the city streets belong to them—we created them. Everything around us has been created. As exemplified by Burning Man, Disney World, and Zuccotti Park, we are in control of our own environments. We have the ability to create our own utopias if only we have the courage to stand united. Daisey asks audiences to harness the same sense of community fostered in the darkness of a theater and bring it forth into our daily lives.

  9. “American Utopias” By Mike Daisey, Woolly Mammoth Theater

    To say “American Utopias” by Mike Daisey is fantastic would be an understatement. It was by far one of the most moving, exciting, and enjoyable experiences I have had with the world of theater thus far. I’m a sucker for a good punch-line and I sometimes forgot I was attending a play and not a stand-up comedy hour. But as a student that has previously studied poetry and through my experience with theater this semester, I was mesmerized by the delivery of his rhythmic and well rehearsed monologue.

    Daisey weaves between his observations on the Burning Man festival in Black Rock Desert in Nevada, with his thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, and with his experiences running frantically from ride to ride in Disney World a with a group of Disney obsessive relatives from New Jersey. I thought the connection between Burning Man and Disney works very well since both of these places are filled with Americans seeking some kind of release from their normal everyday existence. It is clear that Daisey is out of his natural habitat in both of these places, and that serves him well as he takes us from the bizarre human car washes at Burning Man to the comforts of watching the fireworks at Epcot and knowing that they will blaze just the same on the following night.

    I think my favorite part of his show are the scenes where he describes Disney World. When he took on the famous ride “It’s A Small World,” I about lost it. He said “It looks like a 1950s game show threw up on itself.” It is very difficult for me to remember any specifics from any of the Disney segments because I think I spent more time crying of intense laughter than being able to coherently process anything he was actually saying. Another of my favorite moments is when he describes the “Sodas Around The World” attraction at Epcot. It was personally one of my most memorable experiences in Epcot at Disney, but I think I will never be able to look at it the same after Daisey’s recount of it.

    I had to do some research on what exactly Burning Man was after I saw the show. I knew it was some kind of camp where people gathered to experiment with drugs and sex and other psychedelic substances. I was able to confirm that it was in fact called Burning Man festival, wherein thousands of self-actualizing hipsters converge annually on the Black Rock Desert in Nevada for a week of various righteous and sensorial activities. His account of it is HILARIOUS and extremely realistic. This component of his monologue gave way to our guilty pleasures and kind of debunked normal American “Utopias.” I think Burning Man is supposed to represent our rebellious, worry-free side, that many of us will never fully discover.

    I loved Daisey’s account of the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, New York. I never really had the opportunity to hear much about what being inside the encampment was like, and whether or not if Daisey was actually there or if what he said was accurate, I found it to be extremely realistic and still very comical. It was a good representation of American’s fighting back against capitalism and money-hungry corporations. I thought it represented a failing utopia, or a dark side of a utopia. The Occupy Wall Street Movement as a whole was meant to draw attention to the social inequalities that still exist in our country and I found this a magnificent contrast to his takes on Disney and Burning Man.

    In conclusion, I HIGHLY recommend that you see “American Utopias” at Woolly Mammoth Theater. I think you just have to keep an open mind and put your trust in Mike Daisey’s hands for the evening, and you will have a wonderful experience. I promise it will be like none other and that you will be able to take a very introspective look at your own life and the modern American society after viewing this show. Daisey is a genius.

  10. “American Utopias” was one of the best performances I’ve been to this semester and it inspired me to read Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” (the original, the controversy surrounding it, and the 2.0 version). It also seemed very befitting since Steve Wozniak is going to be the guest speaker at my graduation from Berkeley here in a couple weeks.

    In “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” Mike Daisey tells audiences about the conditions of life in the Apple factories in Shenzhen, China. There are epidemics of employee suicides, 13-year-old laborers, and workers with mangled hands. Daisey describes how many of the employees work 12 to 24 hour days to produce the technology in our pockets. Americans have a sort of religious devotion to Apple products, Daisey claims, and, “the moment you begin to think…is a problem with any religion.” Steve Jobs was passionate, and started off with the belief that technology needed to have a humanist element. This was lost somewhere in the business model as seen in the Chinese factories. Daisey argues that these Chinese workers, just like you and me, are people that could foster in a democracy, but are “too busy making all our shit to think about freedom.”

    I was surprised at how similar the message delivery in this monologue was to that in “American Utopias.” Daisey claims that there is power in being an audience. He calls on us to rethink the conventions he challenges—whether that be the Occupy movement or America’s devotion to Apple. A large part of both plays is the evocation of activism among the audiences. After reading about the controversy over “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” I went back and looked at my program from “American Utopias.” At the end of the description, it reads: “The management also wishes to remind you that this is a true story, and like every story being told in every medium, all stories are fiction.”

    Reading the retraction of Daisey’s performance on NPR’s “This American Life,” made me think about how truth in the theater is different than truth in the journalist sense. I realize it was a huge mistake for Daisey to broadcast his monologue as news. It’s not news; it’s performance. However, I don’t necessarily think that the fact-checking was wholly illuminating. Why would this Chinese interpreter, Cathy, agree to have her identity publically, internationally revealed as taking part in this critique of Chinese labor conditions? If I were in her position and NPR called me to fact-check on an international level, I would not want to risk my life over a piece of theater performance. However, it was probably wise of Daisey to create the 2.0 version which includes less specifics and less “facts” which can be torn apart. Overall, I think the work is incredibly powerful and moving as it a performance piece which can inspire activism, it is not, however, a news report.

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