Thursday, February 10, 2011

Epistolary romances: a pre-Valentine’s story

James and I have been together over 20 years now. And during those decades, many minor but ongoing disagreements have come to the fore. The most frequently repeated is probably about career. James will be able to retire one day – a concept all but unheard of in the theater profession. When I bemoan my fate, he says, “But you’ve spent your life doing work you love.” To which I can only say: “Yes, but YOU have the option of retiring from your work when you feel like it!”

Other oft-iterated arguments: whether you should dust before you vacuum or after (I maintain it’s the latter), and whether hotel tips should be delivered at the end of a stay or doled out in miniature every day (the former, according to me).

But here at the Colorado New Play Summit, come to find out James was right all along about the tipping. This came to the fore because on my first day, I left a note in my hotel room alerting housekeeping that the TV wasn’t working, along with a small tip for the trouble. When I returned to my room that evening, the TV worked perfectly and on top of it was the note at right. Sweet!

The next day I left a thank you note with another tip, and came “home” – after trudging through 10 blocks of fallen snow while the white stuff continued to sift down from the heavens -- to a note that read: “Something for a cold day!” It sat atop a packet of instant hot chocolate mix. And then yesterday, another note expressing the hope that my stay in Denver was going well.

Today, I was just a little disappointed to get no note. But then I noticed a brown envelope on my desk, which turned out to contain a chocolate chip cookie. And in the fridge: two small cartons of milk, probably pilfered from the hotel larder. Sweet and sweeter.

Do you think I should try gradually increasing the size of the tips to see what happens? I think I should we (my interlocutor and I) should go for the gold, don’t you?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New play fever at one mile high

“Beautiful people of Denver,” as the Unsinkable Molly Brown (whose Queen Anne mansion is within walking distance of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts) once warbled. Loving it here! The sharply arctic air (a blizzard dumped snow all over the place on Monday night), the gleaming modernist buildings cheek by jowl with sandstone structures dating back to the 19th century – and yes, the theater. I’m in town all week to work at the Colorado New Play Summit, as dramaturg on The Whale, a new play by Samuel D. Hunter, directed by Chay Yew.

It’s a dazzling stellium of new work: two world premieres productions, by Michelle Lowe and Ken Weitzman, and five readings (by Octavio Solis, Lisa Loomer and Lloyd Suh in addition to Sam, plus a devised piece by Buntport. And coterminous activities, and an upcoming industry weekend of theater luminaries from across the country.

More about that on another day. Meanwhile, today was Day 3 of our rehearsal process with The Whale – a real breakthrough, too, that left me too moved to speak for a few minutes afterward. Here I am in a more pacific moment, allegedly explaining what dramaturgy’s all about:

I don’t think I’ve ever answered that question the same way twice.

More cogently, here is Sam explaining how The Whale made it way to Denver:

Stay tuned for excessive name-dropping, gossip and insider information.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Jordan Harrison: true to type in Portlandia

Being a brief interview with the mercurial playwright Jordan Harrison.

Does Portland love you or what? You’ve been in JAW twice, and now both those plays moved into full production at Portland Center Stage. Futura opens there tonight, and CoHo Productions opens Kid-Simple on February 18. Our own Jordan Harrison Festival! Why do you think we’re so drawn to your work here?

I suspect that it’s less to do with me and more to do with Portland. It seems like a theater town that's uncommonly focused on new work. I just went to 99 Ways at Theatre Vertigo, and the posters in the lobby were like a who’s who of the most exciting playwrights I know: Jenny Schwartz, Rinne Groff, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Carson Kreitzer… At any rate, I feel very lucky to be batting a thousand at JAW. And it’s fun that my first play, Kid-Simple, will be running concurrently with my most recent play; they could hardly be more different. I hope CoHo gets some of PCS’s audience, and vice versa.

This is a very literate town, full of bookstores large and small, teeming with readers, with great literary organizations like Wordstock and Literary Arts. And of course Futura gives us a time when the printed word is all but extinct. Do you foresee a time when actual books are as exotic as sextants and sackbuts?

I don’t think that time is far off! The prognosis isn’t as rosy for printed matter outside of Portland. It seems like a giant Barnes & Noble closes every couple of months in New York. And Amazon has been campaigning long and hard to make e-books outsell printed books. I finished the first draft of Futura in Spring 2008, and the world has already changed so much since then – I see people regarding the play less as a paranoid piece of science fiction and more as a play about current events!

Why don’t you just move to Portlandia?

I hear the dream of the ‘90s is alive here. And you guys have very wide supermarket aisles, which is a very tempting thing to a New Yorker.

You go from Portland to Louisville, to premiere a new play at the celebrated Humana Festival. As you’re no doubt aware. What is that play about?

The play is called Maple and Vine – it’s a commission for Actors Theatre of Louisville, and I’ve been working on it closely with the director Anne Kauffman. It’s about an urban couple who retreat from life in 2011 and move to a community of 1950s reenactors. And the relative difficulty of life in the 50s – gender roles, racial prejudice, no Internet – perversely ends up making them whole. And of course the clothes are dreamy. Maple and Vine sort of feels like the 2nd part of a trilogy, started with Futura, about humanity and technology. I just haven’t written the third play yet.