The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence Review!

For those of you in the Colorado Springs area (or those of you who might just be passing by…) here’s a review of  the play I’m currently involved with as co-producer.

Special thanks to Bill Wheeler, who hosts a great theater blog that you should check out in general!

Here’s snapshot of What It’s All About: 
A finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and winner of the 2014 John Gassner award, Madeleine George’s The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence brings Watson, our favorite sidekick, to the forefront as he struggles to become the protagonist of his own story. Moving through time, The Watson Intelligence explores Watson through several different incarnations. We meet the classical Dr. John Watson of Sherlock Holmes fame, the tireless engineering assistant Thomas A. Watson of Alexander Graham Bell, the contemporary Joshua Watson of the ‘Dweeb Team’, and WATSON, IBM’s super computer that became Jeopardy! champ. These four Watson iterations merge, rising to face the mystery, romance, intimacy, and technology of a new world – revealing that real heroes are often unsung.

If you’re interested in coming and checking it out, we’ve already finished our first weekend, but here’s the stuff you need for everything coming up! (Also, here’s the Springs Ensemble Theatre’s website.)

THE [CURIOUS CASE OF THE] WATSON INTELLIGENCE will be performed at Springs Ensemble Theatre, located at 1903 E. Cache La Poudre Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80909. The play runs Jan 21 – Feb 7, (Jan 21-23, Jan 28-31, & Feb 4-7). Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Sunday performances are at 4:00 p.m. Seating is limited, so reservations are recommended. Tickets are $15, with group rates available. $10 student rush tickets are available for every performance (valid ID is required, rush tickets are only available at the box office 5 minutes before the performance).

Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Directions

Dead Man’s Cell Phone Production Poster (Designed by: Linda Nichols)

Sarah Ruhl is the second most performed playwright in the United States — second only to the Bard his own self. This is the last weekend that it will be performed in Colorado Springs at the Springs Ensemble Theatre.

In other words: this is the last weekend I’ll be playing Jean.

I cannot tell you how much I love doing this play. If I could, I would perform it every day. A lot of that love is due to Sarah Ruhl’s writing style, which, as a writer, I sooooo appreciate.

One of the coolest things Ruhl does as a playwright is her stage directions. They’re almost like poetry themselves. And, while specific, they still let the director, designers, and performers go to town creatively.

This is where there’s a big ol’ difference between writing for the stage versus writing for movies versus writing novels.

Movies tend to break things out simply: Character A and Character B fight. (And there you have about twenty minutes of any Transformer  movie.)

Novels (short stories, etc.), of course, will spell all of that out: Character A hurls a chair at Character B. The chair cracks in half over Character B’s head, carving a gash across B’s forehead. And on and on — perhaps with Character A is drinking a gin and tonic.

This is how Sarah Ruhl chooses to present a fight scene in Dead Man’s Cell Phone:

A struggle for the gun. 
Perhaps an extended fight sequence
with some crawling and hair pulling. 

That magical word ‘perhaps’ leaves everything open but she’s also managed to convey exactly what this particular scene needs. Sure, you can do an extended fight scene and both Character A and Character B can be drop dead serious about what’s going on — that’s definitely one way to go. But the other is to follow that ‘perhaps’ and you get something far more in tune with what the rest of the text suggests: this is a kinda ridiculous situation — but there’s a gun so you better take it kinda seriously. Somewhere in between is the sweet spot…and the writing in the stage directions hits that note just perfectly.

Something else that happens in Ruhl’s writing — and is noticeable in the above passage — is that she breaks lines the same way poet’s do.

A struggle for the gun. This is very straightforward. And it’s its own paragraph/line/sentence. Note there’s a period.

Perhaps an extended fight sequence This fragment is left hanging. But it’s a singular thought too. This is like a line of poetry — a piece that is it’s own thing but is still connected to the next line…which is kind of a turn.

An ‘extended fight sequence’ call to mind something very serious. Then Ruhl changes the tone with the next line:

with some crawling and hair pulling. She finishes the thought with something unexpected — which is how the fight sequence should work.

We know from the rest of the play that at least one of these characters should just not be involved in a fight sequence. Because it’s ridiculous. Absurd. And the stage directions are written in a way that reflects this. It could be written like this:

A struggle for the gun. Perhaps an extended fight sequence with some crawling and pulling.

Reading it that way feels different. (At least to me.) To me, this way feels more throwaway.

I once heard an interview with Ruhl and she said that one of the most frustrating things about watching performances was that the director/actors/designers were so busy trying to put their own stamp on a piece that they didn’t worry about ‘birthing’ the story. She already wrote everything down. The story is there…and she left enough flexibility to give the director/actors/designers to come up with something really creative. So why not just tell the story?

Our director said that if we have any questions, to look to the script first. Everything is there. And it is. We’ve taken Ruhl’s notes and tried to make magic. I think we’ve done pretty good too. Here’s a review from Broadway World Denver. If you’re in Colorado Springs this weekend — you can snag tickets (hopefully) at 719-357-3080.

Tonight there was a lot of screaming

Luckily, no one was injured in the riot rehearsal process of Marat/Sade. (That’s the short title. The long title is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. It’s by Pete Weiss.)

Not to give anything away — but I totally am — the inmates stage a freakin’ riot at the end of the play. In case you were curious, staging that kind of thing a very aerobic activity. Especially when you have to do it six times.

To help you imagine it:

Picture an aerobics floor.

Picture some aerobic dancers on the floor.

Picture them doing something synchronized in a circle in the middle of the floor.

Picture the aerobics instructor leading them in an orderly fashion.  The aerobicizers do something cool and orderly. They do stuff like jazz hands and kickboxing moves.

It’s not at all like that.

Oh, there’s plenty of kickboxing moves. And there’s spinning. There’s clapping. There’s even some jumping jacks to go along with the skipping. You could even say there’s some step aerobics, because a few people go up some stairs and a few people go down some stairs.

None of it, however, is synchronized. There’s a significant danger of running into other people. There’s a distinct possibility that at a given moment you will step on someone’s toes, or pull their hair, or bump into them in some fashion.

And that’s just the visual elements.

Did I mention there’s singing? Well, there is. And the singing turns into screaming.  A crap ton of screaming.

Yes. Tonight there was a lot of running. Tonight there was a lot of screaming.

(My throat’s a little sore.)
 

Springs Ensemble Theatre Presents Harold Pinter’s "One for the Road"; a.k.a. "Jenny did the lights"

For the past few weeks, I’ve been happily learning how to do lighting design over at SET, a Colorado Springs Theatre Company. SET’s finishing up its season with a badass one-act play involving corrupt governments and a disturbing use of Christmas carols.

We open on Thursday, and if you’re in town — or even if you want to make a long trip — you should come see it. The performances are stellar. The production quality amazing. And the lighting design isn’t bad either. 😉

Here’s the trailer:

(And stay tuned, because I’m thinking Pinter is a good writer to explore.)

Thursday Reviews!: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (A Mentor Review!)

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

British authors must have some kind of secret to writing scrappy orphan stories.

Not being opposed to books that start with a creepy man breaking into a house, murdering the family who lives there, and being thwarted by an infant and his ghost protectors…I thought this was a great book. The opening is certainly dark, but I can’t imagine a coming-of-age-in-a-graveyard book opening with sunshine and happy little gnomes.

The creative concepts in this book really caught my attention. How would one raise a living child in a graveyard? If the ghosts can’t leave, how do you get food? How do you educate the kid? How do you teach him to protect himself? How do you make friends? The answers Gaiman comes up with are soooo very interesting. Plus, it’s all a very interesting take on the ultimate human question: What happens when you die?

Nobody Owens, Bod, is one of those characters that you want to cheer for. He works hard to do what’s right, whether it’s getting a headstone for the dead who long to be remembered or defending his fellow students from the classroom bullies. When he’s told that he is kept in the graveyard for his own protection, Bod’s reaction is to say that it’s the man Jack, the man who killed his family, who should be protected – from Bod.

I love a can-do attitude.

The good news is life in the graveyard carries a story a long way. The only problem I had with the story was the reasoning – the ‘why’ – of the man Jack’s assault on Bod’s family was explained away in a sentence or two very close to the end of the book. The bad guys just seemed too simplistic, which was disappointing after so much mystery had been built around their ‘society’. With the well-explained good guys balanced against the less-explained bad guys, the weight of the story shifted strangely, if that makes sense.

All in all, though, it’s pretty darn good. I’d recommend it for middle school and up – and not because the opening is dark (which it is, no lie) but because there are a multitude of literary and historical references that I’m not sure younger readers would appreciate. There’d be a lot of blank stares unless there’s an adult around to explain.

View all my reviews

Attention Colorado Springs Writers!

My writers’ group has just put together a new website (still a tiny bit under construction) that you can visit here–

The Under Ground Writing Project

–and there’s a Community section that we’re looking to fill. So if you’re part of another writers’ group in the Colorado Springs area, or if you’re a local author and you want your website included in our Community section, or you’re going to give a presentation in the area, or whatever then shoot me an email (jenny@undergroundwritingproject.com). We’ll include events and whatnot on our calendar of events and link to you on the Community page.

And, ya know, if you want to come hang out with us, our meeting place and dates are posted too. =)