MEASURE 4 MEASURE

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Sometimes computer actions become applicable to my life… “force quit! … FORCE QUIT!” I state at my laptop computer while an article on my website browser decides not to allow me to shut… IT… off.

 

My behavior is probably tied to a control issue on some small scale – probably linked to aspects of my world that I feel like I can’t shut off – informing my behavior. Be like subway train cars that have no air conditioning in July; be like sleepy eyelids closing when all I want to do is stay up and work – or watch YouTube interviews; be like my miniscule budget when there are so many good shows right now waiting to be watched on Broadway and even beyond the Big Apple.

 

Well, so be it. I love having that “Force Quit…” option though. It hides there waiting to be clicked behind the bitten apple icon on the top left of my 13” screen. I guess that’s how we might illustrate freedom on some scale nowadays. So many options – one happens to be “Force Quit…” thanks to some computer engineer answering necessity somewhere in the universe.

force quit!

Perhaps on some scale that’s the seed of Isabella’s issues in Measure For Measure. Control. A non-virtual, perhaps emotional, ‘Force Quit’ of IT – whatever it happened to be to Isabella. Control over… her own body and free will to choose whether to use her body as a trade to save her brother’s life – or whether to allow herself an ability to remain ‘chaste’. In the sense of this Shakespeare play, a definition of chastity extends to Isabella’s ability to maintain her preparation to become ‘married to God’ as a nun. This would require her to keep all hands off her body and refrain from expressions and receptions of sexual desire – including those of a judge named Angelo (Thomas Jay Ryan) who offers pardon of her brother’s life up in return.

 

Well… now… what a dilemma for a woman like Shakespeare’s Isabella (Cara Ricketts) – or really any person living in that time or ours. To come to the awareness that what is right in her mind, heart and body are in connection to a higher power and faith that she strongly connects to; and that this internal connection is weighed outside of her body very differently by various people – even people she loves and respects deeply. A favorite monologue of mine happens to be an Isabella monologue that I learned in school – it gets right at the crux of the plot issue when Isabella is forced to choose between her chastity or giving it up in order to save her brother’s life (good ol’Bill with those high stakes). Isabella speaks through the problem out loud and alone by reflecting on Angelo’s proposition (good ol’Bill with ability to create irony – I was on the sidelines urging her to be feministic about it all at the end of Act II scene 4…):

 

Thought 1:

 

To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,

Who would believe me? O, perilous mouths,

That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,

Either of condemnation or approof;

Bidding the law make court’sy to their will;

Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,

to follow as it draws!

 

Whenever I hear those words I have a strong inclination towards ‘ouch!’ right in my heart center. It would definitely make the character Isabella want to shut off her other energy centers (head & hips). The poetic words of the play speak to me and make Carrie Robinson want to kick, push and curse on Isabella’s behalf. I remember in my classroom setting at school watching my friends/ classmates start to cry when I spoke those words for Isabella. And as an audience member on Wednesday night in the professional theatre setting, I watched Ricketts tap all of those same inclinations into her still body and decide to reason through the injustice she has discovered before moving to…

 

Thought 2:

 

… I’ll to my brother:

Though he hath fall’n by prompture of the blood,

Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour,

That, had he twenty heads to tender down

On twenty bloody blocks, he’ld yield them up,

Before his sister should her body stoop

To such abhorred pollution.

 

I heard Isabella consider the effect of her decisions on her brother’s behalf – and wonder what he would have done for her. What if he had his free will and fair use of his body and mind, and was not fall’n by prompture of the blood? She believes that he would have fought for her or used his body to prevent a sister from having to give hers up. And so her dilemma widens and deepens in her love and belief attached to her brother’s ideas around ‘honour’.

 

If they had a shiny coin – would Isabella be heads or tails? If she chose ‘heads’ and began to represent the coin’s minted face as landed up towards the sky – would she let her twirling tail on the other side of her coin, having fallen down, dictate the future? So Isabella reasons further by daring to spin into the dark abyss of her dilemma toward a solution:

 

Thought 3:

 

Then, Isabel, live chaste and brother, die:

More than our brother is our chastity.

I’ll tell him yet of Angelo’s request,

And fit his mind to death, for his soul’s rest.

 

So it’s hard enough to be a judge and decide whether to let a person who has been convicted of a crime face a sentence of death or to go free (I would imagine from my measly time as a mock Chief Justice in law school). But this play begs the question of how it would feel across the chessboard if the judge turned a responsibility granted by Shakespeare’s god-fearing Italian government into a trade for his own use; effectively hooking his power and responsibility granted by law to pull a female body closer to his own plate for sexual purposes. Of course, he attempts to keep his arching line invisible as it contravenes the very laws he’s meant to keepsake. The play then begins to tick around the Duke (Jonathan Cake) discovering his role in preventing injustice within a realm and system that requires him, due to birth status, to rule and oversee the governance of.

 

Jonathan Cake delivers a fine and compelling illustration of the Duke’s character arc in discovering and being compelled by Isabella’s experience to use his knowledge, intelligence, power and privilege towards allowing a woman to have control over her own body. What a concept to be written into a play when a society, like Shakespeare’s, still prescribed that women were not considered people; let alone people capable of making decisions on their own bodies (be virgin or not!) without a male kin’s stamp of approval. At this point in the world’s history women weren’t even deemed capable of having the right to ask for control over their own bodies!

 

I watched Cake/Duke pick apart the problem with rebellion, with language, with observance and reflection, with dialogue, with a Friar’s disguise, with tears and laughter, with love and with reasoned control and I fell a little in love with the Duke from the audience. He took a variety of action on stage that compelled me to see the whole problem and to want to resolve it – just as he found himself wanting to resolve it. Having worked the Isabella monologue in school, I’d never put myself in the Duke’s position before. Isn’t that funny – what a bit of gender neutrality occurs nowadays as a female watching the play – many women are now in a position to relate to the Duke as a person in control over people, governance and even homes; as well as to Isabella as a woman with threats to the control of her body.

 

It’s easier said than done nowadays even with progressions to women’s rights – the system Isabella found herself in indicates the root of some systemic ways of thinking about women’s rights that we still struggle with today across the globe. It occurred to me that Shakespeare’s text only compels my emotions nowadays because it is still relevant. So the emotion can be translated into a metaphoric “Force Quit…” button on my laptop – but on some scale, depending on where a person lives in this world, the dilemmas and threats in this play still ring true. Isabella matters and her brother Claudio matters (Leland Fowler)  – people facing problems that be like Isabella and Claudio’s matter – life isn’t as simple as flipping a coin to let heads and tails dictate an outcome. Just as the Duke discovers this – I was able to reflect on this in the audience – and I thought – well maybe that was the intention of the playwright then:

 

For, though his line of life went soon about,

The life yet of his lines shall never out. – Hugh Holland on William Shakespeare.

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Its very rhythm, within a title granted by Shakespeare, teeter-totters to our ears and forces us to place and balance similar consonants with similar vowels. The carrying out of the play forces us to place and balance right from wrong in our consciences and our understanding of humanity. It is both black and white; both cruel and kind; both male and female; both true and false; both high and low; and it matters. What a unique and balanced title from the Bard collection:

 

Measure for Measure.

 

Consonant for Vowel.

 

Ding for Dong.

 

Tick for Tock.

 

Teeter for Totter.

 

virgin statue

Enthroned Virgin (by Goro di Gregorio (active ca. 1300-1334) – statue on display at The Cloisters, New York City.

Last, but not least, if I could time-travel… I’d sit in on Meryl Streep’s Isabella in 1976… if only that were possible!

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THE LITTLE FOXES

Over the past few months I’ve learned a few things about an American playwright named Lillian Hellman:

 

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“I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions” – L. Hellman.

 

When I read those words I ponder… who says something like that? Or, more importantly, when she looked out through her own lenses at the world around her, based on what she saw, heard, tasted, felt, smelled and sensed… why did she make a statement like that?

 

I traced Austin Pendleton to a scene study class at HB Studio this spring to study a concentrated workshop called Lillian Hellman Scene Study. I can say through my experience of narrowing in on the tragedy of Martha Dobie in her first play called The Children’s Hour that Hellman plays are little mysteries; the best kind – there are little truths hidden like Easter eggs waiting to be discovered by a group of relaxed and present actors. For example… how do you cut a conscience? Why would you need to? Hellman’s autobiographies tend to give a little insight – but also tend to have a significantly controversial history attached to them. I borrowed my copies of her autobiographies as they sit on a shelf at the New York Library for Performing Arts .

 

Fun fact: I’m sitting on my sofa in New York right now listening to a YouTube recording of Ocean Waves wondering if any of the same insight that Hellman thought will run through the tide of my consciousness in this blog post.

 

That’s the thing about plays though – when brought to life they can’t but help to carry you through the playwright’s reflection of her time. You can’t (or maybe you can) imagine how nerding out with her plays on down time at my day job while New Yorkers stroll in and out to say hello all morning has inspired me. I’ve been looking up to find faces and voices talking to me with her plays fresh on the tip of my tongue. I can’t be quite sure if I’ve been grasping at a little something of what she saw – but residually – an undercurrent of life.

 

The best part about studying acting in New York – the very plays I’m reading and studying find their ways to Broadway stages! And sometimes they inspire groundbreaking endeavors; two talented female actresses alternating roles. The Little Foxes is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th Street and is directed by Daniel Sullivan.

 

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The Manhattan Theatre Club production has Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternating the lead of power-hungry REGINA HUBBARD GIDDENS and her careful sister-in-law BIRDIE HUBBARD given the “blue” or “green” nights listed on their website. My imagination is mulling over what it might be like to do that – alternate roles within the same production. I just might attempt to one day after seeing these ladies lead the cast through the switch.

 

floating troubles

atop my

sea of hopes

stack full

pressure

against

my chest’s

rise and fall…

 

The emotional rises of REGINA and the emotional falls of BIRDIE are fascinating to witness. In this play, set in the South, the Hubbard family schemes and quarrels over pieces of their pie i.e. the distribution of money among each other. Regina likes to join in on the competitive schemes with her brothers; while Birdie escapes from any pain as much as she can. There doesn’t seem to be a medium among the two; they are either slowly lurking in charge, as Regina does, or lightly asking power to please step away, as in Birdie’s case.

 

…I feel

the barge

passing

parting

liquid thoughts

again…

 
What struck me the most in this play was an examination of getting more. There is raw, gritty desire for more shares, more information, more time with a loved one, or more opportunity to banter about any of the above desires. Some desires seem to overshadow others when in competition – and some desires conveniently find symbiosis when necessary. An example being the scheme to arrange a marriage between Regina’s daughter ALEXANDRA GIDDENS and her gullable cousin LEO HUBBARD in order to ‘keep money in the family”. What a thought – who needs to sell shares when you can marry them? Or something along those lines.

 

…soft landings

brim my eyes

closing

to feel the waves

opening

to feel the waves

roll under…

 

Over time – as the play progresses into the Act III I started to see undercurrents that carried the characters along. There are colorful, hand-painted Easter eggs hidden underneath each character’s learned and necessary ability to cut a larger piece of a whole. These mysteries were tugged along and pushed to the surface every so often – memories of Birdie’s kind mother, Birdie’s ability to hide abuse, Alexandra’s piano duets with Birdie, Regina’s revelations of her true feelings to her husband even when they’re ugly, Birdie and HORACE GIDDENS’ opposition to his daughter Alexandra’s marriage, Leo’s subtle wishes to gain approval from his father and grandfather, and the final moments of the play which open up Alexandra’s mourning of her father. These mysteries, to name a few, seem foreign when they peak because they are only allowed every so often when the characters can’t help but notice a competing humanity.

 

…foreign mechanics

tug my mind

through the

natural rhythm…

 “Sea Of Hopes” in A Collection of Thoughts: Poems By Carrie Robinson.

 

WHAT IF Birdie and Regina were literally foxes? My wager is below. Respectively:

 

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POETRY AND THE CREATIVE MIND

Certain times crave the type of airy warmth underneath the ribs that will rise up into a smile on the face. Poetry does this to me – it creeps in through my intellect and sitting in between my ears it starts to speak to my blood. It begins to travel and knows how to break up the tensions in my chest that I managed to accumulate in a day.

 

I’m writing about this sensation because lately I’ve been experiencing that old adage that all work and no play makes [Carrie] a dull girl. You know it’s bad when the security guard at Lincoln Center tries to cheer you up by pretending he doesn’t know where Alice Tully Hall is when he’s worked there 20 years (I believed him until he directed me to where to go – it did cheer me up)!

 

I bought a ticket to a reading of poems called Poetry and the Creative Mind and was able to sneak out of the unpredictably cold day into a sold out house at Lincoln Center to hear poetry and remind myself to smile… warm up! Purchasing my ticket had become an invitation to join a group of New Yorkers in hearing beautiful poetry and, additionally beautiful, to SUPPORT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS!

 

Best little secret of the night – Meryl Streep unexpectedly sang us a lullaby that her mother used to sing to her. What a special surprise. The room fell quiet to make space for the moments in the song and the molecules that Meryl moved. I started to notice that Alice Tully Hall is made well because it dips in the middle of the orchestra so that I didn’t have any obstruction in my vision of the stage. I also noticed that Meryl Streep is able to register all her emotion while maintaining a solid and supported voice in front of so many people – I’m dreaming of experiencing something like that one day!

 

The poems – the vessels that spoke the poems – it was great! Uzo Aduba echoing Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why) by Nikki Giovanni; Meg Ryan’s recital of Storm Ending; Amanda Palmer played the ukulele; James Lapine found one of my favorite poets Mark Strand and brought Eating Poetry to life; Maurice Hines brought Ain’t I Bad upon the suggestion of Maya Angelou herself; Sebastian Junger spoke Walt Whitman; Joey Reisberg shared his very own Schmaltz – I felt like I was in his grandmother’s kitchen; Langston Hughes was read by Cecile McLorin Salvant; Madhur Jaffrey and Wayne Brady shared their voices too. Last of all Meryl Streep cheered us up with Good Bones by Maggie Smith – reminding us that “Life is short” asking us all to bring ourselves into the room because:

 

This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.

 

I feel absolutely beautiful inside tonight thanks to this program, these artists and poets.

 

SAVE THE NEA!

 

I’ll be proudly toting my new pin:

 

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“LIVE LIGHT, TRAVEL LIGHT, SPREAD THE LIGHT, BE THE LIGHT.”

This blog post is brought to you in part by the wind-down from a seemingly productive Monday – a day that still allowed me time for reflection and enlightenment of the pen. In departure from my past couple of weeks – which were also characteristically reflective… in that funny way a mundane stream of thoughts surfaces and envelopes the skull during a routine morning city bus ride; or the way I occasionally indulge in an inconspicuous second glance at a unique New Yorker strolling about from a weekday’s point A, to point C, and X etc… All of this was supplemented by a nice little compilation of Crime and Detection plays from the New York Public Library that I’m making my way through. BTW – I totally suggest weaving in and out of crime and detection plays throughout the day – it has been doing something to my imagination – spurring attention to detail for no other reason than to satisfy the mind’s need to solve puzzles when it’s reading Sherlock Holmes or Elmer Rice and the like…

 

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This blog post is also brought to you by my Yogi Tea inspiration sipped while writing these reflections, which read: “Live light, travel light, spread the light, be the light.” I sought ‘light’ at two Broadway productions recently that became special experiences because I shared them with friendly-visiting-friends! First I made it to the musical, Waitress, in a house-right box with two life-long lady friends visiting from Vancouver, Canada. Both had never been to NYC before! Next I rushed tickets to The Encounter with a bestie, Melissa, from London, England! Speaking of lightening up… I have to say it was nice to escape the pre-election madness that I feel in the air (and have admittedly been following closely and caring about intensely) by stepping into theatres where the scary world tends to fade away and be processed in my psyche-safe-zone.

 

WAITRESS is a Broadway musical playing over at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and it features lyrics and music by a singer/songwriter I adore named Sara Bareilles. It stars the soul-melting voice of of Jessie Mueller as Jenna. This waitress has made herself at home in a small café baking pies from recipes handed down by her mother and the new, elaborate pies that she creates. The stage is lined with actual pies and the theme is carried through to metaphor with different pies inspired by Jenna’s pleasures and perceived failures in her life and relationships. Following Jenna through a rocky relationship are her quirky friends/ coworkers and love interests. It feels like a romantic–comedy meets musical meets dramatic film featuring a strong female lead. All the actors of all the characters in this production made me laugh – so this was definitely a place where I got to ‘live light’ surrounded by supportive female friends. Disclaimer – I say ‘meets dramatic film’ because anyone with half a heart will cry at least once (I cried at least thrice as Jenna strives away from emotional abuse).

 

There was a place to write Thank You “Guest Checks”- so I did!

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THE ENCOUNTER, playing over at the Golden Theatre, was one of those theatre experiences that I didn’t quite know what to make of. It is inspired by a book called Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu. It takes us from Conceiver/Director/Performer Simon McBurney telling us to turn off our mobile devices as he sends his daughter a picture to prove that he’s only away from her because he’s doing this show… towards his transformation into a deeper-voiced photojournalist on the prowl for a story and photographs.

 

I’m always curious about one-person shows in general because I can imagine it is probably quite difficult to generate all the energy required to make the audience believe that all other characters are in the room; as well as to push the narrative towards blackout or curtain call… ALONE ON STAGE! I always admire actors that achieve this feat and make it look fun – and secretly wish I could just jump into the scene with them as all the other characters! I was very struck by McBurney’s ability to do something that makes actors beautiful – to make molecules move out of thin air! In the program he wrote,

 

“Rehearsal derives from the word ‘hearse,’ which means to rake over, to prepare the ground. To prepare for The Encounter, we had to engage with the unfamiliar, ask questions about everyday life we take for granted. Such as… what is Time?” – Simon McBurney

 

What is time?

 

Sifting through the many definitions representing ‘time’ –  it’s hard not to acknowledge there is grey area we are encountering all the time. What we consistently are a part of, but don’t always acknowledge. A link that we have a measure & clock for, yet it doesn’t quite, fully contain an accurate link to what we experience as memory, dreams, envisions or the future we are creating. The Encounter didn’t feel like a sci-fi novel though – it felt more like a documentation of a man’s experience with grey areas in his mind and in the world. A photojournalist who can’t quite get life into focus as with a camera device that creates the illusion of ‘capturing a moment’.

 

To take the audience through time this production is uniquely aided by technological devices (the audience wore headphones the whole time so that sounds seemed to sweep up from behind us, or beside us and the noises were also regularly found on stage being funneled through several sources – including a standing mic located center stage shaped as a cranium). The effect was that we were unusually transported to the spaces that a National Geographic photojournalist travels to – including a Brazilian Amazon village with Mayoruna people. The heat of a community fire was felt, a really intriguing lighting effect expanded McBurney’s shadow into several shadows dancing around the fire so that he became a part of the village and we saw the village people through his shadow.

 

I was so struck by McBurney’s ability to use so many technological devices during the performance – I know I would have been like – can I just use the black box … do I really need another gadget or whatchyamacall-it?

 

McBurney passed along a message directly from the Mayoruna people that he actually met in researching this character. He carried forward the message that these Mayoruna people, although isolated geographically from the modern world, very much exist!

 

What a great experiment with integrating technology on stage – and very fitting in that the content of the play deals with communicating with remote Indigenous villages through old, intuitive (ESP-like) communication methods that surpass language barriers. The photojournalist that McBurney plays ‘captures’ and grasps at undiscovered moments because he wants to tell a story and show an indigenous way of life is being led. However, the more he journeys into the Mayoruna people’s time and space the more he seems to be able to engage in the ability to intuit and trust in the origin and motion of the universe without a need to lock anything, or anyone, in by photograph or any other limited man-made means.

 

I was definitely transported into a different space and mind-set (at least until Melissa and I bopped our way back to 45th Street to plot some theatre-making adventures of our own!

 

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(photo courtesy of Melissa Jean Woodside)

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THE WORLD IS (ROUND) WIDE ENOUGH

 

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Honestly if I hadn’t seen Hamilton last night there possibly could have been an unconscious cloud-shaped vapor lingering over me the rest of my life. Honestly as a person-of-the-theatre or even just as a New York pedestrian I was starting to feel like something was gravely wrong – and it was – I was totally missing out.

 

Good news is that this little New York ant (me) is now one of the many masses who rounded onto West 46th street in order to SEE HAMILTON! When I was in line I really felt like part of a super-organism or something…

 

First thing you should know about this rendition of events is that I am a lottery cynic. Know that this arises from a history of lottery losses. The last time I was enlisted to buy lotto tickets, on behalf of a brother, I reported back that I’d self-checked them at the convenience store machine. Instead of ‘success!’ I’d regurgitated the “You Are Not A Winner” that had streamed through my consciousness 15 times. Needless to say I don’t like revisiting that sensation – yoga mantras are more highly recommended!

 

So as I was mulling over some new headshots and planning a night of reading plays and potential monologue finding/learning and maybe even some non-dairy ice cream devouring… I got a text from a, now proven loyal, friend named D’ariel Barnard

 

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Dear D’ariel had played the online Hamilton lottery a steady 6 weeks before finally arriving at the 2 tickets that got us in the door yesterday evening.

 

As I tracked the leader’s footsteps towards our seats I was in a bit of eerily silent shock due to the marching to Broadway on such short notice having not expected to be ‘in the room where it happens’. As soon as I breathed in the space, however, I began to realize what a pleasure this was going to be. The set is simple, yet intricate with its warm brick walls, strong wooden beams, connecting ropes and mysterious entranceways along its parameters. “Such a large, mobile cast must require this,” I thought before seeing any action.

 

I turned off my cell phone… YES to turning off cell phones in theatres people…

 

The action began and what struck me most, apart from the obvious talent on stage, was the revealing of these historical figures as flesh and blood before my very eyes. The strength of the relationships the Hamilton cast creates on stage is really astounding. Each human interaction stands on it’s own very specific terms. In that sense I began to see what might have been in the hearts and imaginings of the daunting faces that I might normally only glance at when forking over United States’ minted paper for some groceries at my local bodega…

 

What unexpectedly touched me most, I think, in this well-oiled musical has to be the vulnerability of the antagonist Aaron Burr (Sydney James Harcourt). In the intermission I found myself confessing that Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) was so easy to root for. I was with him every step of the way as he climbed the ladder and got Washington in his pocket. I rooted for his relationships to resolve themselves peacefully. I empathized with his conflicting emotions at every turn in his life. It is odd, however, that the character whose actions I couldn’t forgive (he antagonizes Alexander Hamilton the most) turned out to be the character I felt the most compassion for – Aaron Burr. Isn’t that odd?

 

I thought about why and I now know that it has to do with what Burr discovered through his grave mistakes. It’s interesting. Burr discovers something Hamilton inherently knew, something the other characters grappled with but overcame… that the world is wide enough. Any actor in an audition room shuffles through it, any young professional intern in a boardroom meeting seethes through it, any little New York ant waiting in the box office line knows it – it’s an oh so familiar competition with people placed in a similar position and often striving for a similar widget…

 

The play reminded me to strive for what Burr longed for in his ‘private moments made public’… to choose love more. I’m sure it’s hiding within those uniquely competitive relationships where I least expected it. It got me wondering along with Burr – what if he’d thrived on harnessing those competitive relationships?

 

Hamilton’s got me feeling small, or rather, unexpanded. New York theatre and acting teachers have harnessed my ability to live in curiosity about the people around me – to take in all of it and carve out windows for the shoes and souls of others. In my voice class today with Julia Lenardon I had a fellow actor’s hands supporting my back so I could experience the expansion of my ribs when I breathe. What if I thought of the world more like that – good and bad resistance & healthy competition – all of it is something to push against, or release into?

 

THE WORLD IS (ROUND) WIDE ENOUGH.

 

Maybe I can incorporate that?

 

At the very least I did touch the gold paint on the wall of the Richard Rodgers Theatre before I left the front row of House Left to ground myself in reality – I was there – with a fellow little New York ant (THANKS D’ARIEL)!

 

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LOVE THY NEIGHBOR?

crucible

 

I went to see a play about those women… namely the ones that were burned at the stake and/or hung on poles (called witches or sorceresses). Being a pre-Harry-Potter-era play that means that witches and sorcery were associated with the devil (every gradation of evil was bad) in a society where power was held largely in the hands of Christian settlers and land title owners. Any other pre-existing ideologies and people that might challenge the prevailing norms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were considered lower and incompatible to solving community conflict. Women were not the only sufferers of this community condemnation; yet women were prima facie targets.

 

The play is called THE CRUCIBLE and a very endearing ensemble is bringing Arthur Miller’s challenging work to life over at the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th. It is being directed by Ivo Van Hove. The set alternates between an eery, charcoal and chalky inspired mix of classroom materials and images that bring up imaginings of institutionalized detention. The alternating rooms are the simple Proctor house and a town hall converted into a trial center. The simple and minimal sets, combined with economical music & sound design that included children and women’s singing in the background, were fitting and aided my imagining of the conflicts in the play.

 

The play’s conflict centers around accusations of a teenage girl, Abigail (the talented Saoirse Ronan), who claims that certain people in her community are targeting her and others with supernatural powers. The conflict unfolds because Abigail’s younger female cousin, Betty, falls ill from their participation in a group of women dancing and an attempt to cast love spells in the woods. In the uncovering of these activities and accusations, most of the community is put to trial, the adultery of John Proctor (Ben Whishaw) with Abigail is found out, and many women are destroyed due to a chain of accusations budding from Abigail’s strong defences.

 

Mainly I’ve got to say this play is thought-provoking. I suppose what this play really does is entreats an audience’s mind towards looking at how a group of women started to be called the negative connotation of ‘witch(es)’; and what series of human (as opposed to supernatural) actions, words, ideologies and accountabilities (or lack thereof) grounded and were interpreted towards a community’s condemnation of women. It also examines what people and systems this community implemented in an attempt to resolve conflict. Being an American play rooted in the struggles of early American settlers the characters and conflict bear relevance today.

 

It becomes pretty clear as the play moves forward that it is not the supernatural that causes the chain of man-made penalties that ensue. A most interesting character for me is actually the, however unlikeable, Deputy Governor Danforth (Ciaran Hinds) who is tasked with getting facts straight in the midst of the community members’ personal ties to each other and accusations towards each other. He asks questions that bring together the common facts of each of the community members’ stories to try to figure out what is a truth and what is not, what accusations are made out of fear of peril and what accusations are founded by criminal action. His character is like a flashlight peering through the spaces in the crowd and begging: where is there room to understand how confusion began and what is the root of it?

 

The root of the confusion turns out to be the adultery of an otherwise humble farmer, John Proctor, and a teenage girl, Abigail, who tells him that she’s in love with him. In a society where adultery is cause for jail-time and even death their lust destroys John’s opinion of himself and Abigail’s ability to trust the people who have condemned her for the feelings she understands to be true and restricted. One of the women Abigail condemns turns out to be Elizabeth Proctor (Sophie Okonedo), John’s wife, and by the end of the play we are made to feel the love and guilt John possesses over the pain his wife is in.

 

The self-inflicted torture John partakes in the face of his forced confession are puzzling. He feels he has already given away his soul and chooses not to publicly tarnish his name. As heart wrenching as his human struggle is to watch (and in that same dilemma with a family at stake I’m not sure what I’d do in his shoes)… it is puzzling because his struggle happens to be in contrast to 39 women in the play who have just publicly perished for supernatural actions they did not commit. It is a given fact that women have often kept their souls and given away their names with no questions asked and no opportunity for rebuttal. I’m sure Miller set this conundrum up on purpose.

 

Like I said, the play is thought-provoking. In the end this play always makes me disturbed and I feel bad for the whole town! I feel it’s a good play to look at though – and the thoughts and feelings it provokes are relevant although complex. Where the individual and community interests intersect can be a dangerous issue – yet we must struggle with this interface every day. In the case of The Crucible the individual/community interface, we learn, is an immensely dangerous issue when there is nothing to prevent individual accusations from causing women (and people in general) to be not just prima facie targets, but convicted ones. In fact an invisible and unexplainable harm can (and did historically) cause women to unjustly and disproportionately perish.

 

The strength of this production lies in the actors playing the love with each other. The decisions and accusations they make are difficult because we get a sense of familiarity off the top with all the members and generations of the small community so that when they find themselves in a confusing and fearful disarray – there is a sense of misaligned duties and choices that are heightened to war-like status against their own people. We understand their motivations are rooted in keeping loved ones from harm. The play is unnerving and hair-raising in it’s turning of ‘love thy neighbor’ on its head.

 

Apart from the production, the Walter Kerr Theatre has a really beautiful roof!

 

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THE WIZARD OF OZ, Margaret Hamilton, 1939

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DISCOVERING WHAT’S BEYOND EXPRESSION IN NICE FISH

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One unique part about attending a play at St. Ann’s Warehouse is the stroll down Water Street looking onto a lit up Brooklyn Bridge. Given New York generally bustles along so consistently it can feel soft and other-worldly; which is not a bad state to engage with when going to believe a piece of fiction come to life!

 

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In my attendance of the American Repertory Theatre’s NICE FISH at St. Ann’s Warehouse yesterday, a new play by Mark Rylance and a collaborator poet/playwright Louis Jenkins, I reserved best efforts to sit in my house left back row seat with quiet resolve to innocently spy on the work of a beloved actor that I’m dying to collaborate with one day.

 

Success!

 

As I was one of the first to slip away down the stairs after the 95 minute play I think I may have gone unnoticed (at least my obsession). I did notice that I was changed! I was specifically enthralled with the ability to “stitch together [poems and passages] like an old American quilt of beloved garments, each one bearing a piece of history, an experience.” (as Rylance put it in his A Word or Two of Welcome…)

 

This play is unique in that the text itself is comprised of a series of prose poems by Louis Jenkins who noted that putting this play together was like a “jigsaw puzzle… except that there were extra pieces and places continually shifted.” Being a person that is daily fueled by poems this play simply solidified my not-such-a-secret-anymore-and-I’m-not-the-only-one need to watch Rylance collaborate! As he put it:

 

This play is, truly, a collaboration between all the actors [Kayli Carter, Raye Birk, Mark Rylance, Bob Davis, Jim Lichtscheidl], a poet, a playwright, a director [Claire Van Kampen], the stage managers and designers, and now you, the audience and spectators.

 

In this playful show I was formally introduced to the prose poems of Louis Jenkins who described his discovery that his poems didn’t need to sit alone by watching a YouTube clip of Rylance humorously reciting one for a Best Actor Tony Award. And so the collaboration ensued… leading towards Nice Fish.

 

Now it’s not a conventional play. I’ll just put that boldly out into the blog-sphere. The characters make relevant conversations and thoughts that seem to swirl in and out of their consciousness far into a Midwest winter. In that sense an absurd quality surfaces throughout the play and even a fourth wall break give the sense that ‘all the world’s a stage’.

 

What struck me is that with prose poetry the language seems to fit within the characters’ world. Unlike the use of more metrical and rhythmic poems that would tend to become interludes and transitions (minus Shakespeare of course)… these prose poems became the characters’ own words and hence choices to communicate with each other and express their ideas, annoyances, senses of humor etc.

 

According to Van Kampen the “component” of time is noticeable in the play because there becomes a consciousness of the fact that there are things above the ice and hidden below the ice… “the fullness of [the characters’] psyche has time to emerge and confront them.” while confronting nature.

 

In using the poems as methods to communicate the activities of the characters such as fishing, building a tent or simply standing on the ice confronting nature the activities became secondary to the inner life of the characters. Possibly even obstacles to the characters being able to either talk about what they were feeling, or affect the other character in some way. Seemingly ‘ordinary’ lives of some Midwesterners became active through the prose by reminding each other of old crushes, debts due and by making each other laugh while avoiding the numbing sensation of the cold.

 

One particular moment where ice unexpectedly melted was when the young girl, Flo (Carter), who doesn’t seem to know much of loss yet recites a poem that effectively reminds everyone else around her that there is an entrance into a dark lake of feeling that normally must stay relatively covered up. It was like the characters around her could hear the ice creaking underneath their feet but didn’t want to show her that elaborating on their losses could result in them all slipping under the ice at any moment if not careful or quiet… instead her guardian pats her on the head to hint that she is loved beyond expression.

 

Beyond expression… it’s funny that poems and plays are elaborate efforts to express human experiences and yet it ends up being the moments where our language (spoken or non-verbal) is limited that are most interesting. Every so often there’s a collective pause and understanding of a mysterious connection to everyone and everything that is just beyond our expressions.

 

Except maybe the expression of Rylance’s character Ron as a talking snowman – a talking snowman reminding ice fishing humans about global warming captures it all.

 

Okay I’m off to use my gathered intelligence to figure out how to incorporate poetry of all sorts into my daily communicative efforts and expressions. Like maybe this free verse:

 

…but looking back

the memories

flash

bright and true

quick

transparent

and gone

but held onto

somehow intangibly… 

 

Signing off,

 

Truly Inspired!