Everyman Theatre

The show now at Everyman Theatre, Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks is incredible. Only two actors, Kenyatta Rogers and Eric Berryman, are on stage and carry the show to it’s stunning, but inevitable, conclusion. Parks won a Pulitzer Prize for this play, which was first produced in New York in 2001. This is its first Baltimore production.

 topdog

Since I had been to Dara Marks workshop the day before I saw this play, I was thinking transformational arc.  At the end of Topdog/Underdog there is no redemption, but I remembered Dara saying there doesn’t always have to be; this was a tragedy after all. It would have made me feel better if there had been some ray of hope for these brothers, but their backgrounds, life experiences, and lack of opportunities made the ending an almost forgone conclusion.

The day I saw the play was Mother’s Day. We were in the new Everyman Theatre on Fayette Street in Baltimore so there is more handicapped accessibility. A family brought their elderly mother and parked her wheelchair across the aisle from us.  A nice outing for mom, right? As soon as the play started the woman dropped her head and slept through the entire show. I was glad because the language in the play, while authentic, would have scorched the ears of any woman her age. And the subject matter was not uplifting. That family would have been better off taking mom to brunch and giving her a blooming plant.

Plays are story telling and whatever project Laura and I are working on, it’s always about story. Any time we can observe how someone else makes it work is instructive, so we watch TV, go to the movies and to the theater. We hope it will make us better writers and story tellers.TopDog/Underdog at Everyman had lessons we will use.

Cross-pollination

This morning in Yoga class our instructor, Paulette Florio, asked us during a meditation to think about things we loved doing and why. I love gardening and am probably happier with my hands in the dirt than just about any other thing I do. My husband says it’s because it’s low conflict and there’s probably a lot of truth in that statement. But this morning when I thought about why I love to be in the garden, the image was of being connected to our earth mother, Gaia. That image may have been there because of a writing project that is marinating in my brain, but I think it is more than that. My little garden has its share of problems – clay soil, spots that don’t dry out when we have rain and then turn to concrete when it’s dry, pesky insects, etc. – but I always thought it was my job to find the plants that would be happy with those conditions. Working with what you’ve got instead of fighting is a more joyful way to live – at least in the garden.

This year Laura invited me to join the Great Pumpkin Growing Contest. This started as a competition (probably thought up after sharing a pitcher of margaritas with her sister) to see who could grow the biggest pumpkin. I was asked to join because Laura saved seeds from last year’s winner and I started them for her in one of my raised beds. I was so excited when I had a baby pumpkin and then really disappointed when it fell off. That happened several times before I realized I needed to give Mother Nature a hand. The tiny pumpkins were falling off because they weren’t being fertilized. Now I watch for those embryonic pumpkins and when the flower opens, I take a male blossom and stick it right in there.  I now have four pumpkins the size of ping pong balls that seem to be flourishing.

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What does this have to do with writing, you ask? Cross-pollination is the answer. I recently blogged about my writers group and how helpful it can be (even though it took me a long time to trust the process). Sometimes a chance remark made by a fellow writer about a character or a plot can spin us in a new direction. Something like that happened recently when at an Eastern Shore Writers Association meeting in Cambridge our speaker, Kate Blackwell, talked about a stuck place in a novel she’s writing. During a break Laura went up to her and gave her a suggestion about the plot. I was still at our table but could observe Kate’s face. It lit up! “I never would have thought of that, but it’s perfect,” she said. Laura later told me Kate’s next comment was, “I can’t wait to get home to start writing.”

Writing can be such an isolated experience. Cross-pollination by another writer makes it less so.  But you have to be open for the experience – like those pumpkin blossoms, they can’t be pollinated until the blossom is open.You don’t have to do what someone else suggests, but it might spark something that helps a writing project move forward from a stuck place. It might even move your work in a whole new direction. And don’t you just love it when that happens!