Write on Wednesday – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – October 17, 2018

The 2018-2019 season at Baltimore Center Stage started with a stellar production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. I hadn’t see it in years. The show was directed by actress Judith Ivy who has recently added directing to her resume.

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The Pearlstone Theater doesn’t have a traditional stage. There is no curtain so when you enter you and wait for the show to start you get to examine the set. And it never disappoints. This show takes place in the opulent bedroom/sitting room of Big Daddy Pollitt’s home situated on his 28,000 thousand acre plantation. At the back of the stage double doors open to an unseen outside terrace and on stage right there is a door that opens to a small room seen through a scrim. Actors enter stage right, stage left and through the back of the bedroom.

Here’s how the playbill summarizes the play.

In this enduring American classic, family ties and layers of lies collide over the course of one simmering Southern summer night. Themes of morality, greed, and desire play across the stage in this explosive drama about what can happen when illusions begin to unravel. Brick, racked with guilt over his best friend’s death, numbs his pain with drink. Maggie, his wife, is determined to win even fleeting attention from her neglectful husband. But when three generations come together to celebrate a birthday—and discuss a will—all of the players start to crack under the pressure and the heat. How long can tensions build in a house boiling over with uncertainty, secrets, and maybe even love?

Director Judith Ivy commented on what she wanted the audience to experience.
“I certainly want to honor much about the traditional interpretation of this play. But I guess if I were to put my own interpretation within that tradition, I see it as a love story. In some of the productions I’ve seen, the focus has seemed to be on how much these  people hated other, but I think they really love each other. It may be hard or complicated or even unspoken, but I think there’s real love in this play.”

Under her direction, the actors succeeded in showing us a glimmer of that love. You left the theater hoping, but I suspect that if we could have seen the story further unfold, we would have seen the secrets and the money win.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – The Santa Diaries Goes to Indiana and Maine – July 18, 2018

Laura Ambler and I are over the moon.  Last week we got word that The Santa Diaries will be produced in Crawfordsville, Indiana this year by the Sugar Creek Players as their Christmas Show.

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And then two days later we were approached by the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, Maine who also wanted to do the show. Of course, we said “YES.”

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Laura and I are honored that the original The Santa Diaries has chosen by the Sugar Creek Players and the Chocolate Church Arts Center for production this December.We are big fans of community theaters which play important roles in so many small towns. They build community and often become families for local actors, musicians and front and back of house volunteers.

Community theaters throughout the country have also saved countless buildings. Sugar Creek’s home is a former movie theater, as is the Avalon Theatre in Easton, Maryland where we live. Chocolate Church is one of two iconic Gothic Revival Churches from the 1840’s located in Bath. This church would have been demolished, but local citizens, recognizing its architectural significance and in the spirit of supporting the cultural arts, came together to create The Chocolate Church Arts Center. It received this name because of its unique chocolate brown color that covers the original caramel color it was before it had been painted white. Here’s a link for its interesting history.

The Sugar Creek Players, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, found a permanent home when W. Addington Vance and Myron Pattison deeded the Vanity Motion Picture Theater to them. Prior to that Sugar Creek had been producing shows at Wabash College, in local high schools, gyms and once in a Holiday Inn. In 1988, despite tar paper flooring, folding metal chair seating, and a lack of air conditioning, the opening show in the new theater was a success and the Players finally had a home.

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The cherry on the top of our Christmas pudding is that the sequel to The Santa Diaries will be produced in Faribault, MN by The Merlin Players who commissioned the play. Almost all the actors in the original prodcution of The Santa Diaries will play the same characters — five years later. Brandeee is pregnant but who is the father? The new show is titled: The Santa Diaries: A Christmas Wedding. We are beyond grateful that The Merlin Players reached out to us.

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Our plays will be in three states this December. Laura and I hope to be able to attend some of the shows. A road trip is being planned.

 

Write on Wednesday – Short Attention Span Theatre – July 11, 2018

Last Sunday I attended (with Laura Ambler and my husband) the Short Attention Span Theatre in Chestertown, Maryland. Performed in the Garfield Center for the Arts,  on Chestertown’s main street, the space used to be a movie theater. Laura spent summers with her grandmother who lived in Chestertown and remembered seeing movies here — sometimes with bats flying in the high ceiling. I saw no bats on Sunday.

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A group of playwrights meets monthly at the Garfield to read each others works and critique them. Here’s a link to more information in case you’re interested in the group. Once a year nine or ten ten-minute plays are selected for production. This is the 14th year for these Short Attention Span Theatre productions. Why did we never get to one before?

During the intermission we smelled popcorn. Laura loves popcorn and went to the concession stand to get some. You could get a beer or a glass of wine but they didn’t have any popcorn. She came back disappointed. We wondered if we were having a folie à deux, the psychiatric term for a shared delusion.  The first ten-minute play after the  intermission had a bowl of popcorn as a prop. Turns out we aren’t as crazy as sometimes we think we are.

We love theater because we always get ideas, and these ten minute plays must be a challenge to write. No time for multiple plot lines. The story is set up right away and moves quickly to the denoument when the threads of the plot are pulled together. Several of the plays relied heavily on physical comedy which also gave us some ideas as what Laura and I write often turns comedic.

We really went to see the show because our writer friend, Brent Lewis, was on the bill. (It was piece of Brent’s writing that I shared on last week’s Wednesday blog post.) His play,  All Over But The Shouting, has only two characters, cranky elderly brothers in a nursing home who think an incoming missile is going to obliterate them in ten minutes. This gives them just a little time to try to resolve every damn argument and misunderstanding before they are blown to bits.

Below are Brent, me, my husband Roger and Laura. Laura’s husband would have been with us but he was flying.

Brent, Mala, Roger, Laura - 7-8-18

But I’m really glad we went. Brent’s play was awesome and I know from experience how important it is to have people you know see your work — and like it. Somehow Chestertown, Maryland seems further than going to Baltimore, but it’s not. We need to try harder to see local theater and support all the playwrights, even the ones we don’t know.

Minnesota Calling or Why You Should Read Messages to the Bottom

Three years ago Laura and I went to Faribault, Minnesota to see the Merlin Player’s production of our play, The Santa Dairies. We’ve kept in touch with the director and some of the performers.

That’s characters Sandy Hawes, who has the ‘Santa calling’ and Martha, one of the Hot Dish ladies.

At the beginning of September I received a text from Julianna Skluzacek who directed The Santa Diaries in Faribault. She asked if Laura and I had a new Christmas play. We didn’t have a new play and knew we couldn’t do something in a month. I replied, “Sadly, no.”

Then a week or so later I reread the text more carefully and sent an email:

Julianna, I just reread your message and realized you said 2018. What do you need? Laura and I would love to collaborate on something. Mala Burt

Julianna replied:

I’m looking for something that is like “Santa Diaries” in that it has a great love story, funny, some kids maybe but not necessary. I would need a title by October as that’s a deadline for a Paradise publication for 2018. Do you have something you could turn into a holiday show?

Laura and I talked. We had a funny holiday movie script called #Santa. We thought we could turn it into a play, so I sent an email to Julianna attaching the script, synopsis and cast list.

Julianna, we have a Christmas movie script that we could turn into a play. It’s called #Santa. It’s the story of a celebrity PR “reputation manager” who is arrested and sentenced to community service answering childrens’ Letters to Santa.

And we would work with you to make any changes you’d need for your geographic area. Cast list is based on the movie script and would be pared down. This would be fun!

Then we waited impatiently. After a week or so I forwarded the email above with this message.

Julianna, I just wanted to confirm you got our email. (the one with the script, etc.)

She replied she wanted to talk, so we set up a phone call for September 28. Julianna told us that she loved the script, but had some concerns. Our script was for a racially diverse cast and the Minnesota community wasn’t very diverse. She also thought there might be some expensive production challenges.

Toward the end of the converstion Laura wondered out loud what it would be like to do a play with the Santa Diaries characters but five years later. Light bulbs ignited in our brains. Who is Timmy’s father, anyway? It turned out the October deadline was really in November so we suggested sending her a one page synopsis of the arc of a new play.

Laura and I met, brainstormed, pulled together a synopsis and sent it off to Julianna. Then we waited.

And waited. (We aren’t very patient.) I knew Julianna was in a two week production and figured she was too busy to focus on our proposal. Waiting was hard. Laura and I really wanted this to happen.

Yesterday, early in the morning, I sent an email to Julianna. I knew her show had closed over the weekend and wanted to congratulate her on that, but I really wanted to know if she had any response to the synopsis. After all, this was not just her decision. It had to be presented to the theater board for approval.

She said she’d met with the board and they’d approved moving forward with the project. Then said she’d had a dream about the play and outlined an addition she thought might work. Actually it was brilliant if we can pull it off. (It invovles some cast diversity.)

Laura and I are over the moon! Of course we will go to Faribault, MN next December to see the premier production of our play – name to be determined. We would have missed this opportunity if I hadn’t gone back and reread that original text. Read to the bottom, folks.

 

 

 

Who Doesn’t Make Valentine’s Day Reservations?

Our typical foray to live theater at Center Stage is to see the show and then go out to dinner. We go to the Sunday matinee and then decide where to go to dinner. We never need reservations for early Sunday evening as long as a restaurant is open.

As You Like It

Sunday we went to Baltimore to see As You Like It. Laura was out of town so my husband got her ticket. Our friend, Betty Ann, is the other season subscriber. My hubby had forgotten it was Valentine’s Day, but that’s okay. He always remembers my birthday and I always forget his. If we were keeping score, he’s way ahead.

The show was excellent. It was held in a theater at Towson State University because Center Stage is undergoing a massive renovation. We’ll be seeing shows at Towson for the rest of 2016. This As You Like It was a modern production. Shakespeare’s version would have been all men as was the convention then. This was an all female production. The ensemble of merry pranksters sang and danced in the Forest of Arden as if they had been transported from a hippie commune.

I could understand all the lines and it sounded fresh and modern and made me want to read the original again (last read in college when the language seemed archaic).

After the play we made our way back towards the Eastern Shore. The last couple of post-theater dinners have been at Rustico on Kent Island where we’ve had memorable dinners. Roger pulled up the menu on his iPad and had us salivating. About fifteen minutes out I asked Betty Ann to call Rustico and tell them we were coming. The were totally booked and could seat us at 8:30. It was Valentine’s Day. We went on to three other restaurants on Kent Island, all of which were totally full. We won’t make that mistake again, but Valentine’s Day will not fall on a Sunday until 2021 and what are the odds that we would have theater tickets that day?

Betty Ann and I knew it was Valentine’s Day but somehow that knowledge did not translate to action as in “make a dinner reservation.”

Roger and I dropped off Betty Ann and headed home to a microwaved dinner of leftover bison spaghetti sauce with gluten free pasta and a salad. The duck with blueberry sauce that I was planning to order at Rustico will have to wait for another day.

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Note: Rustico Restaurant and Wine Bar is located at 401 Love Point Road in Stevensville, Md., a block north of Route 18. It is open seven days a week for lunch (11 a.m., noon on Sunday) and dinner (4 p.m. to closing). Starters $6–$12; pasta $8–$12, dinners $20–$30; wines by the glass $6–$10. Call for reservations or book online. 410-643-9444; http://www.rusticoonline.com.