Friday, August 21, 2020

PACT - A Way to Look at Playwriting

 Sharing a bit of playwriting philosophy.

This is a paradigm, akin to the four humours of the body in some vague ways, but I call it Aspects of Plays. Even comes with a handy acronym--PACT. Simply put I believe (or more accurately I personally perceive) plays having four major Aspects, one of which is nearly always primary. One can get into which is secondary, etc. if you really want to but I'm focusing on just the Primary.

Also, a playwright often develops more than just one, many giving almost identical attention to more than one Aspect, sometimes all four.

Re-read that last paragraph again. It will save time.

The Aspects are:

Plot
, i.e. the actual events that make up what some call the "actiona" of the story. I would say Moliere and Ira Levin are two playwrights who develop this most strongly, the former to some extent because he had to, the second maybe more because of his genre. Frankly, the vast majority of the feedback I get is focused on this, in a very formulaic way that I find sometimes very tiresome. Yet for all that I do attempt to have strong plots. "Plot" is not bad but it can (and this is what some folks--often trained for tv or film--find absurd) be secondary or even tertiary.


Atmosphere
is the feel of place, the "world" in which a play takes place. At heart I do feel Chekhov's great plays as well as most of August Wilson seem to me about their worlds more than anything else. I would go so far as to say these characters would be totally different, events utterly changed in you re-located these plays to another place and time. But this goes beyond time and place. It is also a sense of what is possible, and the "feeling" of the play's location. For example, are there women in the world of Waiting for Godot? Can one doubt there is a God in Murder at the Cathedral?

Character
is the other area where I get the most feedback, but often (weirdly) for statistical reasons, i.e. the notion that if a character veers too far from the average or a stereotype this is a failure. Meh. Insights into questions I had not asked, though, that is a treasure! But yeah, some playwrights do focus on characters, such as Tennessee Williams and imho Edward Albee, sometimes Eugene O'Neill. Events happen but fundamentally because of the characters, often with precision based on extremely specific character details leading to decisions informed not but mere self interest but the full spectrum of a human personality.


Theme
on the other hand is the idea about which the play deals. Frankly Arthur Miller and Henrik Ibsen are pretty clear examples of this. But this also has two different modes. Some writers explore a Question while others prefer to focus on giving an Answer. Ben Johnson is clearly one of the latter, in that his plays are clearly teaching a specific lesson. Shakespeare on the other hand is the former--he does not tell the audience what to think but engages them in a situation which excites their imagination.

You may disagree over my assignment of these aspects to different writers and I won't argue the point. My reason for sharing this is to explain how I personally see plays, including my own, and hopefully such a framework may offer something useful.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Cabaret Macabre (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

This wonderful dance show from ZJU will return when theatres re-open.  In fact it will indeed have two more performances (see below)!  When they do, allow me to recommend this lovely, dark, funny cabaret show.  In this case the name Cabaret Macabre says it all, really.

Brittany DeWeese (the redhead on the cover) choreographed/directed this collection of dance pieces as well as performing.  Laura Van Yck (she of the raven locks on the postcard) acts as hostess, channeling some blend of Morticia Addams and Marilyn Monroe with a liberal sprinkling of Dita Van Teese.

Now, given the name and design of post card, I did sit down with some expectations.  Vague ones, to be sure.  Probably some spooky/halloween songs while gothic ladies performed a series of stripteases..  And yeah, I kinda/sorta got precisely that.  With an edge.  I happily report however the performers gave more than expected.

For one thing--men.  Two male performers, Chris Andrews and Michael Baker, sporting both the looks and the talent to dance some amazing performances, usually with their female cast-mates.  Sometimes on their own.  They did not strip, but then hardly anyone did.  Rather, what we got were dance/movement vignettes.  Vignettes that  really worked--entertaining, a bit shocking, a tiny bit thought-provoking.

One of my faves had a man and woman with two goblets, one of whom was poisoned, and their elaborate dance on and around the table, constantly switching goblets on each other until both downed the contents at one time!

There was more, including more than one time members of the audience found themselves taking part!  But while yes, this show had plenty of lingerie and flesh showing off amid artful teasing, what I really walked away with was the broad-spectrum joy of entertainment on a host of levels.  A pastor using a woman as his pulpit, until she turns the tables on him.  A man descending from boyfriend to animal.  One final striptease which ends with a hilarious bit of body horror!

Kudos to all involved, pictured below--those not yet mentioned include Taylor Alyssa, Lindsay Chase and Darian Stranix.  All photo credits belong to Laura Van Yck

Cabaret Macabre will return at 11pm on Friday and Saturday, April 3 and 4, 2020 at  Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group 4850 Lankershim (just south of the NoHo Sign), North Hollywood CA 91601.

  

Friday, March 13, 2020

You are all invited...


THIS EVENT HAS SADLY BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE


Imagine a radio station more or less today, in an America like our own.  And they are putting up an adaptation of a gothic classic.
Snacks will be provided.  Feedback eagerly sought.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Rod Roget's Celebrity Nightcap (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Remember Hugh Hefner's t.v. specials?  What about the spy films of the 1960s and 70s that seemed really so very silly yet entertaining at the same time?  Well, you might realize the blending of these two was something our cultural zeitgeist needed, but behold...!

Okay "need" might be a bit strong.  But Rod Roget's Celebrity Nightcap fits this niche and it works with startlingly entertaining results.  The "pets" in this case don cat ears instead of bunny ears or a tail.  Every one of them proudly proclaim a lot of educational credentials along with their measurements and opinions about anal.  Our host is Rod Roget (Warren Hall), an over-the-top caricature not so much of Hugh Hefner but an image he himself represented--the playboy uber-capitalist a la Tony Stark but minus the genius.  At least this one has a social conscience, in that he eagerly sets his Pethouse girls to solving a murder.  On live t.v. no less.  With not entirely legal results.

Hot tubs can be dangerous kids.

The Pethouse girls are the real stars of this, and that each one comes across as a vivid character in her own right is half the reason this show works, frankly.  Gwen Rocakatansky (Olivia Friloux) for example is the tall Amazonian head of security.  Helen Waters (Liz Mina) claims to speak 17 languages--and this proves true!  In fact, part of the fun of the whole show is that the seemingly outlandish claims of the Pethouse Girls turns out to be nothing less than accurate!  Thus they end up redefined as a superheroine team with a feline-based set of costumes!  With the help of the robotic Petputer everyone combines their talents to examine all clues in reference to the murder of Eloise Barnes (Abbygail Williams) fiancee Tom (Jason Britt--who also doubles as a drug-soaked movie director and guest of Rod Roget's show). 

Crucial to it all is Mandy Pennysnapper (Robertha Mallmann) who uncovers a vital clue and so becomes Pethouse Pet of the Year--in a quick ceremony where the character has a brief, delicious breakdown wallowing in neurosis about how everyone sees her and this will show them!  Her rival Ruth Goldfarb (Victoria Saitz) helps lead the girls into a martial-arts based combat with...well, it is funny and wonderful but I don't want to spoil it.

Bringing up the rest of the characters are cartoonist David Jackson (Alex Press), slimeball wannabe movie star Tony West (Krizia Robin), and very Truman Capote-esque writer Conrad Thurman (John Santo).  But who is the killer?  And what does this have to do with Soviet spies much less the House Un-American Activities Committee?  More importantly, who is sponsoring this show?  And which Pethouse girl does not do anal?

You have to watch the show, and laugh at it, to find out.

Rod Roget's Celebrity Nightcap as of this writing has two more performances--Friday and Saturday, March 13 and 14, 2020 at 8:30pm at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre (ZJU), 4850 Lankershim Blvd (just south of the NoHo sign) North Hollywood, CA 91601.