Script Review: 'Any Given Day' by Linda McLean

André Agius

  • OnStage Malta Columnist

---- Book Blurb ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
‘’This is a big day for Sadie and Bill; their favorite person is coming to visit. They’ve gone to great lengths to prepare for the occasion. It’s an even bigger day for Jackie; and not one she’d anticipated. Should she make the most of it? She doesn’t know if she can any more; too many people depend on her.’’

---- Preliminaries --------------------------------------
Title – Any Given Day
Playwright – Linda McLean
Published – 2010
ISBN – 978-1-84842-093-9
Pages – 78
Cast – 3 Males, 2 Females
Setting – ‘a flat in the city, a bar’

---- Text -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I distinctly remember being intrigued by the blurb at the back of this script, while anxiously waiting in the lobby of the Traverse theatre, in Edinburgh, the same theatre this script would go on to have its premiere in. With the promise that this very script is ‘perceptive, funny and moving’ (as advertised at the back) I was sure that this was something I had to get my hands on, after reading it though I feel that these three above nouns steer readers in another direction to what this play can really offer. Split into 2 ‘plays’ (not scenes), McClean’s writing lends itself to some easy reading, flowing rapidly from one line to another, with lines being no longer than 11 words at most. This repetitive single line tit-a-tat between the characters (2 characters in each play), creates an almost breath-taking flow to the play, only to be broken up momentarily by monologues also, made up of more single lines. 

---- Characters ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
Although I found all 4 characters (yes I am aware, there are 5 listed above – but one of them is a very minor character in play 1), having hints of realism throughout their lines and interactions – I do feel that they become a bit surrealist when placed within the situations they are in. With the most surrealist of moments coming in the closing of the first play (or act 1), which I must admit caught me completely off-guard and left me a bit awe-struck. All-in-all though I must complement McClean in clearly capturing her intended feeling of ‘urban isolation’ – as this theme came out strongly throughout the interactions between her characters and the scenarios they interact within. This underlying feeling within her work continually haunts the reader, even after finishing off this script.

---- Staging ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
There are minimal stage directions throughout the script, although we are given the location of where both scenes are taking place. Hence it is left to the reader’s imagination to interpret and create these scenes and interactions in any way possible. For any prospective directors looking to stage this work, there is a certain creative freedom to how both scenes should look, how scenes should be staged and also how the characters should interact and look (as only ages of characters are stipulated); which is a big advantage when looking at this work. 

---- Themes ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Urban isolation     surrealism     family affairs     Guilt     Responsibility

---- Favourite lines -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
‘You like me now?
Youre all right.
Huh.
You don’t like it when I don’t like you.’

---- Conclusion ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Although, I did find the text a bit daunting at times and didn’t quite captivate me fully – I do believe, though, that this text carries a large amount of potential to be turned into a verbatim-dance theatre piece (I can imagine both ‘DV8’ or ‘Frantic Assembly’ really hammering this text home); this is mostly due to the poetic nature of the lines, where action, emotions and interactions are described vividly throughout. 

50 Years Later - My Life in Theatre

Skip Maloney

  • OnStage North Carolina Columnist

Chapter 2

Even now, closing in on 50 years later, memories of my 21st year are an odd combination of the pleasant and the truly horrific. All of them, though, are related to my emerging interest and early participation in theater. Virtually every step taken that year was either motivated by or tangential to decisions I made to pursue that interest.

And it began in the spring of 1969, when, after two years of working with the Quannapowitt Players in Reading, MA, I opted to attend a massive 'cattle call' audition in Boston. Representatives from summer stock companies all over New England were on-hand, basically to choose the enormous contingent of support personnel they'd need to mount their summer seasons. As best as I could figure (hindsight, really), very few of the producers and directors were there looking for actors or actresses to star in leading roles. Most of those roles had already been allocated to previous employees of the company, or known quantities that were invited. The rest of us were there for the future privilege of wielding hammers, nails, paint brushes, and our own bodies to move set pieces, as necessary, during actual productions. Actual roles were confined, more or less, to bit parts, like Lancelot's squire in Camelot, whose sole contribution to the words in the play amounted to "You fell him a mighty blow, sire," or words to that effect.

Didn't know this going in, of course. Full of myself, I expected to be cast as Lancelot (fat chance). Don't remember what I did at the audition, but in a matter of weeks, it was enough to land me a few invitations, which arrived, quaintly, in my actual mailbox. Some of these offered no money. Some wanted me to spend money (fat chance). One, the Weathervane Theater in Whitefield, NH, offered me room, board, and if memory serves, a small stipend to spend my summer working with the northernmost barn theater in the country. I accepted, immediately.

Then, in May, I discovered that the Selective Service had spit out my number (related to my birth day). It was low enough (4) to assure that come June, when they selected young men to be drafted into the armed forces, at the height of the Vietnam War, I would most certainly be among them. As it happened, I was working (at McDonalds) with a woman who was the wife of an Army recruiter. I knew them both, socially, and when I articulated my frustration at this unfortunate turn of events, the Army recruiter suggested an alternative. He told me that the Army offered what they called a 'delayed enlistment' program. It meant that as an alternative to being drafted, I could voluntarily enlist, which would commit me for an extra year (three, instead of two), but would offer me options, like selecting an MOS (military occupational specialty), instead of being tossed into an infantry unit, and, the deciding factor, I would not have to physically report for duty/basic training for 90 days.

I was sworn into the US Army in June, days before my 21st birthday. I'd more or less dodged the draft to pursue my theatrical ambitions. By the end of the month, I was in Whitefield to spend most of the following 90 days.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't quite what I'd imagined. As a repertory company, we were premiering a new show every week, which, at certain times, meant three different shows running in a given week. For us peons, it meant double (triple) duty with the hammers, nails, screw guns, brushes, and the milk-based paint they used for sets, the smell of which still lingers in my nasal memory banks. Every day was something of a boring grind. No glitz, no glamour. Work on stage actually made things worse, because in addition to being up, literally, at the crack of dawn to do set work, you were expected at the end of a really full day to do your part in rehearsals, and ultimately, performances. Our opening production was Camelot, and sure enough, I was given the role of Lancelot's squire, with his one line that I was determined to say, in spite of (as it turned out) Lancelot's tendency to jump it at every opportunity.

The day that Camelot was to open dawned grey and cool, but having been afforded a first day off since our arrival, cast, and crew set out to do any number of things. In the early afternoon, myself, a fellow performer and a 14-year-old drummer (literally, half of our piano/drum orchestra) set out for a local swimming hole, formed by a river flowing out of the White Mountains. A 12-foot waterfall fed this swimming hole and provided an option of climbing into a rock sluice and allowing that waterfall to plunge you into the swimming hole below it.

Upon our arrival, though, that same fun-friendly option looked a tad ominous. Rainfall, higher up in the mountain, had turned the flow of water into something of an angry stream, which initially, none of us was anxious to ride into a maelstrom of water. We stood on the edge of the rocks, questioning whether a swim at this particular moment was a good idea, but throwing caution to the winds, the young boy jumped off the edge and into the swimming hole.

And didn't come up. The two of us left looking down into the pool wondered whether he had come up behind the waterfall and into a little cave space behind it. The roar of the water made it likely that even if he were answering our shouts, we wouldn't have heard him. Finally, concerned that something had happened beneath the surface of the roiling water, I jumped in after him. And immediately lost all control of my movements, which, for the next two or three minutes were controlled by a whirlpool that sucked me under, driving me in a continuous circle around the swimming hole and under the waterfall. It would suck me directly under the waterfall, which, in turn, would drive me to the bottom of the hole, before sucking me back up to the surface, allowing me a quick gasp of air, and then sending me back into the vicious circle.

I struggled for a while against the overpowering current, but remember, distinctly, giving up and committing myself to what I was sure was my death. I remember going through a thought process about how pissed my mother was going to be; having to take a day off, possibly two or three, to drive all the way up to New Hampshire to claim my body. I suspect that giving in saved my life. Somehow or other, I had caught a random current moving beyond the raging whirlpool, that drove me downstream, out of the swimming hole. When I felt my knees scrape a rocky bottom, I stuck my head up and out of the water. I staggered to my feet in waist-deep water, and struggled to catch my breath.

The young boy had caught the same current apparently, but too late. He was found dead in a tangle of branches a couple of hundred yards downstream from where I'd emerged.

I don't know how long I stood in the middle of the river, the powerful current continuing to push at my legs below the surface of the water. I was paralyzed with fear, and more than likely in clinical shock. I was literally scared to move in the water and stood there for I don't know how long.

At a time well before cell phones, I have no idea how the EMT vehicles were alerted, but still standing in the water, I watched them arrive at the riverbank and move downstream with an ambulance cot. I worked up enough courage to get to the riverbank myself, and by the time I did, one of the EMTs was headed back toward the road. He informed me that the body had been found and continued his way up the path. As I headed that way myself, a small group of  'lookee-loos' came running towards me, anxious to get downstream and (I presumed) see the body, like rubber-neckers looking for tragedy and blood at the scene of a highway accident. I don't know who was more surprised, them or me, but from a distance of a few feet, I started hollering at them. I planted my feet wide and curled my hands into a fist as I screamed something to the effect of "Get the hell away from here!" One of them tried to ignore and go around me, but I stepped in his way and repeated my command at a voice level that strained every vocal chord in my body. He took a look into my eyes, and decided against taking another step. He and the small band of them turned heel and headed away.

It was approaching 4 o'clock by the time I got back to the cast house, just outside of downtown Whitefield. Camelot, which was going to be my first performance on a summer stock stage, would open in four hours.

Showmance: Down With Love

Vicki Trask

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. You see them across the read-though table and they smile at you. Before you know it, you’re exchanging numbers and texting through rehearsal. Then tech week comes and tension grows as the sleepless nights become more frequent. By opening night you’re excited again; you’re doing a show with your significant other! That’s awesome because you get to spend all your time with them without having to shell out for date night. Besides, acting out that dramatic love scene is so much easier when you have that chemistry backstage. But half way through the run something changes. That on-stage chemistry is just a little bit off. You start avoiding each other in the green room. All that PDA that everyone complained about is replaced with arguments or bitter glances. The relationship is ended but you still have a show to get through so you either become an on-again-off-again couple or you try damn hard to step on to that stage and leave all the drama behind.

This is an exaggeration, of course, but what I just described is a “show-mance”. That ever-debated relationship that tends to begin and end within the rehearsal and run of a show. It’s the crush on your fellow cast mate that fades away whenever you’re not in the same room. The sexual tension that boils up when you spend every day with the same people. It seems like such a good idea until it all falls apart.

I’m speaking to you as a cast member who has seen her friends go through all the many stages of show-mance, sometimes multiple times per show. The gushing and stumbling, the public fights, the hand holding backstage; I just have one request:

Be careful.

In high school, it was almost expected that when you get a bunch of teenagers in a room and allow them to explore their emotions and their bodies, someone is going to have a crush or have sex or get their heart broken. But you’re not in high school anymore. You’re an adult working with other adults who are presumably here because they want to put on a good show – just like you.

Absolutely; find someone attractive, develop a crush (do all that dramatic stuff) but maybe wait to explore a relationship. When you’re with the same people day in and day out and you’re in a position where you’re required to be emotionally vulnerable, you’re not always thinking clearly.

My first piece of advice is to wait until a show is over to pursue anything real. A lot can happen between that initial crush and strike, and there’s nothing worse than ending a relationship and then having to do a scene together. But if you are going to go after that dream date a month into the rehearsal process, please be professional. Whether it works out or it doesn’t you still have a show to do and as much as we hate to admit it, our personal lives absolutely affect our performance on a day-to-day basis. I think if you are going to go after a show-mance, be kind to each other. Don’t forget that there are two of you in a highly emotional profession. Don’t let tech week stress get to you and keep the PDA to a minimum – there are two of you in this relationship, not twenty-two.

It really comes down to keeping a clear head. Use your best judgement then take a leap of faith and pray to god you don’t screw it up.

Oh and Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Photo: Shakespeare Theatre Company

Why Hollywood Hates 'The Last Five Years' Movie

Chris Peterson

I don't know what the creative team behind The Last Five Years movie were thinking...

Didn't they know this isn't the way movie musical adaptations are supposed to work?

Didn't they know they were supposed to cut key songs from the score for "time reasons"?

Didn't they know they were supposed to cast A-list stars, throw them in the recording studio and auto-tune them to the point we believed they could actually sing?

Didn't they know they were supposed to cast the original stars of the show? Who cares if their current ages don't fit the characters anymore!

Didn't they know instead of songs, the lyrics should be spoken without music because we all talk in rhyme?

Didn't they know they were supposed to change the original ending, thus eliminating major plot points and pay Jason Robert Brown enough money to act like he was okay with it?

No....The creative team behind The Last Five Years didn't think to do any of this which is why Hollywood will hate them, but we love them for it.

The film is a textbook example of what a movie musical adaptation should be: faithful to the original and only elevating the source material.

With little to no change in staging, the film transfers what we saw on stage, the good and the bad, what worked and what didn't. But it's all there on screen.

For years I've been waiting for a movie musical adaptation that wasn't a let down. There were too many Disney alterations to Into the Woods, most of the cast of Les Miserables couldn't carry a tune, Mamma Mia was ...well let's just say they decided to make a Mamma Mia movie.

Over and over again Hollywood has been taking Broadway properties and turning them into bloated, studio friendly messes.

But not The Last Five Years.

Thankfully, having been made in the independent circuit, Hollywood was unable to touch it. The film is fantastic. Mixing live vocals with studio recording, the sound is seamless. With usage of an entire orchestra rather than a small pit of musicians, Mr. Brown's music soars.

Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan turn in incredible performances as well. You can't just sing a Jason Robert Brown song, you have to embody it. And Ms. Kendrick and Mr. Jordan are perfect as this couple spiraling downward and upward given the style of the story. While no one will ever top Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz, these two come close.

Everything about the film seemed to go against what Hollywood would do. "Summer in Ohio" could have easily been filmed as a big production number but instead was done with just a handful of (hilarious) dancers. "The Schumel Song" could have been a spectacle of light and special effects but settled for Christmas lights and two actors by themselves in a room. "Nobody Needs to Know" was brilliantly filmed as a single shot sequence with various actresses. Hollywood would have never stood for this.

Sadlly, because this film won't be the commercial success to change Hollywood's ways, we can expect their usual retooling in upcoming adaptations of the likes of Pippin, American Idiot and gasp....someday Wicked. I would lobby for a Parade movie, but God only knows what Hollywood would do to it.

But for now, The Last Five Years stands alone like the field in Field of Dreams. It reminds us what movie musicals were, what they could be and what we hope they will become again.

Into the Woods, Again and Again

by Thomas Burns Scully, OnStage New York Columnist I have watched ‘Into the Woods’ a lot in the last three days. On Friday I had never seen it before, it’s now Tuesday, and I’ve seen it three times. On Saturday I saw a matinee preview of Fiasco Theater’s new off-broadway production for Roundabout Theatre Company, on Sunday I watched the DVD recording of the original Broadway hit, and yesterday I went to the movies to see the Rob Marshall helmed film-adaptation. Apart from getting ‘Agony’ stuck in my head, this deluge of modernized fairy-tale mash-up has given me a lot to think about. We have a lot to get through, then. Into the woods, to hear a play, to watch a DVD, to see a movie.

Let’s begin with a look at the musical on its own, regardless of production. Put simply: I like it. It’s not about to enter my list of top ten shows, but the music is good, the plot is clever, the jokes are fun, and the emotional punches work. The show’s messages of actions with consequences, the myth of happy endings, and being careful what we tell are children are all strong, well realized, and effectively communicated. I’m not the biggest musical fan that there has ever been, but ‘Into the Woods’ gave me something that I have taken away positively. Having established that the source material is strong, we can now look at interpretation.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that, of the three versions I watched, I thought the original 1987 Broadway Production was the best. Hands-down it is the most unified production as a whole. You don’t need me to tell you that, of course. Its numerous Tony Awards and enduring legacy tell you all you need to know. That said, it also doesn’t preclude that other versions have nothing to offer. The film interpretation gives viewers the chance to see the world of the woods completely realized and fleshed out in the way that only a film can. Conversely, the Fiasco production’s appeal lies in the fact that it is a deliberate double down. Quite probably as a reaction to the film adaptation, Fiasco proudly advertise their show as ‘10 actors, one piano and boundless imagination’. So both shows have value that the Broadway production doesn’t. And yet the Broadway version is still my pick of the three. To answer why we must go deeper in to the woods.

Fiasco’s production is bold in its use of theatricality. Their use of found-object puppetry, shadow-puppetry and general stagecraft is excellent. A feather duster is a chicken, an actress’ shadow is the giant, a taxidermically stuffed wolf-head is used to create the Wolf. All these effects are clearly well-rehearsed, the slickness and speed with which the cast perform them shows us this. Interestingly enough, however, speed and pacing is where the Fiasco production falls down the most. The production nears three hours in length, and there are times when the audience really feels it. I didn’t realize it until I watched the Broadway production, but some of the songs were performed at a slower tempo, adding countless seconds to the run-time. The ensemble have also added lots of little touches of stage business. Some of these I whole heartedly welcome. Their choice to have Milky-White the cow played by Andy Grotelueschen wearing a cow-bell around his neck bordered on genius. I must confess that I missed him in both productions I watched subsequently. The plastic cow of Broadway and Tug, the cow of the film, failed to live up to the majesty of his performance. Shame on them. That said, all these little bits added runtime. Fiasco’s show is at least twenty minutes longer than the Broadway Production, and nearly a full hour longer than the movie.

The cast are also not equally matched as singers. Patrick Mulryan’s rendition of ‘Giants in the Sky’ is magical, and Jennifer Mudge as the Witch sings wonderfully throughout. However, Noah Brody’s voice strains a little more than is comfortable (Though he and Andy Grotelueschen are great fun during ‘Agony’), and there is a general feeling that not every member of the cast is comfortable tackling Sondheim’s difficult material. Fiasco, as a company, are very capable as performers, with moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout, but the cracks that show when the pace slows down, coupled with deliberately reduced production design, give the theatre-goer the unnerving feeling that they may have been tricked in to coming to a community theatre production. Perhaps these are kinks that will be worked out by official opening night (January 22), however, if the cast are to be believed, they have been working on this show for years. It makes one wonder how much they will be able to fix if they haven’t done so already.

So, the Roundabout production is bold, and, for the most part, fun, but sometimes drags, and makes you think about the $99 charged per ticket to see ten actors singing around a piano in a black box. I don’t want to downplay the stuff that’s good in it, but I left the theatre in a decidedly ambivalent mood. When I watched the Broadway production, suddenly the show seemed to really move. Things that seemed annoyingly childish before, became charmingly silly. That is the secret strength of the Broadway show: there is no dead stage-time whatsoever. Fiasco could do with some of the same mustard.

What both productions get right, however, is that they understand that ‘Into the Woods’ is meant to be fun. It has its dark edges, yes, but at its core its a story about witches and giants and storybook logic. This for me, is where the main failing of the film comes in.

I have a sneaking suspicion that, had I watched the film first, I would have liked it a lot more. I should also stress that I don’t hate the film. It’s exciting and dynamic in its own way, but when viewed against the source material it becomes immediately frustrating. Everyone making the film seems to have forgotten that they’re supposed to be having fun. I have trouble remembering a single moment in the film where Anna Kendrick smiles; the Princes flirt with being cheesy, then quickly revert to being broody and intense; Meryl Streep as the Witch is dark and vengeful, and utterly repetitive to watch after a few scenes. No-one seems to have remembered that this is a fairy-tale, and the complete lack of whimsy this creates in the film makes it bleak and un-charming. I understand why all this happened: they wanted to create a realistic world for the story to take place in. But that is the exact opposite of what the material demands.

‘Into the Woods’ demands a world where storybook logic makes sense, and the more realistic it is made, the less fun it becomes. For instance, Daniel Huttlestone as Jack. There is nothing wrong with Huttlestone as an actor or a singer, but casting an actual young boy in the role of Jack immediately changes the semiotics of the character. In the Broadway and Roundabout versions, Jack is played by a boyish looking grown man. The result is that Jack becomes much sillier as a character. He is referred to as a boy by everyone, and he acts like a boy, but because he is played by a man, his boyish nature seems naive. There is the implication that he’s a developmentally challenged man-child. It makes his devotion to his cow all the more strange, inexplicable, and funny. When you suddenly have him played by a real little boy, his story becomes tragic. His love of the cow makes perfect sense, it’s his pet after all. When he sells Milky-White, it’s sad. It’s a fine choice, but it makes for a different show, and I would go so far as to say it goes against what the material demands.

These choices to make the film seem more real all detract from how fun it is supposed to be. Meryl Streep’s serious, actorly choices, contrasted against Bernadette Peters’ over-the-top fairy-tale caricature, give the film a grittiness it doesn’t need. Personifying the giant in the form of Frances de la Tour, and showing her fully on screen makes the climax of the film more disturbing than it ever has been on stage. The whole first act, meant to be the epitome of a light-hearted romp to allow for the darkness of the second act, feels far too serious. So much so, that the (heavily curtailed) second act feels like a tacked-on extra ending. Ironically, in spite of the cuts and changes Disney insisted on, the film is darker in tone than the musical has ever been. Everything I have mentioned (plus Johnny Depp’s co-starring as the bizarrely out-of-place, overly explicit pedophilia metaphor) makes the film super serious. And it just doesn’t need to be. Gritty-reboot syndrome is rife, and it makes the changes Disney made all the more silly. Removing the death of Rapunzel, and the Witch’s punishment of making her bear twins; these are all sops to what is considered decent by the public, they don’t make the story less dark. Which raises the interesting point as to why Johnny Depp seemingly about to molest a child is fine, but a giant crushing a girl isn’t. So the film is dark. Which is annoying, because the musical is darkly comical, which is what I’ve always preferred.

I can gripe about the movie all day. The above doesn’t even begin to cover my list of problems and concerns. But (and this is a big but) all of these issues don’t take away from the fact that, taken on it’s own merits, the film works. Separate from any past renditions, the film is highly serviceable. The story is well told, the cast are generally excellent, the singing is up to snuff, and the cinematography is great. Its a movie you can take your mom, your dad, your kid, or your date to and, unless one of you is a Sondheim buff, you’ll probably really enjoy yourself. It is not a bad movie, not by any stretch of the imagination. As I said before, had I watched the movie first, there’s a good chance I would have really enjoyed it. It’s just that, in light of what had been done before, we could have had something that was part Mel Brooks, part Terry Gilliam, part Tim Burton, and all Sondheim. Instead we got a solid, dependable, family film. Which is fine, and yet I still feel a little cheated.

Do I have any criticism for the Broadway production? Yes, actually, I do. Generally speaking it’s strong all-around. The cast are great, the direction sublime, the show feels very complete. However I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the production design. I know it was being deliberately storybook-ish in its look, but there are certain elements that look and feel so cheap that it grates on my nerves. The birds on strings, and the plastic cow in particular seemed to offend me the most. Maybe I was simply missing Andy Grotelueschen. Apart from that, I find it hard to really complain about the Broadway production. There’s a reason it’s the benchmark version of itself.

So what conclusions can I draw from all this? I can tell you that if you want to go and see the best version of ‘Into the Woods’ you can see, then you should rent the DVD of the Broadway show. If you want to go to the theatre and watch an entertaining, if imperfect, live version of ‘Into the Woods’, go and see Fiasco do it at Roundabout. If you don’t have the money for the theatre, but you still want to go out for a show, go to the movies and see ‘Into the Woods’ there. Provided you’ve never seen it before, you’ll probably have a good time.

That’s all from me. I’m off to go and watch something that’s not ‘Into the Woods’.

Links:

Original Broadway Production: http://www.amazon.com/Into-Woods-Sondheim-Bernadette-Peters/dp/B00NC9TT8A/ref=dp_ob_title_dvd

At Roundabout: http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/Into-the-Woods.aspx

'Into the Woods' the movie is playing at all major cinemas