Saturday, May 24, 2008

All the Blessings of a Glad Father

I have been asked on more than one occasion over the last three months, “Why The Tempest?”

The first impulse, and the most superficial, came while directing Macbeth for Socrates Sculpture Park’s Halloween Harvest Festival. If you have ever been out to Socrates, you are no doubt aware of the unique design of their cobblestone stage. As wonderful as that performance space was in the role of Macbeth’s the blasted heath, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be even better standing in for Prospero’s not so deserted island.

Beyond that impulse, the compelling reason to produce The Tempest for me is Prospero’s relationship with his daughter. It is because of his tenderness and care with Miranda that Playlab NYC celebrates Father’s Day with The Tempest.

Shakespeare’s plays are filled with fathers. In Linda E. Boose’s article “The Father and the Bride in Shakespeare,” she points out that fathers and sons appear in the action of twenty-three of the plays in the canon, and fathers and daughters in twenty-one. Unfortunately few of Will’s patriarchs are deserving of neckties or homemade ashtrays. Oh sure, we hear wonderful things said about King Hamlet, but none of the dead king’s actions on stage amount to much more than, “Me, me, me.” No one wants to be a stepchild in the household of Titus Andronicus. And the less said about Lear’s parenting skills the better.

But in The Tempest, we have a father who genuinely cares for his child’s well-being. Prospero has his faults of course, which parent among us doesn’t. Like Shakespeare’s famous magician, I’m not always very patient with my two-year-old, and I worry that my son isn’t listening to me as closely as he should. Between you and me, I too look forward to my child’s nap time so that I can plot revenge with my imaginary friends. As a father though, I would certainly use all the power at my command to see to my son’s education and happiness.

Prospero’s character lapses never get in the way of his relationship to his daughter. He tells Miranda early in the play, “I have done nothing but in care of thee.” As an audience we never are given reason to doubt him. Prospero is the most successful parent of all of Shakespeare’s fathers. I hope that you will come out and join our celebration of dads this Father’s Day weekend.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Decided Loss

In New York, there seems to be a variety of theater companies reviving plays or musicals that have fallen into neglect. The Mint Theater Company and Musicals Tonight! are not only two such organizations, they are probably the most dedicated to preserving forgotten works.

Both the Mint and Musicals Tonight! have done award-winning work when it comes to unearthing lost treasures of our theatrical heritage. I find it unlikely that David Mamet would have adapted Harley Granville-Barker’s The Voysey Inheritance if it hadn’t been one of the Mint Theater’s many successes. And I will take the Equity Showcase Code presentations of Musicals Tonight! over City Center’s Encores! series any day. Whereas Encores! feels that Hair is a neglected show, Musicals Tonight! is bringing affordable presentations of lesser-known works by Irving Berlin, Rogers & Hart, and Victor Herbert to audiences again.

That said, from time to time I have come across scripts or references to some neglected little theatrical bauble, and I say, "Wow, I would like to see that on stage." And the person next to me usually says, "Did you say something to me?"

E. E. Cummings’ play HIM, Offenbach's Le voyage dans la lune, Dion Boucicalt's play Vampire, and Victor Herbert's adaptation of Little Nemo in Slumberland are the ones that immediately spring to my mind. But the one that calls to me the strongest is Professor Ralph’s Loss of Breath.

Like the Cummings play, I came across Loss of Breath in the Dunbar Library while attending Wright State University. On the third floor was the collection of plays. A collection that was such a mess you could never find anything for which you were actually looking. The only way to make use of your time, trying to find scenes for class work, was to sit on the floor and immerse yourself in the stacks. I confess that I spent a lot of time and money at the library’s copiers with out of print books, making myself whole copies.

Seventeen years later and I continue to be so tickled by the Professor’s puppet show, that I have been working for the last year to adapt it into a live action theater show. If you ask me Playlab NYC’s first toe in the water as a company was the two weeks in March that I was able to spend with my friends John Pieza and Todd Courson working on the text. Having the luxury to play with not only the original text of Poe’s short story, but also my photocopy of the original puppet script from WSU as well. I am indebted to John and Todd.

I hope that if you ever find yourself in Dayton, Ohio with a couple of hours on your hands that you will go to the Wright State Library and seek out Professor Ralph’s forgotten treasure.