Sunday, August 25, 2013

Chicago Travelogue, Summer 2013

It's been a strange summer.  Tommy left for Chicago in May to perform in "The Jungle Book" at the Goodman Theatre.  (Where he was the best snake ever!  And I'm totally unbiased about that.)  I stayed in Boston to finish my teaching and to be part of the Summer Reading series at the Huntington.  I went from the reading (my last duty official in Boston) directly to the airport for a months' stay in Chicago myself.  It was good to see Tommy after over two months.  It's the longest we've been apart. 

Chicago is a wonderful city.  I had always meant to travel there, and I'm not sure why I hadn't before this, the opportunity just never arose, so it was great to be able to stay there for free for a month. 

Now that I think of it, I've actually never been to the Midwest for any meaningful amount of time. 

Some things I noticed: there's a lot of space.  Chicago just goes on and on.  You can drive for half an hour and still be in Chicago somewhere.   That empty field?  Chicago. 

Also:  There's "The Loop", which contains most of  the city elements, and beyond that this vast suburb that just stretches outward like a giant donut.  Every neighborhood seems similar and slightly different at once.  It's as if Brookline, Somerville, Allston, Beacon Hill and Brighton all had a party, got drunk and threw up all over themselves.  And Frank Lloyd Wright is their cranky downstairs neighbor, banging on the ceiling with a broom stick. 

They put cheese on a lot of things in Chicago.

Their hotdogs are really elaborate.  Tomatoes and pickles.  The relish is neon green.

They mix cheese popcorn and caramel popcorn together.  Which shouldn't work.  But it does.  I ate a trough of it while I was there.

Theatre is EVERYWHERE.  There is SO much theatre, and it's all so vibrant.  I saw a play every night while I was there.  Boston Theatre pretty much dies in the summer, as everyone leaves the city for the Berkshires or the Cape.  Chicago almost seems the opposite: everyone is flocking TO the city.  There's endless things to do there.

Plays I saw:

Slow Girl, Belleville, Annie Bosh is Missing, The Gospel of Franklin, and Buena Vista @ Steppenwolf

The Jungle Book (of course) and The Albany School Project @ The Goodman

Big Lake, Big City @ Lookinglass

Glass Menagerie @ Theatre Wit

The Hypocrites' new take on 12th Night, called 12 Nights

Death and Harry Houdini @ The Chopin Theatre

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

That's Weird Grandma

Pink Milk, a new play about Alan Turning

Shrek, the Musical

A hip hop version of Othello @ Chicago Shakespeare

I'd say that most of what I saw there was excellent.  More than half the plays I saw were new plays by living playwrights.  Which is great.

Chicago residents (and perhaps this applies to the Midwest in general) seem to take up space in a wildly different way from what I'm used to.  They take up a LOT of it.  I noticed this while walking the city streets.  At first, I thought it was because I was in more tourist-heavy locales, where you would expect people to be kind of clueless.  But as I branched out further and further into the city, it seemed to be everywhere, and I realized that it wasn't tourists: these were Chicagoans. 

You know when you walk on the sidewalk in the city?  You stay to the right, yes?  Unless you need to pass the person in front of you, in which case you would go to the left of them (usually), pass them, and then get back to the right again.  That's just how you walk in a city, at least that what I always thought.

In Chicago, people walk wherever the hell they want.  They walk on the left. They walk on the right.
They walk straight down the middle.  It's chaos.  When crossing the street, there's sometimes just a wall of people coming straight at you, and you play this game of sidewalk chicken: "One of us needs to move to the side, which will it be?"  I always try to move to the right.  But there's already people there, walking in the opposite direction (ie, their left).  It's the craziest thing I've ever seen.  

Not only that, people seem completely oblivious to other people around them, even though they're in the third largest city in the country.  And again, I thought it was tourists, but it's really not.  These were locals.  It was fascinating.  My theory is that there's so much space there, that people just naturally feel that they can take up as much as they want, and that everyone else will as well.  It really does work that way most of the time: Chicago is surprisingly roomy for such a big city.  There's always a seat on the subway, there's always (usually) room on the sidewalk.  It's almost never crowded the way Boston or New York or Philly might feel.  But when it IS crowded, which is during rush hour and any time there's a Cubs game, you really see this space-taking trait.  People don't know how to not take up space.  It wasn't annoying so much as interesting to me.

I was walking back to the apartment with iced coffees for me and Tommy once, and this woman was standing on the sidewalk, listening to her cell phone.  She looked up when she saw me approach, and then randomly stepped right in front of me.  So I stopped, because I didn't want to collide with her, and wasn't sure where she was going.  It was so weird.  Then she looked up again, noticed me, said "Excuse me" and moved to the side again.  There was NO ONE else on the sidewalk, and she still managed to get in my way.  Wacky!  Things like that happened all the time in Chicago.  I don't think it was rudeness.  It seemed a special sort of unawareness. 

Even their architecture takes up space: all those tall skyscrapers and all the Prairie School horizontal lines that seem to make everything look so wide and flat.

Speaking of rudeness, that was another thing I noticed about Chicago: everyone was disarmingly friendly, for the most part (these are WILD generalizations/anecdotal experiences, I realize, btw!).  The rudest Chicago native just seemed charming to me.  It was such a na├»ve form of rudeness, it just tickled me.  I wanted to say: "I know you think you're being rude to me right now, but I come from the land where rudeness was INVENTED.  So I just think you're adorable." 

The subways are very efficient and clang over your head.

They put bacon on donuts.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's unbelievable that Jeremy is no longer alive.

Because I don't think I ever met anyone
more alive.

And who enjoyed life more.

His spirit was beyond him.

I will miss him very, very much.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mads About You

I’m sitting in an air-conditioned dressing room with Mads Mikkelsen. 

He is performing in a revival of “Godspell” and somehow,  I’m his assistant.

Rather than the typical comic, clown-like ensemble, this particular production has re-imagined all the Godspell characters as famous film murderers: Jason, Michael Myers, the killer from the “Scream” movies, in the Edvard Munch mask.  

In this version, Jesus dies, comes back to life, and goes on a killing spree.

Mads is playing Judas as a young Hannibal Lecter. 

I can’t tell when Mads is in character and when he’s not.  Both seem pretty dour. 

My job is to sit by him in the dressing room and write down random words that he utters every now and then.

He says the word “breathing”. 
I write it down on my note pad.
I write it down.
“Carny rash”.
Scribble scribble scribble. 

It’s not clear how I got this job.  I have no recollection of ever applying.   Was there an interview?  With whom?   Or did I volunteer?  I wonder how much I’m being paid.   

Mads is waiting for his next entrance, which is in a few minutes.  He seems unperturbed.

I can’t pronounce Mads’ first name correctly.  I say it like the plural of “mad”, which is wrong apparently.  Mads has given up trying to correct me.

Outside the trailer, we can hear Freddy Krueger, Teen Wolf and Pinhead from Hellraiser singing “Day by Day”.  Leatherface accompanies them on his chainsaw.

“It’s so difficult, performing for onstage”  Mads murmured, his accent a thick slice of Havarti. 

It’s the first sentence, or complete thought anyway, that he has ever uttered to me.  I break the tip of my pencil off in surprise. 

Mads continued:  “But it’s worth it to hear the crowd  applauding whenever  I walk on stage.  Do you know what it’s like to hear thousands of people applauding for you, just you, night after night?  What am I asking?  Of course you don’t.”

I’ve stopped writing.  It’s clear this isn’t meant for me to write down.  This moment is for me, and me alone.  I feel so honored.

“The other night” Mads continued “Dolly Parton, Rush Limbaugh and Jane Lynch came backstage after the show to congratulate me on my performance.  It was truly one of the pinnacles of my career.  Their kind words, they mean so much to me.   And yet, I must also congratulate this director.  This director, he is a GENIUS.  I have never worked with such talent, such vision.  I am truly blessed.  And humbled.  And grateful.  And thankful.  And humbled.  And humble blessed.  And blessy humbled.  I'm... blumbled.  Hey, I made up a word!  Write that down, before I forget it."

Mads stood and walked to the doorway of the trailer.  His entrance was in mere seconds, yet he turned back to me for one final moment.

"It’s such a blessing to be this talented" he breathed  "And yet, it is also a curse.”

(Note: this was a dream, of course.  I have never even met Mads Mikkelsen.  I'm sure he's not like this at all!)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

80s Ladies

Pat Benatar has always been about transformation.

She's Rosie the Riveter falling asleep on the job, and dreaming she's a WWII flying ace, blasting Nazis in "Shadows in the Night".

Bam!  Now she's a small town runaway turned big city whore in "Love is a Battlefield".

Za-Boom!  Now she's a tortured dental patient turned sadistic hygienist in "Get Nervous".

Ka-Blam!  And now she's a poor girl with big dreams masqerading as a fashion maven in "Lipstick Lies".

Oh Pat.  Will you EVER be content?

I would hate to be Pat Benatar's roommate.  It would be like living with Jekyll and Hyde.

Pat also supplied the theme to the 80s film "The Legend of Billie Jean" (which is basically an extended Pat Benatar video).  In it, a good girl is falsely accused of a ridiculous crime that even a moron would realize she couldn't have done, goes on the lamb with Christian Slater and Yeardley Smith, creates this great new look by shaving half her head and wearing one dangly earring, and transforms into a badass renegade.

Oh Pat.  We WILL be Invincible!

Meanwhile, someone is always chasing after poor Kim Carnes. 

She's stalked by a killer after accidentally witnessing a murder in "Voyeur".

She's groped by unseen digits in "Invisible Hands".

"Bette Davis Eyes" is just full of dread.  It appears that she's in the One Hit Wonder Witness Protection Program, along with Sheila E and the girls from Vanity 6.

And "Draw of the Cards" is just plain weird.  What in the world is going on there? 

It's like Kim took peyote and just lost her fucking mind!!

Now, what does all this mean? 

Why is Pat forever changing, while Kim is chased and stalked and freaked out?

Is this the fate of the 80s female pop star?  To be an accidental rebel or a hapless victim?

What does all this say about Reagan and his blatant disregard of the AIDS crisis?

I'm not quite sure.

But one thing is certain.

They are both probably faring better than poor Dale Bozzio of "Missing Persons", who just did jail time a few years ago for animal cruelty stemming from her uncontrolled cat hoarding.

Destination Unknown Indeed. 

Oh my 80s ladies.  What happened to you?

Couldn't you all be more like Aimee Mann?  Look how great she did!  And she never even had to cut her hair.  It's the same as the "Voices Carry" video.

Meanwhile, Cyndi Lauper just won a Tony.

So, get it together now.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Lily's Revenge
Poppy Costume Design by Sarah Cubbage

This is last year, in a nutshell.

V&F in Toronto
Margaret Anne Brady as Flower Girl

Salt Girl Performance/discussion for
the Mass. Institute of Psychoanalysis

Mercy Hospital

Bruno, 2 Gents

Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas
The Tempest Workshop

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Hot Young Playwright

This theatre has all the hottest young playwrights.

There are no old playwrights to be found here.

they are young, and we have them

just for you

so you won't feel like a complete loser

they are SO young! 

and hungry




this theatre has all the young, hot playwrights!

they are barely born, they're so young

they have the young fresh ideas that those young people have

bouncing around in those webby noggins

and my god are they up and coming

the next big thing

you haven't heard of them yet

but pretty soon, everyone will know about them

those hot young brash angry young playwrights

they're just so...

(long silence.  3 minutes AT LEAST, please!)


If they were a little more connected

they could be writing scripts for


(you know?  lena dunham?  google her.)

or something like "girls"...

"girls 2: dunebuggies!"


"girls vs. zombies"

but they aren't writing for "girls"

so we have them locked in a basement

writing plays

for the stage

for the THEE-ATE-TER

So get 'em while they're young and hot and angry

those steaming fresh-faced scribes

they can barely walk

the cord was just cut

and we slapped them on the ass

and handed them a laptop

they are


switched on





and they will work




scrambled eggs.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fifty Shades of Dr. Seuss

(Lights up on Ana sitting in a whimsical armchair.  She is typing on an old-fashioned, whimsical type-writer.  Mr. Gray, in an equally whimsical hat, pops up behind her.)

Mr. Gray: 
I am Gray. 
(He disappears and pops up again on the other side) 
Gray, I say.
(He disappears again)
That Mr. Gray.  That Mr. Gray. 
I sort of like that Mr. Gray…

Mr. Gray: 
(Appearing again somewhere else)
I’d like us to date, don’t think I’m a jerk,
But first you must fill out some paper work.
Then we’ll have sex, what is your reply?

I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of guy…

I guess it’s ok, though lacking in form:
This seems like gratuitous Mommy porn.

(She signs the document, then...)

Mr. Gray: 
Would you like a little spank? 
Tell me, Tell me: please be frank.

I wouldn’t mind a little spank. 
And my name is Ana, it isn’t “Frank”.

Mr. Gray: 
Would you like it on your bum? 
Would you like your bum all numb?

Oh yes Oh yes, I would I say! 
Yes, I tell you, Mr. Gray!

Mr. Gray: 
Would you like your nipples clamped? 
In my dungeon, cold and damp?

If I said “No” I’d be mistook:
I’d sell no copies of this book!
Yes I’d like it on my bum,
do it while I suck my thumb!

Mr. Gray: 
(while spanking Ana)
Oh , the places you’ll go!
Oh the things you will see!
Just sign this pre-nup

And you’ll belong only to me!
(a long document scrolls out onto the floor.
He produces a huge, plumed fountain pen)
I’ll tease you with tozzlers and snuzz you with snoozlers.

I’ll even attempt to ba-bing your bamboozler!
I’ll twizzle your foozle and bang your shin-doodle

And then we can try that thing with the poodle!

Oh Mr. Gray, what can I say?
All the other single men are either married or gay.

I’ll sign you your pre-nup, fast as can be
And oh all the kinky things I will see!

(Signing the document)

I’ll drood on your kuzzle , And wamp on your curd
And remember that “Twoozle!” will be our “safe word”

I’ll sneed on your snoozle, And kirk on your bloor
And we’ll spill lots of flizzle, All over your floor!

Mr. Gray: 
(After an inscrutable pause)
But alas my dear Ana, I cannot commit
In spite of your willingness to submit

I’m leaving you now, I will not come back

Oh say it’s not so, oh alas and alack!
And yet as I go, I feel such regret.
I will always remember this day that we met.

(He vanishes)
Someday, Mr Gray, you and I will be equals.
(She sits down at her typewriter again)
But not til I write 6 or 7 more sequels...

(She resumes writing.  Fade to gray.)



Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mercy Hospital - Photo Shoot

 Every year, I write a new play for my senior class at BoCo to perform, based on improvs and projects and characters they create in class.  It's totally fun.  I usually introduce a "source text" to get us all started.  This year is was "Spook" by Mary Roach.  What emerged was a play about a haunted hospital filled with soap opera actors, murderous ghost doctors and hapless psychics.  Here's my program note to the audience, and some pictures of the production. 

All photos by Alexis Scheer.

Welcome to Mercy Hospital

This play did not exist a few months ago, and now it does.  It was created specifically for this company of actors to perform, and you are one of the first audiences to see it.

Isn’t that exciting?

As a source, we used Mary Roach’s engaging and droll book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.  This collection of essays examines the quest by certain members of the scientific and medical communities to prove the existence of ghosts, the afterlife and the human soul (among other things). 

Its tone is macabre and hilarious at once.

We read passages together and shared personal stories.

We created compositions, scenarios and characters through projects and improvisations.

Text and structure began to emerge.

Sometimes I would adjust homeless material that I had wrought previously, but more often than not I was inspired by these actors & what they had created in the studio.  This was truly a symbiotic relationship between actor and playwright. 

The actors also created text for themselves and their fellow cast members to perform, which is included here, as well! 

We discovered together what this world contained:

Candy Corn, Plastic Sheets & Coat-hangers. 

Syrup and disco. 

Rubber gloves & mysterious blue stains. 

We found the shapes and sounds and gestures that seemed to repeat themselves: the static of the waiting area TV, the gesture of a doctor preparing for surgery, the over-wrought expressions of soap opera actors, the incidental music of 50s pot boilers, mingled with the glittery oeuvre of Donna Summer.

From the themes and ideas of Spook emerged the characters, scenarios and world of Mercy Hospital.

To me, Mercy Hospital is actually three separate hospitals that overlap each other:

In one reality, a woman lies in a coma after a car  accident, while her husband sleeps and dreams in the hospital waiting area, a TV crackling in the background.

In another, a Professor in paranormal psychology engages three psychics to hunt for ghost in the deserted halls of the haunted Mercy Hospital: abandoned for decades after the head physician, Dr. Darling, began murdering his patients in search of their souls.

In yet a third reality, the vaguely 80s soap opera “Mercy Hospital” is being filmed, drawing the denizens of the other two worlds into its ludicrous plot lines.  Collisions will occur.

It has been a great adventure creating this theatrical world with this talented group of artists. 



Cast of Characters

Pom Pom Girl                                      Roxy York

Sylvia                                     Kathleen LaMagna

Alan                                             Marchant Davis

Professor Weldon/Big Red           Tom Hamlett

Dr. Ian Wingfield                          Bradley Gibson

Myrtle                                               Sarah Mullis

Hope                                           Sarah Smithton

Carla                            Erin “Sprinkles” Kommer

Dr. David Darling                               Brian Wible

Stefan                                                 Riley Brack  
Isadora Von Pain                  Vicky Campadonico


Direction, Set & Sound Design:               John Kuntz

Stage Manager:                             Grace Tarves

Text:                                                          John Kuntz

Lighting Design:               Michael Clark Wonson

Props:                                                Tyler Brown

Costumes:                                     Rachel Padula

Video Design:  

             Sarah Smithton, Adam Stone & Kuntz

“Mercy Hospital Opening Credits” &

“The Frosting Montage”

                 - filmed and edited by Sarah Smithton
Poster Design:                             Matthew Rodin

Crew:             Styles Speights and John Cardoza

Additional Text:

“I’m so bad at being crazy” (speech) & “This goes here and that goes there” (speech)   by Sarah Mullis

“Love Poem” by Roxy York

“Love Poem Response” by Riley Brack

“I need to cut the voices out of you” (speech) by Brian Wible

“Making love in the Partridge Family’s Tree house” (speech) by Kathleen LaMagna

“He poisoned me” (speech) by Marchant Davis

 “MacArthur Park”, “Hot Stuff” &

“Last Dance” by the Company

Special Thanks:

Adam Stone, Matthew Rodin, Alexis Scheer, Richard Malcolm and his staff, Jennifer Smith, Rebecca Butler and the Boston Conservatory costume shop, Tommy Derrah.