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 – 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.

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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.

Write on Wednesday: Soul: the Stax Musical

Going to the theater is always a treat. For Laura Ambler and for me, it’s also educational. As playwrights we watch to see if there’s something to learn — and there always is.

Sunday afternoon we saw the World Premier of Soul: the Stax Musical by playwright Matthew Benjamin. It was a great show. The narrative arc was the origins and life of Stax Records in Memphis. Stax began as Satellite Records in 1957, founded by Jim Stewart — a banker by day and a country fiddler by night. Stewart had a dream, but no knowledge of the recording industry. With the help of his older sister, Estelle Axton (who mortgaged her house to buy recording equipment for the studio) they set up shop in an abandoned movie theater in Memphis, Tennessee.

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These two white people (who didn’t know that what they were doing was impossible)  launched the careers of of iconic artists—Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MG’s, Rufus & Carla Thomas, David Porter, Wilson Pickett, Johnny Taylor, and Eddie Floyd—artists who made American Soul Music mainstream. What a great story!

This show had a large cast — twenty people were on stage at the standing ovation curtain call. We were interested to see how that many people were handled as our two plays also have large casts. Many of the performers in this production had multiple stage, tv and film  credits but were having their debut at Center Stage Baltimore. These actors had to be outstanding singers as well as great dancers. The show featured exceptional choreography by Chase Brook. I predict it will be a hit on Broadway and then tour. The music will keep you clapping. See it if you get a chance.

The two plays Laura and I have written were Christmas shows written with Community Theatre in mind. Community Theatre works with limited budgets and local (often exceptional) talent. But these theaters have constraints. Christmas shows are frequently fund raisers so in the case of our first play, The Santa Diaries, anybody who wanted a part got one.  Large casts are great for ticket sales to grandparents, aunts and uncles and next door neighbors, but large casts create staging problems and parts that were written originally for one theater may not work for another.

The idea for our next play has been germinating for a while. It will have just four cast members. We’ll start work on that soon. In the meantime we see as much theater as we can. We have a lot to learn.

 

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.

 

 

 

Absence is a Play

Absence is a play, by Peter M. Floyd, about Alzheimers. It was part of a week long marketing effort by Integracare, parent corporation of Candle LIght Cove in Easton, MD, to bring awareness to their memory unit.  They want to have full occupancy which helps pay the bills and makes it possible for people with enough money to be able to have a safe place for those they love. That’s my cynical take. The week was also meant to be educational for professionals and families. All proceeds of the play ticket sales went to the Alzheimer’s Association

The play was heartbreaking, and difficult to watch. It made me want to cry. If I hadn’t been sitting in the middle of a row near the front with a friend, I would have left. I reminded myself that if you are caring for someone with dementia, you can’t leave. And quite possibly can’t afford the best residential care.

I suspect my cynicism was in part an emotional reaction to the play. As a playwright, I thought there were some problems with the structure and pacing of the play. Denial at work again? Maybe I was thinking about play structure so I didn’t start sobbing at what it must be like to lose the memories that make us who we are.

I wanted to go home and find a Doris Day movie on Netflix, lose myself in well-lit sets where beautiful people struggle with life, but always have a happy ending. As my friend and I walked into the parking lot, I was so absorbed that I almost tried to get in someone else’s car. I so hope that is not an early symptom of a downward slide.

Part of the week involved workshops and activities for professional care givers. A friend in my morning yoga class took part in a sensory deprivation exercise. She said it was extremely disorienting, but she was glad she’d done it. It gave her a better idea of what having dementia would be like. I think I’ll stick with denial for now.

It is estmated that 10% of people 65 and over have Alzheimers, and one-third of people age 85 and older (32 percent) have the disease. If other forms of dementia are added to that number it could be much higher. So kudos to all the people in the community who participated in bringing awareness to this issue. But the cynic in me wonders how the heck our country going to take care of all these people. I suppose women can quit their jobs and stay home to care for the elderly. Maybe lower income people without access to adequate healthcare won’t live long enough to develop dementia.

And then I wonder how the pharmaceutical industry is going to benefit. Would they really want to cure this disease? 10% of the increasing demographic of our aging population — that’s a lot of drug sales. What if the answer is less alcohol, less sugar and non GMO food? Or more good fat in our diets?  I’m cynical enough to think that profitability always seems to win. And that really makes me want to cry.

 

 

 

 

 

A Busy, Busy Week

There’s always one week in June that’s packed. It was last week. It started on Monday with a trip to my husband’s hearing aid guy. It’s just a trip to Easton, but the appointment is thorough and long and I like to go along so I can tell Mike Canary MY experience of my husband’s state of the art (and very expensive) hearing aids. It seemed to me I was again having to repeat things two or three times so some adjustments were needed. We are finding out that hearing loss is very complicated and the aids, even with all the bells and whistles, don’t make it easier for my husband to hear in situations with more than a couple of people. Restaurants are a nightmare.

On Tuesday I helped a friend make 17 small arrangements for the annual Woman’s Club of St. Michaels luncheon that was on Wednesday. These were gifts for the incoming officers and board of directors. I always learn something about flower arranging when I work with Barb Colledge. This time it was how you determine the height of an arrangement that will go on a dining table. No higher than your fist when you place your elbow on the table.

Wednesday was the luncheon at which the club of presents its annual scholarship. This year the $6000 award was split between two deserving students from St. Michaels High School.

I did a press release and sent this photo and one of the incoming board to our local paper, The Star Democrat.

On Thursday I drove to Annapolis for a chiropractic visit and then to Costco in Glen Burnie to pick up my new glasses. Traffic over the Bay Bridge was fine both ways. This time of year that’s always a concern. It’s an hour drive (on good days) to Annapolis, so I try to fit in a visit to Trader Joe’s if I can.

On Friday was a Hats in the Garden Party at the Woman’s Club. This year I have been the co-chair of Green Thumb (the gardening group at the club ) with Carol Meholic and we made a fantastic team. We divided tasks and every monthly event went smoothly. At this party, guests were asked to wear hats they already owned or created and people voted for their favorites. These were the two winners, Joanne Buritsch and Barbara Rose.

We had lovely weather for the party in the garden behind the Woman’s Club – a garden where I spend a lot of time weeding. Almost fifty club members attended.

Saturday my husband and I helped at the Farmer’s Market in the morning and that evening there was a pot luck supper for our neighborhood association. I made a rice salad, and forgot to take pictures.

And on Sunday Laura and I and two other friends went to Center Stage to see Jazz and then out to dinner. The show was an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s book and it was too confusing to be enjoyable. But dinner after was, as always, wonderful.

This week has been much less busy. There has been time to write every day and get some yard work done early in the morning. We had a couple of very hot days and we could really use some rain, so I’m hauling the hose around. While I do that I think about the next scene I’m writing.  I’m past the middle of the book and am making steady progress.

 

A Trip to New York City

Last week my husband and I spent a couple of days in New York City. He was born in New York. As a young child his parents moved to the nearby suburbs so he visited often and knows his way around the city – unlike me who has no clue about uptown and downtown or in between.

We took the MegaBus. $40 for both of us round trip. That’s the upside. The downside is that we have to drive to White Marsh Mall outside of Baltimore to catch the bus and returning is a wait on the street near the Javits Convention Center. Our choices from the Eastern Shore of Maryland are 1) drive ourselves and pay astronomical parking fees in New York, 2) drive to Wilmington, DE and take the train ($100 – $200), or 3) take the MegaBus. Driving to Wilmington or White Marsh is a horse apiece so we chose MegaBus.

Going up was something of an ordeal. The bus we were supposed to be on was broken down and we had to wait for another bus. Fortunately we had “reserved” seats (an extra $2 per person per trip) and could wait out of the cold and wind in our car. Oh, I forgot to say it was raining. Another bus finally came and we started out – only to get off the highway at a rest stop because the windshield wipers had stopped working and the driver couldn’t see. We had a bathroom and snack break while we waited for another bus. That took another hour. So getting to the city – not so great. It was a good thing we didn’t have matinee tickets for a show. But coming home was terrific. Decent weather and they let us get in the bus while we were waiting to leave. The drive back to White Marsh was uneventful.

Before the trip Laura persuaded me to put Uber on my phone and that’s how we planned to get around the city. I had downloaded the app and my credit card information so no worries about having small bills and how much to tip, etc. You set that up ahead of time.

The MegaBus drops you off midtown – everybody on the bus exits and we got our bags from under the bus. I pulled out my smart phone and touched the Uber icon, feeling extremely proud of myself for using this new technology. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks.

What I didn’t know was that there are three options on Uber and I picked the worst one. It’s kind of a carpool option and it doesn’t pick you up exactly where you are, you have to walk to a location. So we did. Did I say it was raining and blowing so hard it blew my umbrella inside out?

The silver lining was that there was already a young woman in the Uber that picked us up and she explained to me the different categories. I should have picked UberX. That picks you up based on your location, although in NYC’s one way streets that might be on the other side of the road. But all in all, Uber was fantastic. They came fast, were good drivers, and since you’ve already set up your credit card info, no scrambling for bills at the end. You know what the ride will cost before you get in the car.  I’m a fan.

We had a couple of things we wanted to do in the city. We wanted to eat dinner at Il Grifone. We wanted to see a Broadway show. I wanted to go to Chelsea Market and the fabric store, Mood, which is featured on Project Runway. I needed some make-up refills so a stop at a department store was on the schedule. Other than that, we just wanted to poke around.

The city was beautiful as we walked to dinner.

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Grifone is a small Italian restaurant with white tablecloths and exceptional food.

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When I sent Laura this picture of my grilled octopus appetizer, she texted back it was the most pornographic food she’d ever seen. I’m still trying to figure that out.

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I’d never eaten octopus before, and it was delicious. Meaty and mild with a lobster-like texture. A fresh salad with some grilled shrimp was my dinner.

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When we strolled back to the hotel the rain had stopped and good weather was predicted for the next day.

My husband wanted to check out Tiffany’s first floor. We weren’t shopping for anything but it’s always fun to see all the glitz. Bergdorf Goodman was nearby and I thought that was as good a place as any to get my make-up refills. I went in and asked the first clerk I saw. He put me on a stool and before I knew it I was convinced I needed a new brand of foundation. Soon, Clif and I were on a first name basis. One thing led to another and I left with a bag full of goodies. That is me post Clif’s attentions.

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Then we ubered down to Chelsea Market where I knew I’d be able to find the elusive harissa. Nope!  It was still elusive, but I did find a container of 25 whole nutmegs for under four dollars. I won’t use that many in this lifetime so I’ve shared with some friends.

Then on to Mood where my husband found a seat (holding my bag from Bergdorf) and I walked around and patted fabric. He patted Swatch, the resident dog. I bought a Mood tote bag.

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I used to sew a lot and I love watching the designers on Project Runway. They always go to Mood for their materials.  There is now a new show called Project Runway Junior and these kids are truly amazing. Some are as young as twelve, none more than eighteen. Often they’ve taught themselves to sew watching YouTube videos – or they were lucky enough to have a seamstress mother or grandmother. I always sewed from a pattern and here they are patterning their own designs. Amazing talent.

That night we had tickets for “The Book of Mormon.” It was funny, irreverent and touching. No wonder it garnered so many Tony awards. However the seats in the section of the Eugene O’Neill theater where we were sitting had no leg room. My tall husband was miserable. It took his legs two days to unkink.

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It was nice to get away for a little while, but I always love coming home.