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Editorial: ‘8’ the play at the Bing Crosby Theater

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By Sandra Hosking

What is marriage? A contract? A corporate merger? An institution? A spiritual joining? Whatever the definition, the word “marriage” has meaning globally. So do “husband,” “wife,” and “freedom.”

On Aug. 8, the American Foundation for Equal Rights and Broadway Impact presented a staged reading of the play “8” by Academy Award-winner Dustin Lance Black to a full house at the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane.

The play uses trial transcripts from Perry v Schwarzenegger and interviews to portray the debate over gay marriage and how that debate has affected the lives of people involved.

In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 8, which rewrote the state constitution to ban marriage for gay and lesbian people. In response, two couples, Sandy Stier and Kristin Perry and Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami filed suit against the proposition in federal court.

The evening seemed to carry more weight as plaintiffs Zarrillo and Katami were in attendance. Katami is a former schoolmate of one of the performers.

In the beginning, director Troy Nickerson gave a heartfelt statement about the recent loss of his partner of 21 years, David Gigler, a man he was never able to call husband officially. “We need you,” Nickerson told the audience, “because it is right.”

“8” is a serious play about serious issues, and the legal jargon is difficult to follow at times. But some things are universal: love, acceptance, hurt, love.

It brings to light how such laws are discriminatory and detrimental to individuals and how the state of California had no real defense in the lawsuit. The phrases “I don’t know,” “no evidence,” and “the state doesn’t need to prove …” popped up several times.  The government is not exempt from presenting evidence. It doesn’t get a bye on proof.

At one point, the state’s attorney, Charles Cooper (Thomas Heppler) suggested that marriage exists for the purpose of procreation. Same-sex couples obviously can’t conceive together. But the judge asked: What about heterosexual couples who are barren? Should they then be banned from marriage? Of course not. The state’s argument didn’t hold water.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys grilled so-called experts who claimed that gay marriage would corrupt children and society, exposing that they had conducted no studies, nor did they have any empirical evidence to prove those claims.

But the play was not without levity. When it opened, we met Stier and Perry (played by Marianne McLaughlin and Kate Vita) and their sons. When one of the children asked how long the trial would take, Stier responded, “I don’t know. I’ve never sued Arnold Schwarzenegger before.”

The 21-person cast featured familiar Spokane actors and some fine performances. Wes Deitrick and Rick Rivera, who played attorneys for the plaintiffs, Thodore B. Olson and David Boies, respectively, each had poignant moments. Heppler adeptly portrayed state attorney Cooper, a man trying to do his job and hold together arguments that dissipated under scrutiny. Kim Roberts played Maggie Gallagher, a commentator and opponent of gay marriage rights, as a woman on a crusade who ignored how her actions make other people feel.

Following the play, Ramon Alvarez, of the Washington State Human Rights Commission, mediated a discussion with Zarrillo and Katami, as well as another couple, Rabbi Tamar Malino and Elizabeth W. Goldstein, a professor at Gonzaga University.

It isn’t common for people on whom characters of a play or movie are based to be available to illuminate their story for an audience in person.

When Alvarez asked the panel why marriage equality was important to them, Rabbi Malino responded “to live a life of freedom.” The word “husband” has global recognition, Zarrillo said. “Freedom, association, protection, access,” Katami said.

There are currently 1,050 rights that gays are denied federally, Katami said. And federal law gives states the choice not to recognize same-sex couples’ rights as a married pair if they cross state lines, a situation Katami called a “crazy quilt.”

Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were not permitted to marry. When they were freed, they flocked to the altar. And until the Civil Rights Movement, it was illegal, even criminal, for interracial couples to wed. There are two basic reasons why those oppressive laws have been stripped from the books: Freedom and society got a clue.

When asked by an audience member how gays can combat the religious right who wields the words of the Old Testament like a weapon, Malino responded that there are many ways people interpret the text, but one thing is certain, “God said we were never meant to be alone.”

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In 2010, the federal court ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. Opponents appealed the decision, however, and the case now sits before the Supreme Court. At the end of September, the Supreme Court will review submitted cases and decide whether to put it on the docket. If selected, a final decision would be made by June 2013. If not, the lower court’s decision will stand, re-establishing gay couples’ rights to marry.

In Washington, civil unions between gay couples are permitted but the partnership is treated as a corporation. This fall, Washington citizens will vote on Referendum 74, which will ask voters to approve or reject existing laws that allow same-sex couples to marry. For information, visit, Washington United for Marriage at http://www.washingtonunited.org.

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Sandra Hosking, M.F.A., is a Spokane-area journalist and teacher. She is editor of InSight for Playwrights, a national publication, and Co-playwright-in-residence at Spokane Civic Theatre.

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Review: ‘Spring Awakening’ at Lake City Playhouse

By Sandra Hosking

COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO—July 26, 2012—Lake City Playhouse launches its inaugural “Stage Left” summer production with a bang with Duncan Sheik and Steve Sater’s SPRING AWAKENING, based on a German play by Frank Wedekind. The musical holds both shocking and tender moments, as well as humor.

The show, set in the late 19th century, opens with Wendla, a sheltered fraulein played by Abby Anderson, looking at her reflection and singing “Mama Who Bore Me,” setting a soulful tone. This is not West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty.” Anderson’s character is vulnerable with long, dark curly tresses and a sweet voice, but some of her words are muddled.

When the other young women join her in a reprise, their voices blend perfectly.

We meet Wendla’s lover Melchior, played by Jordan Taylor, at his school for boys where free thought and failure aren’t tolerated. He and his classmates adeptly display their angst in the explosive number “The Bitch of Living.”

This is where Siri Hafso’s aggressive choreography shines.

We also encounter Melchior’s friend Moritz, played by Ross Mumford. Moritz is a horrible student with an overbearing father. Mumford captures his character’s absolute fear of ineptitude very well, especially in “Don’t Do Sadness,” and we ache for him because we know what lies in store.

Emily Cleveland, who is known for portraying cute and quirky characters, goes deep in “The Dark I Know Well,” a song about the abuse her character Martha endures. The song becomes a duet between Martha and Ilse (Hafso), and the abrupt ending makes us hold our breath.

The teens are tightly controlled by the adults in their lives, all played by Janean Jorgensen and George Green, who also directs. Most of these portrayals are effective, especially Jorgensen’s German schoolmarm and Green’s father figures.

The first act presents one powerful moment after another. In one scene between the lovers Wendla and Melichor, the girl asks him to hit her with a switch just so she can “feel something.” But the instant where Melichor decides to go too far happens too fast.

Their coupling at the end of the act, which is slightly graphic, is handled artfully though.

Act two waxes more serious as we see what social restrictions do to these teens. While the title, SPRING AWAKENING, implies a promise of abundant blossoms, it becomes a tragedy. Wendla’s mother makes a decision for her that has terrible results, and that transition happens too quickly onstage.

The solid performances are accented by a creative set, costumes and even hair. Zack Baker provides the music direction with an orchestra led by Mike Saccomanno.

It all comes together in a reflective, almost spiritual, “The Song of Purple Summer.” We’re not sure what a purple summer is but one thing is clear: this cast is fully committed to this story.

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SPRING AWAKENING runs through Aug. 11 at Lake City Playhouse (www.lakecityplayhouse.org).

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Sandra Hosking, M.F.A., is a Spokane-area journalist and teacher. She is editor of InSight for Playwrights, a national publication, and Co-playwright-in-residence at Spokane Civic Theatre.

 

Interview: Idris Goodwin

Playwright: Idris Goodwin, 34

Hometown: Detroit and Chicago

Place of Residence: Colorado Springs, Colo.

Education: B.A., film/video, Columbia College in Chicago; MFA from the creative writing school of the Art Institute of Chicago

Website: http://www.idrisgoodwin.com

Selected Titles:Blackademics, How We Got On, The Danger Face Trilogy, Pluto: The Opera

Every few years spoken-word artist Idris Goodwin revisits his origins via poetry. “I come from Grandma’s basement where plastic covers the couch … A bag of better made sour cream and onion—Funyuns,” he reads. “I come from back then, pre cell phone … I come from the word. And, word, I am a man of many.”

He has showcased his hip-hop rhythms on stages and in schools around the U.S., on HBO, and even Sesame Street. He was named one of the top 30 performance poets by The Root Magazine and received a playwriting residency from the National Endowment for the Arts. His plays have been featured at the O’Neill Theater Conference, the National New Play Network Festival, and most recently the Humana Festival of new American Plays in Louisville, Ky.

“Growing up it was all about comic books and rap music. I’ve been pen and paper armed for as long as I’ve had hands,” he says.

Goodwin, who had written several screenplays, first considered writing for the theatre in 2000, when he was a student at The School of the Art Institutes of Chicago. Playwright Beau O’Reilly read one of his screenplays and asked whether he’d tried writing for the stage. “I gave it a whirl,” Goodwin says.

At age 34, Goodwin’s literary style appears to be the voice of a younger generation.

“Hip hop culture has been woven into the fabric of every aspect of American culture for a lot longer than most people think. From slang, to fashion, to filmmaking, to writing. As more generations are informed by its aesthetics, it has and will continue to become more and more of a general American aesthetic as opposed to a subgenre,” he says.

Goodwin’s new play How We Got On centers on three Midwestern teens who forge a cultural identity in the white suburbs by dueling with poetry and dubbing beats on a boom box.

“I’d written a lot of plays, many different styles and genres. I wrote crime noirs, absurd comedies, metaphysical dramas, a rap opera. But I wanted to try my hand at a coming of age story. So I wrote what I knew in way I hadn’t before,” Goodwin says. “I drew heavily from the well of my own awkward teen years. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, loving hip hop music and culture. Shows like Yo! MTV Raps and BET’s Rap City got me through my teen years, as I, like most kids, struggled to figure out their place and voice in the world.”

Though While How We Got On and other pieces incorporate rap, “I do not treat it as a novelty or one in a vast grab bag of styles to throw onstage. Rap is the style in which I communicate many of my ideas. In How We Got On I am focused on these characters, who love hip hop, as described by a narrator who also loves hip hop. A love of rap is not a prerequisite to view my play and if someone comes to the play hating rap and leaves hating rap, I’m fine with that—I think he or she is missing out on some great music—but nevertheless, my only concern is that they sign on to go with my characters on their journey.”

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This profile is an excerpt of an article that appeared in the July 2012 issue of InSight for Playwrights. Visit http://www.insightforplaywrights.com for information.

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Sandra Hosking, M.F.A., is a Spokane-area journalist and teacher. She is editor of InSight for Playwrights, a national publication, and Co-playwright-in-residence at Spokane Civic Theatre.

Play review: Greater Tuna

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2012/jul/14/greater-tuna-a-treat-for-playgoers/

Interview: Sibyl Kempson

Hometown: Stockholm, N.J.

Place of Residence: New York and Tannersville, Pa.

Website: http://www.aoiagency.com/2011/08/sibyl-kempson/ and http://newdramatists.org/sibyl-kempson

Education: BA in drama from Bennington College, Vermont; MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College, 2007.

Selected Titles: Bad Girls, Good Writers; Crime or Emergency; Potatoes of August

Selected Honors: Resident playwright at New Dramatists; New Dramatists/FullStage USA commission 2011; MacDowell Colony Fellow, 2010; Dixon Place Mondo Cane! Commissions, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2011

Sibyl Kempson doesn’t believe in writing her plays in a straight line.  They have been described as experimental and nontraditional in terms of plot.  She believes this has to do with the emphasis she puts on detail over structure and the “ambivalence toward linearity and continuity.”

“I don’t sit down and decide beforehand what is going to happen in the plays I write, or even what they are going to be ‘about.’  I try to let my plays tell me what they need to be, and oftentimes what emerges is a plot that suggests that time is more cyclical than it is linear,” she says.

The New Jersey native isn’t certain why her natural impulse is to play with form, but perhaps it has something to do with life’s not measuring up to expectations or that no soundtrack accompanies one’s experiences.  “I’m always left with a lot of questions, and my adventures don’t proceed with any sense of predictable formula or resolve neatly at the end—if there even is an end!  So I guess what I am doing is navigating, and possibly aggravating, that rift.”

Her hope is that audiences have a lot of questions after watching one of her pieces.  “I want to engender more curiosity in people about themselves and the world they live in, and in the worlds they imagine.”

She studied for her MFA atBrooklynCollegewith Mac Wellman, a playwright known for his experimental works.  “Mac vindicated me as a writer. I would never be a playwright in any serious sense without Mac.  He showed me and all my fellow students that focusing on the details instead of the structure is in fact the way to writing a more compelling and authentically creative play.  He also helped me cement the relationship between reading and writing.”

Kempson wrote her first play, titled “Ponce DeLeon and the Fountain of Youth,” as a child, and it received a full production at theHardystonTownshipElementary   SchoolinFranklin,N.J.  “It was a musical. I actually had boys dressed up in long Doric gowns twirling golden ropes and singing ‘We are the faeries of the Fountain of Youth.’  And they did it!  Albeit somewhat reluctantly.  They seemed to think they had to, that it was a mandatory requirement of some kind.  I couldn’t believe that this was allowed to go on, that no one stepped in to stop it,” she says.

As a current member of New Dramatists, she is collaborating on a new piece with delegates from various theater groups in Austin, Texas, including Rude Mechs, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Rubber Rep and Physical Plant.  “It’s in association with Austin Scriptworks and the Fusebox Festival.  I go down three times a year and work on it.  The piece is working-titled River of Gruel: The Requirement(s) of Narrow Approach(es).  It’s so far a very sprawling and unwieldy piece through which we are beginning to draw connections.  It was a lot of seemingly unrelated imagery and text and we are seeing a sort of mythology of civilizations emerge.  It’s very, very crazy and indecipherable so far.  We will present a finished version next year at the Fusebox Festival.”

For new playwrights or MFA candidates, Kempson offers one piece of advice: “Beware of the word ‘should,’ and if you hear it, think of it as a dare and not an imperative.”

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This profile is an excerpt of an article that appeared in the June 2012 issue of InSight for Playwrights. Visit http://www.insightforplaywrights.com for information.

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Sandra Hosking, M.F.A., is a Spokane-area journalist and teacher. She is editor of InSight for Playwrights, a national publication, and Co-playwright-in-residence at Spokane Civic Theatre.

Review: ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’ at Lake City Playhouse

By Sandra Hosking

COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO—May 26, 2012—Lake City Playhouse closes its season with an amusing confection of a production of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. It doesn’t rise to the level of its presentations of Rent or Urinetown, but the show does feature bright moments.

 

The colorful pastel backdrop sets a fun tone, and the 1960s costumes by Jamie Russell are great. Ali Waid’s choreography is clever and entertaining, especially during the “Coffee Break” and “Brotherhood of Man” numbers.

 

Jett Bingman plays J. Pierrepont Finch, the window washer who rises to the executive level in a big corporation within the space of a few weeks. He is smiling and likeable. His voice is decent but sounds off pitch at times, which may be due to the music or the tinny sound system. But it is fun to watch how he manipulates his way to the top.

 

Emily Clevelend, who is always nice to listen to, returns to the LCP stage to play Finch’s love interest, Rosemary Pilkington. Rosemary’s friend, Smitty, played by Alyssa Maurer, has some of the funniest lines, but Maurer is stiff in her delivery.

 

As J.B. Biggley, the blowhard boss, Kent Kimball sings—and knits—well. He was last seen as Juan Perone in Evita. Biggley’s mistress Hedy LaRue, played by Brooke Wood, looks every bit the part in her heels and red beehive, but her characterization becomes a bit tiresome.

 

Several of the supporting characters steal their scenes. Alex Eddy is hilarious as the boss’s spoiled nephew Bud Frump. He whines and stomps around the stage like a child. Cary Pieroni’s reaction when his character is fired for being from the boss’s rival college draws big laughs (Go Chipmunks!).  And, Laticia Widman, the boss’s old secretary, moves about the stage like a nervous bird and steals the “Brotherhood of Man” number in the second act with her mannerisms and booty shaking.

 

Despite just being a voiceover, Max Mendez’s deep voice makes Finch’s book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, its own character.

 

HOW TO SUCCEED is directed by Andy Renfrew and features music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert. Music direction is by Carolyn Jess.

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HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS runs through June 17 at Lake City Playhouse. (www.lakecityplayhouse.org).

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Sandra Hosking, M.F.A., is a Spokane-area journalist and teacher. She is editor of InSight for Playwrights, national publication and Co-playwright-in-residence at Spokane Civic Theatre.

 

 

Review: ‘Taking Steps’ at Interplayers

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2012/may/09/taking-steps-provides-clever-twists-on-many-levels/