Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recent Reads

I have been pretty slack with reading plays post-graduation. And those I read in school were for class rather than keeping up with current work. No more slacking for me. Not just because it's my job to keep up with contemporary work and expand my knowledge of older pieces, but also that reading plays is really the only way to find monologues (novels can be good sources too). True, I have a couple monologue books that I have used in a pinch, but I'm not a huge fan. They take the work out of the play's context, they're not always current, and they make monologues so readily available that the same ones become over-used in the audition room. However, they are good for finding pieces in your age range and type and can therefore point you in the right direction of plays that suit you...

Now that I'm done with my monologue book tangent, what I started out saying was that I'm kicking the reading into high gear. I have a ton of plays lying around my room, most are dated, but the more the merrier. My Amazon wish list is ever growing and I will soon be subscribing to American Theatre Magazine (a student ID gets you 10 issues for $20. So hang on to your student ID when you graduate!). I am reading the New York Times theatre section much more frequently to keep up with up-and-coming playwrights. Another great resource for buying plays is the Drama Book Shop in New York City. If you can't find it anywhere else, they will probably have it. If you knew all this, I hope you're not being a slacker like me. If you didn't know, now you do. Start reading.

Here are my thoughts on a few recent reads and what monologues they have in store:
  1. The Ruby Sunrise by Rinne Groff: Bought this one at the Drama Book Shop in New York, thinking that the role of Ruby would be a good one for me. The description on the back described her as a farm girl building an early TV in her barn. It sounded quirky and fun, but I was met with something much darker than I anticipated. Not that dark is bad, but I was not particularly enraptured by the storyline of a girl finding an outlet to tell her mother's story while exhibiting similar characteristics to Mommabear (She doesn't call her that. I just made that up.). It seemed a little old hat. It did stand out to me that the daughter's storyline takes place during the Red Scare, and she works for a TV station (and her mom was building TVs.. get it?). I think the crisis of the daughter's era could have been more deeply explored, rather than a focus on already obvious parallels between mother and daughter that result in a fairly predictable ending. Monologues? A couple. Short ones for Ruby ("young, maybe 17") and a longer one for an actress, Suzie ("20s")
  2. Eternal Hydra by Anton Piatigorsky: Another Drama Book Shop find (on the faculty recommended shelf). This is a very well-crafted play. It follows two female authors/researchers who are attempting to get books published that vouch for two writers from the turn of the century. As the truth comes forward about the two earlier authors, it becomes clear that their stories overlap more than expected and the repercussions of that discovery echo into the work of their modern researchers. Four actors (2 m. 2 f.) seamlessly move in and out of all of the parts to create a story that weaves between modern-day New York, 1930's Paris, and New Orleans post Civil War. Conversation is evoked about plagiarism and equality of gender and race. This one's a winner in my book. Monologues? Yes. There are monologues for the two women, one of whom is African-American. There are also a few for the middle-aged to mature gentleman playing the author of the 1930's.
  3. In The Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks: I love Suzan-Lori Parks. I knew I loved Suzan-Lori Parks by the time I finished the first page of Topdog/Underdog. This play was no exception. It is "a modern day riff on The Scarlet Letter" (as the back-cover description says), following a woman named Hester and her five children, all of whom have different fathers. The role of Hester is the only one that is not doubled (the children playing their own fathers or someone involved in the sexual encounter that produced them), and the children are played by adults. There is also a strong parallel between In The Blood and Mother Courage that begs to be examined further. I bought this play originally for my Women In Dramatic Arts class, but ended up reading Parks' Venus instead (also recommended). Both plays are excellent as a study of the role of women in theatre and in history. Monologues? Yellow light yes. For African-American men and women, and one for a Caucasian female. Mature, rough subject matter. By which I mean sex. And not the good kind. Tread lightly in the audition room with these babies.
  4. Hunting and Gathering by Brooke Berman: Berman uses the search for New York apartments as a metaphor for commitment and "finding your place" in a more abstract sense. There are four players, two women and two men, who all have closely connected stories resulting in a staged romantic comedy. I'd say this is a step above your typical Hugh Grant or Ashton Kutcher movie, as the characters struggle with engaging problems that go beyond "I am lonely and this person is perfect." This play is full of laughs as Ruth learns about life while playing Big Buck Hunter and Jesse becomes acquainted with IKEA. This play is a great read for young actors, as all the characters are between 20 and 30. Monologues? Holy crap YES. Each of the characters has multiple direct addresses to the audience that are charming and revealing about their nature. Also great for scene work, as the play is composed of two-person scenes.
Are these mini reviews at all helpful or interesting?  Leave thoughts or suggestions about them in a comment or on my facebook. Thanks for reading and break a leg!


    1. You should check out Sarah Ruhl's work if you don't know it!

    2. Funny you mention Sarah Ruhl--I just finished reading Late: A Cowboy Song last night. She's definitely one of my favorites.