Rockaby: The Acme Corporation

Rockaby, which was also presented at St. Mark’s Church in October 2013. The recording of the text was overseen by the Canadian sound designer and composer, Alexander MacSween, who, working with myself and the actress, Temple Crocker, approached it as four very separate soundscapes—with slight atmospheric and acoustic differentiations.

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Crocker and I also approached the text in an extremely technical way—finding four very different performance approaches to each section, though each was tonally connected to the others. These technical considerations were more musically oriented—focusing on tempo, cadence and rhythm—rather than character, psychology or emotion. This was keeping in the spirit of Beckettian adage: “What matter who’s speaking, someone said what matter who’s speaking?”

Killer’s Head: The Acme Corporation

This Sam Shepard monologue–the last fleeting thoughts of a man about to die in an electric chair–was performed by Chris Ashworth and produced by the Acme Corporation.

Video of “Killer’s Head”

Chris Ashworth (photo credit: Karen Houppert)
Chris Ashworth (photo credit: Karen Houppert)

The play was staged it in the bell tower of St. Mark’s Church, a claustrophobic, stone-encased, dungeon of a room that fit approximately 18 people per performance. In a mere 10 minutes, Ashworth’s bravura performance went through a myriad of thoughts and emotions during the condemned man’s final moments.

Chris Ashworth (photo credit: Karen Houppert)
Chris Ashworth (photo credit: Karen Houppert)

Selected by The Baltimore Sun as one of the “Best on Baltimore stages in 2013,” Sun reviewer Tim Smith referred to Ashworth’s performance as one of “virtuosic nuance and arresting intensity.”

Chris Ashworth (photo credit: Karen Houppert)
Chris Ashworth (photo credit: Karen Houppert)

 

Not I: The Acme Corporation

Not I was produced as part of Acme Corporation’s Rogue Waves—an evening of short plays in February 2012 at the Bell Foundry. The presentation of the piece was, on its surface, a radical rethinking of the work.

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Rather than presenting it in the traditional way—“a stage in darkness but for a mouth . . . faintly lit from close-up and below”—the actress, Sarah Lloyd’s face was totally lit and her voice was amplified by a visible microphone. In front of her was a 50 gallon fish tank filled with water, with a video camera underneath. The text is broken into five sections, each (except for the last, which fades out) ending with the words “what? . . who? . . no! . . she! . .”

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At the end of each section, Lloyd put her head in the tank, with her face facing the camera. The image of her face under water was shown on a television screen stage left. While Lloyd held her breath, a singer (Susan Stroupe) sang verses from the traditional Scottish folk ballad Bonny St. Johnston, one of the “Cruel Mother” songs collected by James Child. (I accompanied her on guitar.) The lyrics include:

Leaned her back against a thorn
 Edinburgh, Edinburgh

Leaned her back against a thorn
 Stirling for ay

Two bonniest babes that e’er were born

And Bonny St. Johnstone lies fair upon Tay

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The choice of creating these breaks was not as arbitrary as it seems. In Beckett’s original text, he calls for a second character—“the auditor”—that stands on one side of the stage and in each break “[raises its] arms from sides and [falls] back, in a gesture of helpless compassion.” This character is now normally omitted from presentations—Beckett cut it in the original production. But the idea of a witness/commentator for the “Mouth” (as the speaking actress is referred to) and her loggerhead seems an important element that should not be left out. The song, and the violent (and yet oddly peaceful) image of the actress’s face under water underscored the traumatic (and yet unspecific) act that is possibly the reason for the character’s loggerhea.

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The Memo: Single Carrot Theatre

Jack Sossman, Sarah Gretchen, and Rich Espy (photo credit: Chris Hartlove)
Jack Sossman, Sarah Gretchen, and Rich Espy (photo credit: Chris Hartlove)

Single Carrot Theatre produced The Memo in May 2014.

Upon reflection, it became apparent that 50 years after the first production of Václav Havel’s critique of Communist Party bureaucracy and conformity and 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union and its satellites didn’t have the corner on top-heavy bureaucracies. Anyone who’s gone to the Maryland DMV knows that.

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Sophie Hinderberger and Rich Espy (photo credit: Chris Hartlove)

So, rather than simply making this a send-up of Czechoslovakia or Communism, I set the play in the contemporary United States in a government office in Washington, DC. In a moment of corporate personhood, government gridlock, surveillance techniques and torture were in the forefront of our national consciousness, the choice had more than a little resonance.

Paul Diem (photo credit: Chris Hartlove)
Paul Diem (photo credit: Chris Hartlove)

“With The Memo, Single Carrot manages to balance its tendency toward avant garde, progressive theater with excellent acting and staging, resulting in one of the best local productions this year.” – Evan Serpick, City Paper

Britt Olsen-Ecker and Paul Diem (photo credit: Chris Hartlove)
Britt Olsen-Ecker and Paul Diem (photo credit: Chris Hartlove)

“Originally written and produced in the mid 1960s to satirize the labyrinthine bureaucratic procedures of Soviet-era communism, the play’s central conceit—a nonspecific government agency decrees that all internal communications must be conducted in a made-up language that’s nearly impossible to understand—effortlessly becomes a way to skewer the strategic banality of corporate America under the direction of Stephen Nunns.” – Bret McCabe, Bmore Art

Sarah Gretchen, Rich Espy and Jack Sossman (photo credit: Chris Hartlove)
Sarah Gretchen, Rich Espy and Jack Sossman (photo credit: Chris Hartlove)

“The Memo” was awarded “Best Revival” for the City Paper’s Best of Baltimore 2014 and was listed  in the year’s top 10 classical music and theater events in Baltimore by The Baltimore Sun.

The Natasha Plays

The Natasha Plays (I Won and Natasha’s Dream) by Yaroslava Pulinovich, translated by John Freedman, were originally presented at the Towson University Department of Theatre Arts New Russian Drama season, developed in collaboration with the Center for International Development, Philip Arnoult, Director. The productions toured to the Charlestown Working Theatre in Massachusetts, Mabou Mines ToRoNaDa Space in New York City, the Varna Summer Festival in Bulgaria and Istropolitana Projekt in Bratislava, Slovakia.

The plays featured Sarah Lloyd (I Won) and Julia M. Smith (Natasha’s Dream).

“The unleashed, visceral teenage angst of these monologues is the driving force of this work. For a moment, thanks to Pulinovich, we get the unfettered voice of a younger generation.”
– John Barry, Radar Redux: Baltimore Arts and Culture

I Won (world premiere)

 

Natasha’s Dream

 

 

 

 

Video of Natasha’s Dream (complete): 

Video excerpt of I Won