Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in Books

On the first morning of 2016, having reread the first six Narnia books over Christmas, I read C.S. Lewis' distasteful, apocalyptic The Last Battle while suffering from an awful champagne hangover, and somehow I feel that set the wrong tone for the year.

On this the last evening of 2016, I read Harold Bloom's life-affirming, slightly nutty Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human while eating Eritrean food and a nice glass of red wine, so that I could end the year having finished a book that I started in April 2016, the month of the #Shakespeare400 celebrations.

And in the meantime? I read about 50 other works; here's the full rundown. As is my custom, I split my reading into 2 lists, one for plays/screenplays and one for everything else (primarily novels and nonfiction). I count plays only if they are published and available for general consumption. Works that were rereads for me this year are marked with an asterisk.

  1. *The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis
  2. The Magician’s Book, by Laura Miller
  3. Coldwater, by Mardi McConnochie – my thoughts
  4. Beautiful Chaos, by Carey Perloff 
  5. The Rule of Women in Early Modern Europe, anthology edited by Anne Cruz and Mihoko Suzuki
  6. Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons 
  7. Personal Writings, by Ignatius of Loyola
  8. Loitering with Intent, by Muriel Spark
  9. A Writer’s Paris, by Eric Maisel
  10. Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm
  11. After Alice, by Gregory Maguire
  12. *Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  13. Hamilton: The Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter – I wrote a review of this for the Theater Pub blog
  14. Love & Friendship, by Whit Stillman
  15. *A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster
  16. *The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter
  17. *Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  18. *The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
  19. The Magician King, by Lev Grossman
  20. The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman
  21. The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill – my thoughts
  22. Lyric Poems, by John Keats
  23. 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, by Sarah Ruhl
  24. English Melodrama, by Michael R. Booth
  25. Bellwether, by Connie Willis
  26. *Persuasion, by Jane Austen
  27. *The White Album, by Joan Didion – my post from when I first read this, in 2014
  28. *The Arkadians, by Lloyd Alexander
  29. *Seven Gothic Tales, by Isak Dinesen – my post from when I first read this, in 2008
  30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
  31. *The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon – my post from when I first read this, in 2008
  32. Winter’s Tales, by Isak Dinesen 
  33. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom
These books, by the numbers:
  • 16 American, 11 British, 2 Danish, 1 Australian, 1 Spanish, 1 Canadian, 1 anthology 
  • 17 books by 15 different men, 16 books by 14 different women
  • 22 new reads, 11 rereads 
  • 22 fiction, 10 nonfiction, 1 poetry
Plays & Screenplays
  1. Light Up the Sky, by Moss Hart
  2. Five Finger Exercise, by Peter Shaffer
  3. The Private Ear, by Peter Shaffer
  4. The Public Eye, by Peter Shaffer
  5. White Liars, by Peter Shaffer
  6. Black Comedy, by Peter Shaffer
  7. The Royal Hunt of the Sun, by Peter Shaffer
  8. Shrivings, by Peter Shaffer
  9. *Equus, by Peter Shaffer
  10. *Amadeus, by Peter Shaffer
  11. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by Jack Thorne – I wrote about this for American Theatre's website
  12. The Woman in Black, by Stephen Mallatratt – my thoughts
  13. Really, by Jackie Sibblies Drury
  14. *Blithe Spirit, by Noël Coward
  15. *Hay Fever, by Noël Coward 
  16. *The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde 
  17. *Private Lives, by Noël Coward 
  18. Design for Living, by Noël Coward – my thoughts
  19. Barcelona, by Whit Stillman 
  20. Metropolitan, by Whit Stillman 
These plays and screenplays, by the numbers:
  • 15 British, 4 American, 1 Irish 
  • 19 plays by 7 different men, 1 play by 1 different woman 
  • 14 new reads, 6 rereads 
(As always, I'm struck by how my "non-plays" reading is about 50/50 in terms of gender balance, and the plays I saw this year were about 60:40 male:female, but I always seem to end up reading way more plays by men than by women. My best guess is that this happens because I prefer seeing plays to reading them, and most "important" new scripts make it to the Bay Area within 5 or so years after they premiere. So the plays that I read tend to be classics that I've overlooked or never had the chance to see staged—and "classic" plays are disproportionately written by men.)

Previous Years in Reading lists: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

Friday, December 30, 2016

Theatergoing 2016: The List

I neglected to do this in 2014 or 2015, but let's bring back my year-end tradition of the Theatergoing Report!

In 2016, I saw 41 fully staged* productions, listed here in chronological order:

*the dividing line between "full production" and "rough experiment" can get blurred in indie theater but my rough rule is "did the actors memorize it? if so, it's a production. if not, it's a staged reading."
  1. Of Serpents & Sea Spray, by Rachel Bublitz, at Custom Made Theatre
  2. The Morrissey Plays, by various authors, at San Francisco Theater Pub
  3. Satchmo at the Waldorf, by Terry Teachout, at American Conservatory Theatre
  4. Over the Rainbow, by Tonya Narvaez, at San Francisco Theater Pub
  5. Pas de Quatre, by Margery Fairchild, at Dark Porch Theater
  6. Sam and Dede, by Gino DiIorio, at Custom Made Theatre
  7. The Nether, by Jennifer Haley, at San Francisco Playhouse
  8. School of Rock, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Glenn Slater, and Julian Fellowes, presented by Oakland School of the Arts at the Curran Theatre (my piece for American Theatre on this)
  9. Dogeaters, by Jessica Hagedorn, at Magic Theatre
  10. Shortlived 2016, Round 3, by various authors (including me), at PianoFight
  11. Hotel Burlesque, by Red Velvet and Amanda Ortmayer, at DivaFest
  12. Chinese Whispers: Golden Gate, by Rene Yung, at the Southside Theater
  13. On the Spot 2016, by various authors, at Theater Pub
  14. Middletown, by Will Eno, at Custom Made
  15. American Psycho, by Duncan Sheik and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, on Broadway
  16. La ménagerie de verre, by Tennessee Williams, at Théâtre National de la Colline (Paris)
  17. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, at Shotgun Players
  18. Sticky Icky, by Colin Johnson, at Theater Pub
  19. Six Degrees of Separation, by John Guare, at Custom Made
  20. Maggie's Riff, by Jon Lipsky, at FaultLine Theatre
  21. The Village Bike, by Penelope Skinner, at Shotgun Players
  22. Red Velvet, by Lolita Chakrabarti, at SF Playhouse
  23. Confessions of a Catholic Child,  by Elizabeth Appell, at EXIT Theatre
  24. Adventures in Tech, by Stuart Bousel, at PianoFight
  25. Portal: The Musical, by Kirk Shimano and Jonathan Coulton, at Theater Pub
  26. Hunting Love, by Susan-Jane Harrison, produced by Local Dystopia at the Flight Deck
  27. The Thrush and the Woodpecker, by Steve Yockey, at Custom Made
  28. Campo Maldito, by Bennett Fisher, produced by People of Interest
  29. The Awakening, adapted by Oren Stevens, at the Breadbox
  30. Pint-Sized Plays 2016, by various authors (including me), at Theater Pub
  31. Stupid Ghost, by Savannah Reich, at Theater Pub
  32. Caught, by Christopher Chen, at Shotgun Players
  33. Chess, by Tim Rice, Benny Andersson, and Björn Ulvaeus, at Custom Made Theater
  34. Gravedigger: The Musical, by Dylan Waite and Casey Robbins, at Theater Pub
  35. Casa Valentina, by Harvey Fierstein, at NCTC
  36. The Hard Problem, by Tom Stoppard, at American Conservatory Theatre
  37. Into the Beautiful North, by Karen Zacarias, at Central Works
  38. King Lear, by William Shakespeare, at Theater Pub
  39. Paradise Street, by Clive Barker, at EXIT Theatre (thoughts)
  40. Rapture Blister Burn, by Gina Gionfriddo, at Custom Made
  41. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, at Marin Theatre Co.
If you tally the above list by playwright gender, 22 of the shows had male writers or all-male writing teams, 15 had female writers or all-female writing teams, and 4 were mixed-gender anthologies. So, a roughly 60:40 male:female ratio. Not perfect, but not awful, either, considering that the Counting Actors Project often posts numbers that show a male:female playwright ratio of more like 80:20. It's possible to admit there's room for improvement while also being thrilled at how easy it feels nowadays to see interesting plays by women, right?

I also attended the following staged readings, in which female playwrights were even better represented:
  1. An Ear for Voices by Alina Trowbridge, at Custom Made's Undiscovered Works program
  2. Cypress, Sin, and Care by Alandra Hileman, at the Breadbox
  3. The Princess and the Porn Star, by Kirk Shimano, at Custom Made's Undiscovered Works program
  4. You'll Not Feel the Drowning, by me, at Custom Made's Undiscovered Works program (3 separate readings, in May, September, and December)
  5. Oceanus, by Dan Hirsch and Siyu Song, at Custom Made's Undiscovered Works program
  6. Better than Television (4 nights), by Megan Cohen and various authors, at Theater Pub
  7. Queen of the Sword, by Alandra Hileman, at Loud and Unladylike
  8. Christine Emerges, by Tonya Narvaez, at Loud and Unladylike
  9. Juana, or The Greater Glory, by me, at Loud and Unladylike
  10. A Night of New Works, excerpts of plays by various authors (including me), at Playwrights Foundation
  11. Hades by Jason Wimbish and Hecate by Neil Higgins, at the Olympians Festival
  12. Styx by Christine Keating, Acheron by Patsy Fergusson, and Lethe by Alan Olejniczak, at the Olympians Festival
  13. Macaria, or The Good Life by me, Charon, or Ferryman by Bridgette Dutta Portman, and Ascalaphus, or Tattletale by Elizabeth Flanagan, at the Olympians Festival
  14. Thanatos by Barbara Jwanouskos and Julianne Jigour, Morpheus by Kirk Shimano, and Hypnos, or Cardenio by Alan Coyne, at the Olympians Festival
  15. Drumming With Anubis, by David Templeton, at the Olympians Festival
  16. Being Your Own Bunny by Veronica Tjioe & Tootsie's Jook Joint by Jovelyn Richards, at the Olympians Festival
  17. Cyrus by Tonya Narvaez and The People of the Shifting Sands by Nirmala Nataraj, at the Olympians Festival
  18. Demeter, or Ceres en Victoria by Stuart Bousel, at Cafe du Nord
Plus, I watched broadcasts of two shows at home from my laptop!
  1. Stegosaurus, or Three Cheers for Climate Change by Andrew Saito, produced by FaultLine Theatre, shown on HowlRound TV
  2. She Loves Me, by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joe Masteroff, shown on BroadwayHD
And I saw two operas at SF Opera:
  1. Don Carlo, by Verdi
  2. Don Pasquale, by Donizetti
My previous year-end Theatergoing reports: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The End of Theater Pub

A lot of things have ended in 2016, and San Francisco Theater Pub is among them.

I fell behind on cross-linking my Theater Pub columns here this year, and in 2017 I hope to collect links to all of my writing in one place, but, for now, here are the five final Theater Pub pieces I wrote.

"What I Did For Love" – following the September announcement that Theater Pub would end after its December show, I wrote about the factors that led to this decision and the reasons why no one should feel heartbroken at the news.

"Comma Comments" – "I’m a descriptivist when it comes to how I punctuate the dialogue of my plays, but I am a strict prescriptivist when it comes to expecting actors to respect that punctuation," and more thoughts on punctuation and playwriting.

"Pet Peeves in Arts Journalism" – after 4+ years of blogging for Theater Pub, I used one of my final columns to complain about phrases and ideas that bother me in other arts writing, including "The Bard," "the play's the thing," and either too much or too little knowledge of the past.

"If Only Angels Could Prevail" – I wrote this the night after the election and don't know how I did it. On facing the next four years, the possible role of artist and artists during that time, and how I survived Election Night by sneaking into a Sondheim rehearsal in the back room.

"They Can't Take That Away From Me" – there was no time for nostalgia the day after the election, but last week, I took some time to write a nostalgic look-back at seven years of Theater Pub and seven years of my twenties, titled after the song I sang at the final Theater Pub show.

Monday, December 19, 2016

I'll Always, Always Keep the Memory Of...

San Francisco Theater Pub, the scrappy little theater-in-a-bar that has done so much for me since it started in January 2010, is having its last-ever show tonight. And before it goes away for good, it's giving me the chance to fulfill one more dream: to stand on a cabaret stage in a vintage dress and sing a wistful ballad from the Great American Songbook.

Summing up everything that Theater Pub has meant to me would normally take thousands of words... but fortunately, the Gershwins wrote "They Can't Take That Away From Me" to say everything that needs to be said on occasions like this.

Tonight's show, including my contribution, will be a singalong of musical theater favorites. As always, admission is free and we'll pass a hat for donations; this time, though, we'll be donating all proceeds to the ACLU. ("My constitutional rights, no, no, they can't take that away from me?" Don't worry, I will be singing the original lyrics.)

The bittersweet fun starts at 8 PM at PianoFight (144 Taylor St, San Francisco).

Banner art by Cody Rishell.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Discontented Bohemians: the darkness of "Design for Living"

Happy birthday, Noël Coward! "The Master" was born 117 years ago today. In his honor, here are some thoughts on his play Design for Living, which I read for the first time last month.

Alfred Lunt, Noël Coward, and Lynn Fontanne in the 1930s world premiere of Design for Living. SCANDALOUS.
I had heard that Design for Living was a scandalous-in-its-time comedy about bisexual polyamory, so I expected it to be a naughty and frothy romp. But I found it a much sadder, angrier play than I anticipated. The characters’ unconventional sexual mores don’t seem to make them happy; they think free love will liberate them but it mostly seems to lead to discontentment and anguish.

The two men in the play’s poly-triad – painter Otto and playwright Leo – are not very distinctly characterized, but the woman, Gilda, is an enormously powerful role. Gilda is full of a frustrated, neurotic, self-loathing energy. She’s a liberated woman by 1930s standards, but she still can’t seem to imagine herself without a man, and she is keenly conscious that the world sees her as a mere dilettante (she is an interior decorator) while lauding Otto and Leo as “real” artists. The driving force of the plot is Gilda’s dissatisfaction and inability to be happy with what she has.

I wasn’t expecting it, but this play reminded me a lot of Jules and Jim, another story in which the close relationship between two bohemian men is upended by the arrival of an alluring, unstable woman. Granted, Design for Living ends more happily than Jules and Jim – in the last act, Leo, Otto, and Gilda’s free-spirited ways are contrasted with the stuffiness of conventional society, and the play finally starts to feel like a comedy. But Acts One and Two, despite the glamorous pajamas-and-cocktails trappings, are a surprisingly dark story about, in Noël Coward’s own words, “glib, over-articulate and amoral creatures […] [who] are like moths in a pool of light, unable to tolerate the lonely outer darkness, and equally unable to share the light without colliding constantly and bruising one another’s wings.”

View all my Goodreads reviews

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"You'll Not Feel the Drowning": Upcoming Reading & Workshop

My play You'll Not Feel the Drowning, about how to go on living when there's a persistent sense of doom hanging over you, had developmental readings in May and September of this year as part of Custom Made Theatre's new-works program. I am honored to announce that Custom Made has been pleased with the script's progress and has chosen it for further development, including a workshop production!

First, though, another developmental reading of Drowning is happening tonight at 7 PM at the Gallery Cafe on Nob Hill. (the arts editors of the SF Chronicle named this as one of today's critic's picks!) See the Facebook invite for more details.

Then, I'll think about the feedback from tonight's audience, do another round of focused rewriting, and in mid-April of 2017, Drowning will have a 6-performance workshop production at the EXIT Theatre. It will be directed by Gabriel Ross, and Allie Moss will be the dramaturg.

More information about the April workshop forthcoming as I have it (and yes, I will make an effort to post event info with more than an hour to spare before it happens).

Friday, December 9, 2016

Merseyside Miracle: "Paradise Street" at EXIT Theatre

The Queen and her courtiers. Christina Augello as Elizabeth, Phil Wong as Mulrooney,
Luke Brady as Essex. Photo by Jay Yamada.
Maybe a year and a half ago, my friend Stuart Bousel invited me and several other actors to his lair in the hills to read through a rarely-produced, genre-bending Christmas play about sex, violence, monkeys, miracles, Anglo-Irish relations, urban renewal, and a midnight visitation from Queen Elizabeth I.

I didn’t quite know then what to make of Clive Barker's Paradise Street—I still don’t quite know—but I know that the cast and crew* that Stuart has assembled to give this show its American premiere at the EXIT Theatre this month are killing it on all levels.

Cat Luetdke has expertly coached them on five different British Isles accents. They’ve removed a row of seats in the auditorium to accommodate Queen Elizabeth’s farthingale (designed by the amazing Brooke Jennings). Phil Wong gives a beautifully detailed performance as Mulrooney, the homeless Irish prophet. And Kyle McReddie, Jeunée Simon, Nicole Odell, Luetdke and more are great as the ordinary Liverpudlians witnessing a most unusual Christmas miracle.

More and more, when people ask me for general advice on playwriting, the only thing I can say is “Don’t be afraid to GO THERE. Don’t be afraid to BE WEIRD.”

(“Don’t be afraid.” The first words of the angel to the shepherds of Bethlehem.)

The team behind Paradise Street has certainly Gone There, and they’ve brought back tidings of both sorrow and joy. An off-kilter Christmas play for the end of an off-kilter year.

The EXIT Theatre production of Paradise Street plays through December 17 in San Francisco.

*Disclosure of bias: I am friends with many of the people involved in this production but had no involvement myself beyond that initial living-room reading. I attended the Saturday 12/3 performance and paid for my ticket.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

pink wigs & acting gigs

This quiz went around my circle of Facebook friends last week; it seems designed for people who act and audition more frequently than I do, but it also made me realize I've done more stuff onstage than I thought I had.

Last show added to your resume: As an actor, Hecate; as a writer, Macaria (both in Olympians Festival 2016)

Last show you auditioned for but didn't get cast: The Importance of Being Earnest, at Actors Ensemble of Berkeley, just last month. (I got a callback though!)

Favorite musical: today my heart is saying Sunday in the Park with George

Favorite play: Arcadia

Favorite role you've played: Prof. Renelle Fouche in the reading of Christian Teen Dolphin Sex Beach Party 

Favorite costume: Lucinda in Into the Woods; I had a lavender chiffon gown and a cotton-candy-pink wig!

"Beautiful of [dress], but vile and black of heart" as Lucinda.

Favorite superstition: I try not to say "Macbeth" or "good luck."

What was your very first show? The Mystery of the Royal Slippers, a kids' adaptation of "The 12 Dancing Princesses." I was 6; I played the Queen. And thus began my long history of always playing the mom and never playing the ingenue.

Have you ever had a dance solo? Nope

Have you ever had a singing solo? Yes, though it's tended to be solo lines/verses of a song rather than, like, the 11-o'clock-number.

Have you ever been the last person to take a bow? Not as an actor, but I have at opening nights of shows I've produced ("Pint-Sized Plays") or written (Pleiades).

Have you been to New York? Yes

Have you been to L.A.? Yes, though I didn't see any theater while I was there

What's the scariest part of an audition? When they make you do wacky physical or improv stuff.

What's the best part of an audition? When you can sing a song you love.

Name a show you could do for years: It might be lovely to do A Little Night Music for years, it's so beautiful and romantic. And maybe after a year I'd finally have "The Miller's Son" word-perfect!

What are you auditioning for next? Who knows?

Do you keep in touch with past cast members? Yes, but I could be better at it.

Something embarrassing or unexpected that happened to you while you were onstage? Nothing really comes to mind.

Ever been naked onstage? No

Been killed onstage? No

Been drunk onstage? I had to play drunk as Caesar in Our Country's Good. I was 14 and had no idea what I was doing.

Ever played someone half your age? Don't think so

Played someone twice your age? Lots of times

Cried onstage? I fake-cried in the first Theater Pub Christmas show, for comedy purposes, but I've never cried real, serious tears.

Fired a gun onstage? No

Been drenched? No

Been kissed? Yes, as Elsa in The Desk Set. Though you should know that I was the one doing the kissing.

First show you saw on Broadway? Cats.