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.

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