Friday, September 20, 2013

Script Evaluation 101 @ SF Theater Pub Blog

Another week, another Theater Pub column. This week, my topic is "Script Evaluation 101" -- the basic questions, rubrics, and biases that I use when I'm evaluating play scripts. Read my column and you, too, can become just as qualified as I am to judge new plays!

Or, if you disagree with the sweeping generalizations, unsubstantiated opinions, and blatant prejudices that I use to evaluate scripts, why don't you tell me your rules for evaluating plays, and we can hash it out in the comments?

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Wendy and the Lost Boys": Wasserstein's stranger-than-fiction life

If you're an American female playwright, particularly one who went to a Seven Sisters college, you're going to have to grapple with the legacy of Wendy Wasserstein. We all have our literary forebears that we do battle with in that "Anxiety of Influence" kind of way, and Wasserstein is one of mine. Not the only one, certainly. But Uncommon Women and Others was a big, big influence on me when I was writing Pleiades, and I wrote a college term paper on The Heidi Chronicles. And Wasserstein is the archetypal Baby Boomer female playwright, and I am a daughter of Boomers, so in some sense, it's like she is my mother...

As such, I had wanted to read Julie Salamon's biography of Wasserstein, Wendy and the Lost Boys, ever since it came out two years ago. But I was also hesitant: I read reviews stating that the biography made Wasserstein out to be a sadder and more complicated woman than she ever let on. Is this what it meant to be a female artist? (Must a female artist suffer?) Would reading the book just depress me? I knew that Wasserstein never found romantic love, and I too was suffering bad luck in my love life, and in my more cynical moments I'd repeat to myself, "Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe, and Wendy Wasserstein died alone."

Maybe I finally allowed myself to read Wendy and the Lost Boys this month because I am secure and happy in a relationship, so the story of a romantically-frustrated female playwright now has less power to trigger my neuroses. Anyway, here's my Goodreads review of the biography.

  Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy WassersteinWendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein by Julie Salamon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Wendy and the Lost Boys" is a fascinating biography that ferrets out some of the secrets and sorrows that Wendy Wasserstein hid beneath her giggly, lovably self-deprecating public persona. In some respects, Wasserstein was a typical Baby Boomer woman, breaking the glass ceiling in the '70s, giving up her bohemian roots and becoming part of the Establishment during the '80s and '90s, etc. In other respects, she was completely atypical. Her parents, siblings, friendships, and romantic relationships were all far more complicated than she ever revealed to the public, either in her plays (which were often semi-autobiographical) or her magazine essays.

Julie Salamon tells this story capably, bringing to life the vivid "cast of characters" that made up Wendy's world. Many of Wasserstein's famous friends, such as Christopher Durang and André Bishop, spoke to Salamon and provided valuable insights. (Dishiest piece of gossip: around the time "The Heidi Chronicles" was on Broadway, Wendy had a lengthy affair with Terrence McNally -- though McNally was gay, and had formerly been Edward Albee's boyfriend!)

Salamon's writing shows some signs of fatigue in the later chapters of the book -- lots of one-sentence paragraphs, things like that. Nevertheless, the final chapters are surprisingly suspenseful, as Wendy has a "mystery" baby and then a "mystery" illness, all within the last six years of her too-short life. Her secretiveness about the pregnancy and about her baby's father is mirrored by her secretiveness about the lymphoma that killed her. If this were a play, you might not believe it -- but this is Wendy's uncommon life.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Shitstirring (lots of it) @ SF Theater Pub Blog

What happens when two verbose, overeducated people who always want to have the last word start to argue about the ethics of stirring shit up, our responsibilities to ourselves and to our fellow humans, and the best way to live in an imperfect world?

You get me and Stuart Bousel, my editor at the Theater Pub blog, going head-to-head in the comments section for several rounds.

The argument started when I used my Theater Pub column this week to quibble with some aspects of Stuart's earlier piece "In Defense of Stirring Shit Up." Then he responded in the comments section to quibble with some of my points, etc. It got very heady and somewhat heated, but I am proud of what I wrote, and I think it's worth reading.

Go over there and enter the fray... if you dare.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Goodreads and less-good ones

Popping in to say that I joined Goodreads a couple of weeks ago, at my boyfriend's urging. I always keep lists of everything I read (which reminds me, I never posted my 2012 list on my blog) -- so why not do it using Goodreads' interface, and get exposed to new books I might like via Goodreads' fancy book-recommending algorithm?

Posting reviews of what I'm reading on Goodreads also feels more comfortable, somehow, then posting them here on marissabidilla. When I write a blog post here, I feel like it needs to be a well-researched, well-organized piece of writing that makes a clear and interesting argument. You (the reader of my blog) aren't interested in just hearing my random thoughts about whatever book I happen to be reading, I think... so my post needs some other justification for existing beyond "I felt like writing a book review." As a result, I can't remember the last time I wrote a book review on marissabidilla.

Whereas, when I write a review on Goodreads, the "why" of the review is self-evident ("because I just finished reading this book, and this website wants me to rate and review it"). And I don't need to worry about making my review a perfect piece of writing, since it is just one of dozens or hundreds of reviews on the site. I can simply write 250 or so words about the book, listing some of my thoughts and attempting to justify the star rating I gave to it.

My first Goodreads review is for Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub, a book I wanted to read as soon as I heard about it. Unfortunately, I didn't think it lived up to the hype.

Laura Lamont's Life in PicturesLaura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I enjoy classic movies and wanted to read a novelist's take on Hollywood in the 1940s, but Emma Straub seems more interested in her protagonist's domestic life than in her film career. The novel goes into great detail about Laura Lamont's (née Elsa Emerson) small-town childhood, her marriages, and her children, even to the point of rehashing the same themes and emotions over and over. (Regarding Laura's troubled son, Junior, on page 292 we learn that "Hearing his name from someone else's mouth felt like a hole through Laura's lung," and ten pages later, "Sometimes he looked so much like his father that it poked a hole straight through Laura's heart.") Meanwhile, the novel is comparatively silent on subjects like Laura's filmography, her professional relationships, or the actual extent of her talent as an actress.

The novel follows Laura into the 1950s, '60s, and beyond -- decades during which various tragedies strike her family, and she loses her fame and beauty. For much of the book, she is a lost and melancholy woman (I lost count of the number of times she weeps). While this makes emotional sense for the character, pages and pages of a woman wallowing in grief and regret doesn't always make for compelling reading. I also thought there was a rather off-putting subtext of "being a woman, a wife, and a mother, means a life of suffering and sorrow."

I had hoped that this novel would offer me vivid characters, snappy dialogue, and/or sweeping emotional climaxes, which are some of the things I love best about 1940s movies, but I was unfortunately disappointed.

View all my reviews

(What do you think? Should I keep cross-posting my reviews from Goodreads onto marissabidilla?)