Saturday, May 24, 2008

Craig Lucas speaks!

The following is a commencement address that Craig Lucas recently delivered to the graduates of the Boston University College of Fine Arts. Sure wish he'd been at my graduation. That's Craig at far left, by the way, along with the lovely and talented Steven Drukman, immortal diva Mary Louise Parker, and the ageless Campbell Scott.

Edith Love, Edith Love, thank you for sharing this with me.

Leaving Your Artistic Legacy

Congratulations! Congratulations congratulations congratu-lations congratulations. I'm honored to stand here and say, Congratulations! You have proved once and for all that you are indeed incredibly hard-working and genuinely talented. You can now go tell your High School Guidance Counselor what to do with that joyless advice they probably offered.

I only sort of remember my graduation. I know I was not really looking forward to facing “real” life, but I was so happy to be done with school. School is incredibly hard. Change is hard. Being constantly told what you don’t know is horrible. Exploring the unknown, stuffing the brain with new information while emptying it of what is now revealed to be erroneous is all completely horrible. Falling on your face. It makes us feel stupid and encourages more confident students to leap up and show off. One wishes bad things to rain down on them. You know, the ones who got cast in everything, got all the solos, the praise, whose poems are already appearing in the goddamn New Yorker and who handled it all with such grace, one wishes for them to fall down and chip their teeth.

Perhaps it’s because: how in the hell are we to face a life in the arts? Did they teach us that? I don't remember that happening, but I cut a lot of classes and I am a very slow learner and late bloomer. Really. So when your parents start asking what the hell is going on, what are you working on?, remind them that Van Gogh didn't paint until he was 27; don't mention Schiele whose huge body of unforgettable work was cut short by his death at 18. Don't mention him. Or Jesus.

What I vaguely remember about my graduation is having to sit and listen to some ancient man, older than carbon, standing before us in red gown droning on and on about the meaning of a life in the arts in America.

Now I'm back and this time I'm up here and, worse still, I know what you're thinking.
You want to drink and get laid, and I want that for you, I really do. (Or was that high school?)

It bears noting that some years after graduating, I started to read about the Group Theatre, the seminal theater company which saw its own function in society as being something more than the attainment of success, fame and wealth. Elia Kazan, Lee Strasburg, Clifford Odets and Harold Clurman, the director of Member of the Wedding and author of the finest book on directing we have, and our greatest drama critic.
That was the ancient man who spoke to us.

Never mind. Here’s the good news:

“Real” life is no more unfair, cliqueish, competitive, back-biting, frustrating and claustrophobic than college. In my experience. The trouble with experience, of course, is you have to have it yourself, you never take it on faith.

So since I can’t spare you the pain and humiliation soon to be brought about by your absolute unwillingness to trust me, I can tell you that through all the pain and suffering will also to be the consolations of sex, art and pursuit of justice. An added perk to these three -- if you fully commit yourself to sex, art and justice -- the Republicans will be out on their ass.

Why should that be? Because -- and here’s more good news -- sex and pleasure will always be radical ideas. It is eternally the reactionary who wants to control our behavior in the bedroom, our delight in being alive and rewarding ourselves on this side of the grave; they are the ones who wish to punish people for having sex for pleasure by forcing them to have babies they don’t want and then giving them no health care, no day care, no maternity leave, nothing! God is on their side, pointing to something originally written in Aramaic by people who refused to eat lobster and stoned you if you did. Bush says he talks to god. As do people wandering about the subway.

I’m not saying religion is wrong. Not at all. Jesus said give your money away. Love your enemy. Charity is the greatest virtue. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. He did say, If a member offends you, cut it off. And I’m not down with that at all.

So that’s sex.

Justice. I’m leaving art for last -- why should I be any different than Congress?
Complete and eternal justice is unattainable. Things are defined by their opposite.
However, the Big Shots who told my generation that people of different “races” should not marry or sleep together; that sodomy was a good reason to discriminate against people and oust them from their jobs and prevent them from marrying and having children; that Christianity is our one true national religion; that killing a million poor people in a country that never threatened us is “Bringing Them Democracy” -- these barefaced lying hypocrites are finally headed straight where they belong inside the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History. [Right next to the Saber-Toothed Tiger. Reeow!]

As I see it, you are the first generation in a long time to register to vote and oppose reactionary politics, and this could mean the arts finally receive some of the attention and federal support the Dinosaurs stole from us twenty years ago. You guys have the power to remind everyone, as preceding generations failed to do, that Art is a quality of life issue! It makes things better. Worth living.

And you don’t have to agree with all of it -- whatever that means, who the hell “agrees” with the Mona Lisa? -- in order to support it. I don't have to agree with the bombs my taxes pay for, it’s part of democracy to pony up anyway.
It’s way too easy to dismiss people we don’t agree with, which I have been doing since I stood up. Certainly we don’t have to like everybody -- only Buddha and Laura Bush can do that -- but as artists, we pretty much have to love them. We can still hate them, but we have to find a way into their experience, and find them inside ourselves -- the tyrant, the barefaced lying hypocrite, in here. Without doing that, having done that, we could never have Iago, Richard III, Oedipus, Willy Loman, Hannibal Lecter. There would be no Goya, Francis Bacon, Diane Arbus.

If you can hold two diametrically opposed ideas in your head at the same time, you can write a play. The push and pull of paint, sound, bodies in space, clay, cat gut on horse hair (do they still use that shit?) is all about one thing: Conflict. Us and Them.

Example: the American people own the airways, legally, they’re yours and mine, and we let Congress give them away to TV executives who then use them, our airwaves – I’m not making this up -- to sell us things we don’t necessarily need like war and deodorant and antidepressants we choose to take so we won’t get too angry or sad about what they are doing to us.

Without understanding that and them, the ones doing all the doing, our art can get puny and impotent -- just more pretty frou frous for the rich to wear on their way to dispensing with compassion altogether. No art should be less than outrageously itself! A new work of art that offends no one, neither surprises, frightens, mystifies nor startles, is not a new work at all, but a clone of the past.

Please don’t get me wrong. I hope you get rave reviews. I hope you receive every award and accolade there is. And I wish you fame and I hope you get very rich. All of you, I really do. I think you can make the world so much better, I know it. Most of all what I want for you ... is hope itself. Which requires either courage or tremendous foolishness or frivolity or indifference and god knows there is nothing wrong with these, especially if they help you to create.

I do think I should bring up just a couple of things your teachers probably didn’t dwell on, if only because I don't believe I was asked here to simply sprout bromides while predicting rosy outcomes, or they would have asked the White House Press Secretary.

In getting all the things you want and deserve, these are the things I have seen prove problematic:

Getting raves.
Receiving awards.
Getting rich and famous.

If you’re lucky enough to be published, give a concert, dance, see your paintings hung in galleries, have a play produced, you are going to be criticized. This criticism is not generally the kind you got here. Here, they wanted you to get better. There, very often, they want you to go away. You challenge them. Hopefully they haven't before seen what you do. What if they look foolish for liking it? They very well may envy you, even hate you. You're getting to do what they wanted very much to do and can't. Or aren’t brave enough to do.

Just remember: your success is only news once. After that, the only possible news flash, is that you're not what you’re cracked up to be or your new work isn’t as good as the old. Eventually, if you keep at it, they will rediscover your brilliance, thereby giving themselves another chance to draw attention to their own brilliance of perception.

Some artists do escape this. They’re geniuses, they came at a moment when to belittle them would reflect badly on the critic; either way, I hope it happens for you, it won’t be within your power to decide, but such good fortune does come to some, and may you all beat the odds.

If you don’t, you might try listening to what people criticize you for. Cocteau said it’s who you are. Marlon Brando’s mumbling. Philip Glass’s triplets and basic harmonics. Anne Sexton’s solipsism. Mamet’s vulgarity. Twyla Tharp’s eccentric toss of limbs.

By the way, if any of you do become a critic, please remember that your first task is to give your readers an experience of what it was like to be there. You were privileged. You got to see it. If it becomes too burdensome for you to go out and see things for free that other people have to pay for, try to locate some gratitude for all the responsibility you have been accorded.

Who can tell me what play won the Pulitzer Prize Drama the year of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? None. It was decided there were no worthy plays that year. What won the Pulitzer for Drama the year before? How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Clearly, many great and deserving writers have received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Nonetheless, here are some who never won, all of whom died after the Prize was instituted:

Virginia Woolf
James Joyce
Marcel Proust
Mark Twain
Wallace Stevens
D.H. Lawrence
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ralph Ellison

Who are some of the greats who took their place?

Jaroslav Seifert
Carl Spitteler
Ivo Andric
Selma Lagerlof
Paul Heyse
Pearl S. Buck.

The Moral: only time will decide. Since you may already be dead then, make the art you want to make.

A sidenote: The only people who should be allowed to care, really care, about your awards and raves, besides your agent, manager, accountant and, of course, audiences, are your mom ... and potential dates. If you cling to any of what is said about you -- good or bad – you’re dead. Those are the ones you see on E! stumbling in and out of limousines, showing off their pooter.

Beware of Making it. Obviously this danger hovers more ominously over some than it does others. Poets, ballet dancers, oboists, arts administrators teachers and historians, even playwrights -- our dreams of money and fame ought to not extend much beyond, say, the Parent Teachers Association and, hopefully, a pretty good 401K. Pop music, movies and TV, the sky’s the limit.

Art critic Clement Greenberg was instrumental in making Jackson Pollock rich (but please note, being rich did not make Pollock entirely happy, it would appear at least to have figured in making him dead.) Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Schnabel -- critics helped make these men very rich. And good for them; if it hasn't killed them, we applaud them.

The commercial prospects, however, for a handful of inimitable geniuses and/or those lucky enough to find international critical adoration should not serve as guidelines for anyone outside the psych ward. The commercial prospects today for artists in America is, let's say, interesting and complicated. But is it any worse than it was sixty/seventy years ago when O'Neill, DeKooning and Martha Graham were making new work?

Here’s Brecht from 1941. He’s in Hollywood speaking to a fellow émigré who has become rich and famous, about his, Brecht’s, new play, Galileo, one of the few unquestioned masterpieces of 20th century drama:

--and it is as if I were remembering a strange sunken theater in ancient times on a submerged continent. here [in America] all they are concerned about is selling an evening’s entertainment. the buyer is the boss, hard to please, suspicious, blasé or plagued by strange wishes, always ready to shoo away sellers like bothersome flies. whole hierarchies of experts and agents have forced their way between seller [he means artist] and buyer [audience] claiming to know the needs and wishes of the buyers; in this way the sellers never get through to the buyers, who in turn never meet the sellers face to face. all they are actually introduced to are the goods, crippled, mutilated objects of suspicion and eulogy, tailored to fit a body that never put in an appearance. every act of selling thus becomes a defeat, either for the buyer or for the seller, depending on whether a sale is made or not. for an author to succeed, his public must fail. the idea that matters of concern to the nation might be treated on the stage is utterly fanciful, since nothing of the kind happens anywhere else in the entertainment business.

I don't know, I find this comforting. It was ever thus in the land of Opportunity. It either makes money or it ain’t. But wait, you say! What about the symphonies, ballet companies, schools that are going to hire me?

It is now time for you to turn to your graduating colleagues in arts administration, history and teaching and beg them, on your hands and knees, to protect you. It is up to them to create audiences that will support what we do. If they don’t demand that their audiences open their eyes and greet the new, demand funding, fight zoning laws, parking laws, tax schemes, real estate scams, your new ballet, concerto, play, sculpture may well find its audience in single digits in your friend's father's garage in Burlington. There is no one in this room you need more than the teacher, manager, historian, theoretician. So check to see if they’re wearing a ring on this finger.

Okay, my last downer -- arguably the most catastrophic threat to your art, never mind you:


Here’s some Tennessee Williams -- to balance out Brecht’s European butch bravado with some sweet-tongued, homegrown homo-wisdom:

Security is a kind of death, I think, and it can come to you in a storm of royalty checks beside a kidney-shaped pool in Beverly Hills or anywhere at all that is removed from the conditions that made you an artist, if that’s what you are or were or intended to be. [...] The sight of an ancient woman, gasping and wheezing as she drags a heavy pail of water down a hotel corridor to mop up the mess of some drunken overprivileged guest, is one that sickens and weighs upon the heart and withers it with shame for this world in which it is not only tolerated but regarded as proof positive that the wheels of Democracy are functioning as they should without interference from above or below. Nobody should have to clean up anybody else’s mess in this world.

Did anyone see American Idol Wednesday night (okay, I watched, so what?!?!?) And, small tangent: I'd like to see just one of those melismatic tweens try their hand at Visi D'Arte. Anyway, the commercial where the final three contestants were shown in their new imaginary mansions, with chauffeurs and uniformed butlers and vast beachfront property, every last detail of their existence being taken care of by someone else? Not one mention of, say, excellence in music or making other people joyous, improving lives, being good at something. No, the point of it all: WEALTH! The most important thing is being able to hire people to wipe your ass!

You don't want it to be easy. You think you do, but you don't.

I promise. Deep down most artists I know know full well that art and artists are born in trauma. Painful, scary things kick our innate talents into gear, otherwise why would we ever put up with all the mishegas and bullshit and naysaying. We have to express these things, no matter how, no matter what: that loneliness and injustice and untrammeled sense of ourselves! I was here, goddamit! Listen up! Look!
Take away that mote in your eye, the tears dry up, and what will you sing about? How hard it is to be rich?

I absolutely refuse to believe that you and your parents sacrificed so much to send you here to this incredibly expensive place, which you so desperately hoped would do justice to your talent, god please prove that I have enough of it, so you could then completely jettison the idea of sacrifice and justice when you got out?

Do we really need another prominent American to stand before the world and say that the sacrifice they made in a ghastly war was to give up golf? That’s the kind of entitlement and greed that comes with too much privilege. (And what even is that? Have you ever known anyone in your entire life who was so clueless they would say something like that even if they were alone in a some desert gas station toilet stall in the middle of the Yucatan?)

By all means, earn accolades, find fame and fortune, and when the world falls at your feet, just don’t let them tell you what to do next. Just don't let them make you do the same new thing over and over. The world is full of artists who literally painted themselves into a corner. No one should have to write the same play twice.
Learn that most magical of words, the one that will open the most doors, command the most respect, and free you from the tyrant within and without:


If all we do as artists is make people feel, that alone can subvert some of the cynicism and indifference being peddled.

By feel, I don’t mean that warm glow audiences get when they’re told how smart they are and everything is fine just as it is; that warmth is nothing more than the fever accompanying the disease that is killing them. That’s called pandering and people will pay an awful lot for that; and so will you. You really can ask more of yourself and your audience.

That’s the hope I want for you.

We began, as artists, tens of thousands of years ago, by putting our hands to the walls of the caves and leaving a handprint: “I was here! This is what it was like! These arrows, these animals, this blood.”

That is still our job.


Friday, May 23, 2008


Tonight Doubt opens at PCS, and I can't wait for magic time, as Moss Hart described it -- you know, that moment when the lights go down and you know the play is about to begin. I've seen the play several times now, between run-throughs and previews, and I still eagerly anticipate tonight's performance. Yes, the cast is that good, for one thing, and Rose Riordan's direction is taut, yet surprisingly wry. This is John Patrick Shanley's masterpiece.

There's also the tart, pointed wit of the central character, Sister Aloysius, played by Jayne Taini, who has morphed her lovely features into an apple doll of a figure. But she is an apple doll with teeth. Don't miss this suspenseful drama. You don't have to be Catholic to appreciate the play, but if you are or ever were, you'll be treated to an extra dash of schadenfreude just watching the clergy square off.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Get totally FUBARed this Saturday

Portland Center Stage’s


invites you to a concert reading of

a new play by Karl Gajdusek


May 17, 2008
Noon to approximately 2 pm

@ Portland Center Stage
128 NW Eleventh Avenue (between Couch & Davis)
in the Rehearsal Room

Admission is free, but space is limited; email Megan Ward at
to reserve your seat


Mary lives amid the boxes her abused mother left behind. Her husband David tries desperately hard to stay young and hip. Meanwhile, best-bud Richard is on the road not taken and Sylvia’s along for the ride. But when Mary is the victim of an unprovoked act of violence, it leads them each down different paths of addiction and realization. Four people trying to recognize the people they have become in a time that’s totally F.U.B.A.R.

Karl Gajdusek was born in San Francisco and now lives in San Diego with his wife and son. He writes plays, screenplays and television. He has taught Playwriting at San Francisco’s School of the Arts, UCSD, ISOMATA and The Playwrights’ Center. He has a BA in Literature from Yale University and an MFA in Playwriting from the University of California at San Diego. Karl’s other plays include Fair Game, Silverlake, Minneapolis, Dr.S F.S in the Terminal Ward, Big Sun Setting Fast, The Gilded Garden of Patcheww, Malibu, and Waco, Texas, Mon Amour. Screenplays include Higher, 9 Days Wonder, Widow’s Walk, Reunion, Woderman, The Next Best Thing (not the one with Madonna), and the independent film 58, which he wrote and directed. Story Editor for the Showtime show Dead Like Me. He founded the script publication service Big Sun Publication. He is the recipient of the 1991 Jacob K. Javits fellowship, 1996-97 & 1998-99 Jerome Fellowships, the 1997 McKnight Screenwriting Fellowship, and the 2000 MAG fellowship. When not writing for the theater, Karl spends his time surfing So Cal breaks, writing movies for pro wrestlers, and lovingly changing diapers.

Our outstanding cast includes:

Brittany Burch, Mario Calcagno, Paul Glazier, Natalie Knapp
and Tom Walton

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Heartland THE END for now

Attending the Iowa New Plays Fest wasn’t all just watching shows, strolling under the redbuds along the river and marching into town for coffee, just so you know. After every production and reading, the Festival guests met with the playwrights and their collaborators to talk about whichever play we’d just seen. And since most of the writers also met privately with the guests….that’s a lot of meetings.

And why not, right? The beauty of the system is that the guests are far, far from home and they’re in Iowa with the sole mission of responding to the work they’re seeing. No distractions. Or, well. Morgan, John and Wendy had their Crackberries to plug back into whenever a meeting ended, but they certainly gave of themselves generously in the meetings, be they group or personal.

A case in point is Seven Dreams of Her, a remarkable play by graduating playwright Sarah Sander. Taking place entirely within the dreaming mind of the main character, the story concerns the rise and demise of a triangulated relationship between two women and a man. And it tells it story by looping around the same Gordian knot again and again, as in a musical fugue, while the dreamer tries to sort out what happened and to begin healing from it.

As directed by Sarah Ballema, the set was an austerely gorgeous dreamscape with a bright red tree for a focal point, extending from the stage floor up into the fly space, out of sight. Late in the play, when one of the characters starts uprooting this tree, it’s a shocking moment – will the tree float away now? The play is replete with moments like that.

Because of its complexity, Seven Dreams of Her could have been very hard to speak to individually – in each case, the respondents would have been coming from an idiosyncratic POV. But because we respond to each others’ thoughts as well as to our own, this wound up being a great discussion. In particular I recall we discussed a graph that’s seen briefly on a chalkboard during the play (the protagonist is a mathematician) in which a length of a curve function is missing. And that a quote preceding the play, in the script version, mentions that standard procedure in solving an equation is to isolate one variable from the others. We tease out this idea, and Sarah agrees that while the idea was central to her writing the script, it has turned out to be nascent in actual production. And so on to re-writes. I felt she left the discussion know the respondents were unanimous in their excitement about her script, and that she now knew how to privilege the parts of her play she most wanted in the foreground.

As always, Art was there to direct and redirect the discussion, and Dare Clubb framed the conversation for us. I looked at all the playwrights assembled there, Sarah and her colleagues, and wondered if they had any inkling of how rare discussions of that depth are, once you’re out of school. Decades after my own graduation, I still miss them.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Heartland part two

According to Art Borreca, who runs the Playwrights Workshop and is my colleague of old from the New Haven Canning Factory, the group of Festival respondents is one of the best they’ve had in a long time. Sure, he may say that to every group every year, but personally I’m very fond of us. There’s the legendary Morgan Jenness, the only person ever to win an Obie for her dramaturgical contributions; there’s John Eisner of the Lark, tall and lanky and looking to my mind like a French revolutionary (sans culottes, of course). Wendy Goldberg has somehow managed to be away from the O’Neill long enough to be here, and the downright glamorous Regina Taylor has a perspective all her own to offer. I’m loving hanging out with them here in Ioway.

And Festival madness has continued non-stop. Wednesday's production was Greg Machlin’s A History of Bad Ideas (pictured above), directed by Joe Luis Cedillo. It took place in yet another theater space in the School – this one with a steeply raked seating area that gave me the impression of looking down into a well. That was perfect for Greg’s play, which takes place entirely in the cramped living quarters of a struggling writer and his charming but damaged girlfriend, who duke it out for the upper hand. Sweetly sad and affecting, the play was clearly a fave with the audience.

Thursday we returned to the studio space to a reading of Sheela Kangal’s smart, edgy play about a family divided against itself, for which religion is the family business. The House of Grateful shows that Sheela has a wicked ear for the sort of relations where people have learned how to twist the knife in as few words as possible from years of practice. On each other. I’m looking very forward to the next draft of this work in progress.

Yesterday (Friday) we were treated to Joshua Casteel’s drama about another religious family and its destructive secrets, Mourning Aletheia. As though tapping into the national playwriting zeitgeist, Joshua’s writing……dares to be realistic! There, I’ve said it! Realistic! Though Joshua says this play actually isn’t representative of most of his writing, it did remind me that there’s a remarkable shift going on nowadays – plays being written again in a style reminiscent of Tennessee Williams, for instance (who did time here at the University long, long ago), or even Inge. But with a difference, of course, since writers have been upping the ante for decades now…..

Friday evening we were treated to a taut, eerie, austere new play by Mary Hamilton, We Three (deftly directed again by John Kaufmann). Because the play has two startling reversals I won’t spoil the plot for you – since I am sure theaters will be producing this play – I’ll just say that this script is just a few refinements shy of readiness for main stage performances.

Today we heard a reading of Joe Luis Cedillo’s play, Painted Skin, an extremely ambitious and metaphor-rich piece that was a finalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival last year. And the Festival came to climax this evening with a wild piece of Americana by Morgan Sheehan-Bubla entitled Dust Town. Directed by Anthony Nelson, the play uses a storytelling motif to present a pair of contrasting fables: in the first, a women succumbs to temptation and is destroyed by it, whereas in the second a strong female character throws off her shackles (literal and figurative) to triumph over despair.

Thunder and rain serve as aural integument in the play, and tonight, conveniently enough, we finally finally got the rain I’ve been missing since my arrival seven days ago. Talk about web-footed Oregonian -- I have to laugh at how I exulted tonight, walking to the theater alongside the Iowa River, which was glassy and speckled from all the raindrops pouring down on it.

It’s still pouring, Which nakes me miss Oregon something TURRible, as they might have said in tonight’s play. Or as one of my childhood crushes, Wednesday Addams, used to say: “It’s so nice and gloomy.”

Friday, May 9, 2008

Greetings from the Heartland, Part One

Go Hawkeyes and whatnot! I’m here at the annual New Plays Festival produced by the School of Theater at the U of I in Iowa City, where I’ve been since last Sunday, so it’s high time I told you what I’m seeing here.

This is the third time the School has honored me by inviting me to this fabulous festival of work by the MFA theater students. Playwrights are the focus, but director, dramaturgs, designers and many others are also contributing to the event, and their enthusiasm for this week is better than a triple shot of Foglifter Espresso.

The Festival a heady mix of aesthetic styles and philosophies, and I’ve always found it’s a prescient time; these writers are the next wave of plays moving into the American repertoire, after all, and historically these writers have been a great source of future collaborator for me. David Adjmi, Allison Moore and Kirsten Greenidge are all writers I met here for the first time, to name only a few.

So imagine my anticipation. And I’m glad to say we got off to a good start with a reading of Tony Meneses’ remarkable new play Bajo Agua. Tony also directed, assisted nimbly by dramaturg Kate Stopa. Reminiscent of some of Anouilh’s frothier plays, Act 1 is a lighter-than-air dream state in which a trouserless groom-to-be (played Rick Garcia, he of the movie star good looks) wakes up in a room next to a fiancée he doesn’t remember. Act 2 ventures into deeper waters, figuratively and literally, as we learn about the fiancée’s own fugue states and also why the groom was so deep asleep in the first place.

All this took place in a large lab space – a narrow yet cavernous space tank well-suited to the play’s sense of spiritual submergence. For that evening’s offering, we moved to a full production in a largish theater space with a three-quarter thrust config. The Toymaker’s War, written by Canadian playwright Jennifer Fawcett and directed by Bruce Brandon, is clearly a work in progress, but one with great promise. In scenes that shift between present-day Montreal and the Bosnia of 1995, the script is a taut examination of journalistic integrity at the breaking point. Ms. Fawcett can write, and I expect we'll be seeing much more from her.

The next day we were treated to a theatrical epiphany entitled Why LOVE Doesn’t Recognize Its Name, written by Lisa Leaverton and directed by John Kaufmann. (Above is a rehearsal photo; John is in the foreground, Lisa’s at the far right.) The action revolves around a shop called Lee’s Expressive, where Lee and his staff (the “Mechanics of Expression”) strive to help clients whose speech patterns are clogged with words that are too ornate, or have the wrong shade of meaning, or just plain don’t communicate. Since the Mechanics sometimes get stuck themselves, they occasionally have recourse to Deep Mystery – the audience – whom they consult to get the perfect spare part, meaning a word or phrase that will be strikingly apt.

Part scripted play and part free-form event, it was deliriously fun for the audience of about 50 to be cast as Deep Mystery, especially when feeding words to a Mechanic so drunk on language and its potential that we fall in love with her. The message she ultimately synthesizes from Deep Mystery’s mutterings was surprisingly moving to me. William Burroughs and Laurie Anderson used to say that language is a virus; this play brings us to the realization that as powerful as human speech is, it functions best when it transcends itself.

Stayed tuned for more about the Festival.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

An Epic of Massive Impact! JAW TURNS TEN

YAH! This July is JAW's 10th birthday. We’ll have a full schedule for JAW 2008 soon, but meanwhile I’ve just got to announce the five workshop pieces. Yep, we’re growing from four workshops to five this year, since we're putting a music theater piece into the mix for the first time.

And by the way: we are doing the Studio series of Oregon writers again this year, which I’ll announce here as soon as all three writers confirm. So stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are the “upstairs” readings:

Paradise Street
by Constance Congdon

That’s Connie gracing this post, along with her granddaughter, Cora. Connie’s a real luminary in the playwriting universe, shedding light into corners I didn’t even know were dark. I’m really excited she’ll be here with us at JAW, especially with this hilarious and troubling and totally Congdonesque script. It concerns Jane, a rising star in the fractious world of academic feminism, who arrives at a new teaching post with her semi-senile mother in tow. But an unforeseen event has a ripple effect that forces everyone to improvise -- her mother must come out of her fog as an uneducated drifter starts impersonating Jane on the lecture circuit. We disagree here about whether the ending is ultimately bleak or hopeful, so come down and see the reading and let us know what you think.

A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits
by Colin Denby Swanson
No two plays of Colin’s are alike. A few years ago I was fortunate to see her eerie, otherworldly Death of a Cat when it premiered at Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin, and I was bowled over by the play’s effect on the audience. Well, this new play could not be more different in tone and style. For now I’ll just tell you that a cynically humorous stork narrates this story about a woman who can’t seem to stop giving birth—to bunnies.

by Sally Oswald
When we present this reading at JAW, some people are going to be baffled by the play’s characters. Others in the audience will know exactly who the characters are. Pony uses the classic play Woyzeck as a point of departure, effectively beginning where Buchner’s story ends. Along the way, gender lines merge, twist and double back in this tale of six souls in search of identify. It’s extraordinary writing by a powerful new voice in American theater.

by Carson Kreitzer
Carson’s scripts often start with “found” texts that she weaves verbatim into original dramatic narratives. No mere documentaries, she places disparate dialogues cheek by jowl so that the sum is impactful beyond any one of the original sources. In Enchantment, Carson brings us the words of Temple Grandin, a highly functional autistic writer and thinker, and the writings of Bruno Bettelheim, most well-known for The Uses of Enchantment, famous for its analyses of fairy tales.

Crazy Enough
by Storm Large
Drawn from Storm’s life and music, this one-woman show will get its world premiere next season at PCS, and JAW’s audiences will play a major part in shaping what it will become. Storm is currently working on the text, and what I’ve read so far is bracingly frank and revealing in a way that only a natural born storyteller can put across.

I’m really proud to have all five of these women gracing JAW this year. It’s promising to be a superlative 10th anniversary outing for us. So BE THERE.