While “Yellow Face” Rehearses “Eat Your Heart Out” launches 2014 Tea @ 2

Friday was a good day for experiencing the powerful play-in-process — two of ’em, in fact — only this time it wasn’t the scripts that were in development, but our company’s voicing of each. At 11:30 am, our creative team — designers and their assistants, production staff, director Natsu Onoda Power and stage management — took in a designer run of David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face — a full 12 days before we begin sharing the production with our preview audience. Yellow-Face-HomeWe’re catching everything mid-process, and it’s fascinating to behold the potential, and nerve wracking too! Such a close-to-the-bone exposé of a writer’s interior world wrapped up with the mixed fortunes of his professional and political endeavors! You might say that it’s a play about a famous Asian American writer who stumbles and then gets upended by his own contradictions and in the end, with racial and nationalist politics crashing about him, finds his footing and his face. It should be an incredibly revealing thrilling feat — if we can pull it off, and if the audience is in on the fun — galvanized by the embattled idealism and fitful efforts of a man making his way through a politically correct thicket.

At 2 pm, just after the design run, we walked across the hall to take in a reading of Courtney Barron’s Eat Your Heart Out, a play that premiered last season at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.

Jordan Brodess and Sarah Grodsky in 'Eat Your Heart Out,' at the ATL Humana Festival of New American Plays.  photo by Alan Simons

Jordan Brodess and Sarah Grodsky in ‘Eat Your Heart Out,’ at the ATL Humana Festival of New American Plays. photo by Alan Simons

Totally compelling, challenging, moving, innovative in its structure. What was it about? I’ll let the 6 student subscriber from U of Michigan who saw the reading fill in the plot, the conversation around the play, the characters, the challenges of the story telling, and the lingering impressions and questions we were left to ponder.

The Tea @ 2 provided a first time for some to take in the experience of a reading, as opposed to a full production. It’s always remarkable to see what a group of actors can do with only 3 hours of rehearsal. A testament to their ingenuity, to the strong insights from director Shirley Serotsky, and to a text that leaps off the page. And what of all that blue language? Too much? I wondered and worried about that for a bit — the last person in the world to cut the “F-bomb” from a script, but would it keep part of our audience away from an initial embrace of the characters? In the immortal words of playwright John Patrick Shanley when asked for a response to audience members who were concerned about too many “F’s” in his play Danny In The Deep Blue Sea: ‘”F” ’em!” he told me. Playwrights stick to their guns. God love ’em. And hail to Courtney Barron for her wonderfully innovative, uncompromising play! Let’s read what it was all about!

3 thoughts on “While “Yellow Face” Rehearses “Eat Your Heart Out” launches 2014 Tea @ 2

  1. Never having attended a reading for a play, I walked into Theater J a little skeptical on Friday afternoon. From what I gathered, a play reading did not seem much different from a reading of a picture book in elementary school, and I could not see how attending a reading could be much more rewarding than reading a play on one’s own. I was surprised to find however, that I enjoyed the reading of “Eat Your Heart Out” more than watching the play “Our Suburb.” Perhaps it was the actual play that I preferred, or perhaps it was the fact that the absence of the theater set and other distractions allowed my imagination to create more fluid imagery in my mind. Whatever the reasoning, I thoroughly enjoyed Friday’s performance.

    Needless to say, and like many other members of the audience, my favorite characters were Evie and Colin. It was interesting to see Joshua Dick play the role of Colin, the chill new-kid-in-town that swore quite profusely, after just having watched him play the role of Ricky in “Our Suburb,” the awkward and nervous Jewish boy that planned to take over his father’s butcher shop. I especially loved how although Shauna never made an appearance in the play, the audience still got a very distinct idea of her actions and her personality through Colin’s nightly emails to her. My favorite scene was his last email to Shauna, where Colin curses her and everything else in his life, as he, like Evie, hits rock bottom.

    While most of my peers mentioned how unsatisfactory it was that the play ended right before the climax, before Nance and Evie got their chance to reconcile, I personally liked the abrupt ending. It was a great way to tie together all the different characters and the different timelines that had occurred throughout the plot, while giving the audience the power to make their own judgments and to determine what directly follows.

  2. I really enjoyed attending the reading of “Eat Your Heart Out” last Friday afternoon, especially as a young person. I have seen a handful of popular plays, but none set in modern day. It eroded my prior notion that the theatre is a space in which to appreciate only “classic” works. I felt as though I was able to better connect with the piece because of the playwrights use of 21st communication standards such as email, text messages, and online platforms. This inclusion commented on the relevancy of the piece, and as these communication devices enhanced the connections between the characters, they also enhanced the viewer’s ability to insert themselves emotionally and mentally into the narrative.

    In addition, the play commented on our reliance on technology and how embedded it’s use, or lack of use, has taken on a new form of meaning in our lives. Because Nance (Evie’s mom) is ignoring Evie’s multiple cell phone calls, in our modern world, this failure to answer is now representative of an absentee mother. Cell phones have become commonplace and so generally accepted as omnipresent, that not answering a call no longer means that you are busy or away from your phone, but that you are purposefully ignoring someone’s attempt to reach you.

    A common theme I noticed throughout the play was “the things that aren’t on your online profile”. Nance and Tom mention that they met online through match.com (another example of 21st communication strategies), and they discuss the ways in which people can be truthful or deceptive solely through their choice of profile picture. At first, both individuals seem to live up to the representation of themselves that they portray through their online profiles; however, as their dialogue and date progresses, we discover that the information that bonds people are the things that you don’t include on your online profile. In the concluding moments of the play, both Nance and Tom confess those details: “I don’t love my daughter like I should,” “My wife left me because she was bored,” and “My husband left me because I wasn’t sexually attracted to him.” It is through these details that Nance and Tom are able to truly get to know each other and connect over similarities beyond the interests and hobbies that initially “matched” them.

    Overall the play makes an interesting, poignant and, in my opinion, accurate comment on the miscommunication that results from our seemingly helpful 21st century technologies. Ignoring someone’s call takes on new, distressing and offensive meaning, and match.com profiles may misrepresent the most complicated, complex woman as an average, simple and mundane personality.

  3. I really enjoyed the play reading of Eat Your Heart Out. I had never been to a reading like this before, and I appreciated both the intimacy of the venue, as well as the acting by the performers.
    There were a few things that really stuck out with me when it came to the play. For one, it didn’t feel theatrical at all. Of course, there were dramatic moments, but the entire play felt very grounded in contemporary realism. All of the relationships were emotionally developed. The character that I liked the best was Gabe. Emotions are generally harder to draw out of men than they are from women, and he was no exception. When there was the big reveal by his wife about all of the childhood issues that came of Gabe’s parents’ divorce, it definitely was an emotionally satisfying payoff by the script. I could see him telling his wife that in a past moment, and it being something that drew them closer, but also caused a decent amount of friction when it came to starting their own family.
    I also appreciated the timeline of the play. While not similar in terms of substance, it reminded me a bit of Memento, a film by Christopher Nolan. It was told concurrently both forwards and backwards until the scenes finally lined up for the finale. It definitely kept me engaged and thinking about how everything fit together. My big “aha” moment happened when Nance started getting flustered, and everything immediately made sense.
    My only real criticism of the play was the ending. I think it ended about five minutes early. I know that part of the idea was to leave the ending ambiguous, but there was something missing for me. Everyone in the play was pretty emotionally messed up, and I think something that I’ve learned is that when it comes to life, it is important to find people who can exist in your world of craziness instead of fixing it. Seeing Nace reunite with her daughter, for better or worse, would’ve brought everything full circle, and showed if there was any real character development on her part.
    Overall though, it was great. I liked it a lot better than Our Suburb.

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