Dramatis Personae: 7.5 Billion and Increasing

Otto Dix
Masks As Ruins (1946)
Otto Dix
Masks As Ruins (1946)

The work of Otto Dix has always fascinated me. But, this one which I had never seen before is astoundingly beautiful to me. I do tend to favor the surreal, dark, eerie, disturbing and macabre (as most of the few who are reading this already know). And I suspect that the majority of people will indeed find this disturbing and nightmarish. But, it is the masks of the masses that causes my nightmares. Remember that person comes from the Latin word, persona, meaning “an actor’s mask.” Recall also how Alan Watts reminds us that to be a “real person” is to be a “genuine fake.”

All the world’s a stage as Shakespeare says in As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII. Let’s take a look at that:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

With 7.5+ billion players in this world (and ‘play’rs gonna play!’), there are way too many masks for my liking. Oh, how we change them often and even in front of our own bathroom mirrors. If you want real, show your vulnerability and be brave enough to receive another’s. Real and raw is what is beautiful, not the glamour of illusion. The magic will always happen outside of your comfort zone in the realm where masks dissolve.

I hope others just may also find this Otto Dix as – not just “interesting” – but, beautiful. Find it. It’s there. But, you may have to take off your mask and costume, because you must see it also with the heart and soul, not your eyeballs (incidentally a word invented by William Shakespeare)!


© 2019 Michael Armenia

A Streetcar Named Napoleon – Part Deux

On my two days off from performing a Streetcar Named Desire, I wrote and submitted a ten-minute play for possible production at Playfest 2019 at the Grange.

Now…NOW…at last Pablo has catharsis. Only by working with such a talented group of actors in the Orcas Center production have I seen the depths and hues to this play by Tennessee Williams. The words on the page were black and white, but the cast, especially Kate Wlaysewski who plays Blanche, showed me the rainbow on such an otherwise depressing cloud.

As written by Williams, Pablo is an unsatisfying character – a fourth for poker night that no one, especially Stanley gives a s–t about. Well, I had to give him redeeming qualities and answer a question a playgoer asked me on opening night: why does Pablo hang out with someone like Stanley?

Real life does NOT always have a Hollywood ending. For me, the bright side is found in the fact that I spend 99% of my time living in my imagination: it’s a far more awesome and forgiving universe. So, here’s my Disney ending; now Pablo can – I can – finally let go.

Here’s the play script formatted for easy ( I hope) blog reading. Enjoy!

A STREETCAR NAMED NAPOLEON
a short play
by Michael Armenia

CAST OF CHARACTERS
Pablo Gonzalez:  Man, approx. 35-50 years old,
born in New Orleans, descendant
of Spanish soldier stationed in
Cuba during the Civil War

Maria Gonzalez:  Woman, approx. 25-50 years old, a
nurse, married to Pablo

Isabella Delacroix:  Woman, approx. 35-50 years old,
married to Eugene

Eugene Delacroix:  Man, approx. 35-50 years old,
married to Isabella

Streetcar Operator:  Man (no lines)

Passenger(s):  Extras, men or women (no lines)

SCENE
Various places in New Orleans

TIME PERIOD
20th century, Post World War II

SCENE 1
(Suppertime. The kitchen of Pablo and Maria
Gonzalez. Maria comes home from her job as
a nurse at a nearby hospital. Tired, she
quietly enters apartment. Pablo, who has
been at home cooking dinner, comes from the
kitchen wearing an apron and surprises
her.)

MARIA
What are you doing home so early, mi tesoro?

PABLO
Cooking dinner for you.

MARIA
(She puts down her purse and greets him with a kiss.)
I fell asleep before you came home last night and I missed you this morning.

PABLO
I didn’t come home last night.

MARIA
What do you mean?

PABLO
I got home after two this morning.

MARIA
Well, you were playing at Stanley’s, right? You boys tend to stay a bit too long at his house…at least that’s what his wife says.

PABLO
Yeah. Well, I don’t think that will happen again.

MARIA
I find that hard to believe.

PABLO
Well, when I tell you what happened, you’ll ask me not to go there again. 
(he walks away from the dining area into the kitchen to fetch the dinner plates)

MARIA
(louder now, talking across rooms)
Why? What happened, Pablo? Tell me.

PABLO
(pause)
I’ve told you Stanley’s sister-n-law, Blanche, has been staying there with Stanley and Stella for months now.

MARIA
Yeah.

PABLO
(Pablo returns with two plates and sits down at the table. Maria also sits. They talk at normal levels.) 
After months of his typical abusive behavior aimed at Blanche – you know how he is with Stella – it turns out that Stanley finally had his way with Blanche…against her will. And as if that wasn’t traumatic enough, he and Stella had her committed afterwards.

MARIA
What? Noooh!

PABLO
They had some doctor from the mental hospital come and collect her during the game last night. It was awful to me. I’ve listened to yelling in that household, but…that poor thing just broke my heart. I don’t know anything about her other than what Stanley told me. But, dammit…if that woman is dangerous to herself or anyone else, then I’m the
devil! Sure she was a vulnerable woman of questionable morality,and supposedly a maker of fantasy and lies…but, God! This was all Stanley’s doing and I know it now.

MARIA
But Stanley’s your friend. Don’t you owe it to him to…(Pablo interrupts).

PABLO
He’s not my friend, Maria! When all this happened I had to ask myself ‘why was I hangin’ round the likes of Stanley Kowalski?’ In fact, I left the poker game early last night to take a walk…that’s why I got back late. And after a few hours of sitting on the bank of the Big Muddy, it finally came to me. The truth, I mean.

MARIA
What’s that?

PABLO
You know…having lost my dad at age fifteen, I clung to anything that reminded me of him. My mom never remarried and then she died. Some time passed and then all of sudden there’s this guy at work – Stanley – who drinks too much and abuses his wife in quite the same way dad did to mom. Although we are around the same age, I believe I subconsciously took Stanley as a sort-of – father-figure, an authority. I’ve been so vulnerable and weak. After this ordeal last night…and sitting at the poker table afterwards…I just felt…disgusted. I’m not going to play poker with him and his boys anymore and I really want nothing to do with him.

MARIA
Well, you won’t get an argument from me. I never liked Stanley. (pause)
So, why are you home from work so early today?

PABLO
I quit.

MARIA
What?

PABLO
I quit the plant. I never did like the job. I can’t stand running into Stanley as often as I do. I’m tired of going to work only to make money that just goes to other people – if it’s not the government or bills, it’s poker losses.

MARIA
You could just quit poker, you know!
(he looks at her, glaringly)
Spend more time at home.
(he continues looking at her)
So, what are you going to do now?

PABLO
Well, you know we’ve been talking casually about my opening a restaurant. You love my cooking and I love to cook and play host. And there isn’t a decent Cuban restaurant in this part of New Orleans. It’s high-time at my age that I follow my dream, and the circumstances seems right. The only problem is finding a location and maybe an investor. We can’t afford to rent a commercial building and I don’t think we’re gonna get a bank loan for a restaurant on top of this place.
(pause)

MARIA
Pablo…Pablo! I’ve got it!

PABLO
What?

MARIA
Your restaurant! The building. It’s perfect.

PABLO
What’s perfect?

MARIA
My cousin, Isabella…

PABLO
Your cousin Isabella is perfect?

MARIA
No. No. No. Listen. Her husband is Eugene Delacroix. You’ve met him. He owns a building that’s been in his family for generations. It’s owned and paid for. There’s no mortgage. He’s rented it out in the past and I know from Isabella that it’s now vacant. Someone wanted to rent it…to turn it into a law office or something. Eugene hates lawyers even though he uses one. Anyway, we should talk with them. I know if I ask Isabella, she would be able to convince Eugene to go into business with you, saving you rent in exchange for a portion of the profits.

PABLO
(excited) Maravillosa suerte! Really? It can’t be this easy. When can we talk with them?

MARIA
I will invite them over tomorrow evening for some dessert. We will present this to them.

PABLO
I could kiss you!

MARIA
What’s stopping you?

(BLACKOUT)
(END OF SCENE)

SCENE 2
(The next evening. Pablo and Maria’s living
room. They are having coffee with Isabella
and Eugene Delacroix.)

MARIA
Cream and sugar, Eugene?

EUGENE
No, thank you. Can’t stand café au lait. Or anything in my coffee for that matter.

ISABELLA
So, would you be joining Pablo in this venture, Maria?

MARIA
No, I am happy as a nurse…though I find it exhausting. This is Pablo’s dream. He’s the one with talent in the kitchen.

ISABELLA
What do you think, Eugene?

EUGENE
Frankly, I don’t think I’ve got anything to lose. Don’t see why we can’t try it. What percentage are you thinking in exchange for the rent, Pablo?

PABLO
I’ve no problem with 50% of the profits.

EUGENE
Well, that’s awfully generous. But, we’re not talking about an invention or something with a large profit margin. You’ll have some startup costs and utilities and you are the one doing the hard work. Why don’t we start with 20% of profits for the first six months? Then, if you are making a good profit, we can fix a reasonable rent instead.

PABLO
That’s fine with me! It’s gracious, in fact. Thank you.

EUGENE
It’s not too far uptown. A little too far to walk. After we finish this coffee, why don’t I drive you up there to take a look.

PABLO
Sounds great! Let me go make a pit stop in the water closet and get out of my house shoes. Excuse me for a few minutes. (Pablo leaves the room.)

EUGENE
No problem.

ISABELLA
Pablo doesn’t drive – they don’t have a car – how’s he going to get there every day?

EUGENE
He can ride the streetcar. He’d take the Napoleon line about twenty blocks up and then walk a few blocks to Cadiz St.

MARIA
Oh no!

ISABELLA
What’s wrong?

MARIA
Pablo has what he used to call his  ‘Napoleon complex’ but he hasn’t talked about it for years.

ISABELLA
He doesn’t seem short to me! Is he compensating for something?

MARIA
No. (chuckle) When Pablo was fifteen, his father was struck and killed by a streetcar named Napoleon. The man was the village drunk which is embarrassing enough, but one night he tumbled out of a tavern all boozed up, crossed the line and…well, just like that he was gone. Pablo has not only never taken to the bottle, but he has since then refused to ride the Napoleon. To him the streetcar is a demon.

EUGENE
I suppose he could take several of the other lines and change a few times, but that could take an hour or two.

ISABELLA
Or walk it? But that’s still a lot of wasted time, isn’t it?

MARIA
With his night-blindness, he won’t walk more than a dozen blocks away from home at night. No, if he’s to do this, he will have to face that demon. But, let’s not tell him at this moment. Show him the place, Eugene. Let him see his vision more clearly. Maybe the excitement will inspire him…help him overcome his fear. Nothing good comes easy – and when it does it should make you stop and think a moment.

EUGENE
The most productive level for human achievement is situated somewhere between comfort and danger. (pause) Well, OK, then. One thing at a time. Let’s show him the place.

(Pablo returns.)

PABLO
Let’s go! Are you ladies coming along for the ride?

(Maria and Isabella look at each other.)

BOTH
Sure. (They all leave the apartment.)

(BLACKOUT)
(END OF SCENE)

SCENE 3
(A little later at the site for the
proposed restaurant. They are all inside
looking at the place. It is mostly barren
except for one table and some chairs in the
main room.)

PABLO
Wow! This is better than I imagined. Too good to be true.

EUGENE
This large area was once a living room, a doctor’s office and at another time a restaurant.

PABLO
That den over there would be a nice grotto for large parties.

EUGENE
There’s one other room, an old bedroom, that makes a great office. The kitchen is through those french doors. (Eugene points to the doors, which lead off stage and Pablo walks through them. After a brief moment, he returns with his mouth agape.)

PABLO
I think I’m going to cry, Maria. It is as you said…PERFECT!

EUGENE
Now,the kitchen is not equipped for a restaurant. You will have to buy a commercial oven and stove. And refrigerator for that matter. Those may set you back at first.

PABLO
Let me think for a moment if you don’t mind.

EUGENE
Sure. Look around.

(Pablo begins to circle the restaurant envisioning how it will all look and what obstacles he may have to overcome. Maria, Isabella, and Eugene sit down at a table in the room and talk quietly. Pablo goes to the entrance and turns around, framing the room with his hands. Then he goes outside, down the steps of the porch and turns around to consider painting outside and signage, again framing with this hands. He slowly walks backward away from the steps and, in the revery, in the music of future success that he hears in his imagination, he forgets himself. He accidentally steps off the curb and enters the street, just as the Napoleon zips by nearly hitting him. He turns around just in time to see the end of the streetcar pass in front of him. He steps back and makes the sign of the cross, a vestige of his Catholic upbringing. His heart is racing. From inside the others see this through the window and rush to check on him.)

EUGENE
Are you OK?

PABLO
(Frightened and trying to find the breath to talk.) Yeah!

MARIA
Now, Pablo, you do need to realize that to make this work, you will have to ride that streetcar.

PABLO
Oh! (He goes from frightened to puzzled.)
OH NO! Not… (pause)
(He can barely whisper the name.)
…the Napoleon. Well, I could take other lines
then…and…no…
(loudly now)
Mi suerte está maldita.
(He goes from puzzled to sullen and almost sick to his stomach and angry at the same
time. He drops angrily to sit on the porch step and begins to have second thoughts
about the whole thing.)

MARIA
Calm down, Pablo.
(She goes over to Pablo, sits next to him and puts her hand on his shoulder)
Don’t worry about the future just yet.

ISABELLA
(joining Maria in comforting Pablo)
Dear Pablo, my husband often says: somewhere between your comfort level and a present danger, lies a nursery for magic.

EUGENE
Something like that…but that is quite poetic, my bride. You do listen to me!

ISABELLA
Once in awhile!

EUGENE
No. No. This is a sign. It is a sign that I should not do it. That streetcar is an omen to be heeded! (He stares out at the tracks.)

MARIA
Pablo, look at me. Look at me!
(He turns around and she takes his hands in
hers.)
You have been so superstitious all your life allowing your fears to make your decisions for you. Yes, everything is a sign when you think about it. But, it is you who gives a sign its meaning. You define it. Your father – God love him – was a drunk, in the wrong place at the wrong time. The streetcar that hit him and the operator that drove it meant no harm. These things happen all the time. You know that. We are not what happens to us, Pablo. We are the person that comes out of what happens to us and that’s a choice we make. We are…our choices. That’s who we become.

PABLO
That may be so. But, it doesn’t mean that we should ignore the signs.

MARIA
Of course not. See them. Look at them. Interpret them, but don’t let fear be the translator. The right choice in a given situation is often not the easy one or the one that looks the safest. Pablo, you many never have this opportunity again.

PABLO
Maybe not.

MARIA
Look. Stanley Kowalski has more demons in him than this streetcar line. Don’t you forget that! And you walked away from that bad relationship despite a strong psychological bond. You quit the poker group and left your job – all of that took courage and I think it was the right thing to do. This restaurant is in your future and if riding this streetcar line is what it takes to make it a success, I don’t think it will take any more courage than what was needed to walk away from that abusive and brutal man. You
can do this!

PABLO
You think so?

MARIA
Stanley was a demon. The Napoleon is an opportunity. Can you see that now?

PABLO
You know what? I think I can.

(BLACKOUT)
(END OF SCENE)

SCENE 4
(A month later, early morning, a few blocks
from the Gonzales house where the Napoleon
stops. There are traffic sounds and Pablo
and Maria are standing on the corner
waiting for the streetcar.)

PABLO
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.

MARIA
You will be fine. Is Eugene meeting you there?

PABLO
Yes. And the men I’ve hired to re-paint the place. The kitchen equipment is coming tomorrow.

MARIA
With any luck, you’ll be open before Mardi Gras.

PABLO
You know what I found out?

MARIA
What?

PABLO
There’s a Chinese place a few blocks away. I know I’ll be cooking in my own restaurant soon enough, but I do love chop suey!

MARIA
Yes, I know you do. I’d rather see you spend your newly hard-earned money on chop suey than poker losses.
(He first glares at her, then smiles. The streetcar approaches and she kisses him goodbye for the day.)
Have a wonderful day, mi tesoro.

PABLO
You, too, love.
(Pablo climbs aboard the streetcar, sits
next to a window and blows a kiss to Maria.
She waves as the car rides off.)

(BLACKOUT)
(END OF PLAY)

 © 2019 Michael Armenia

A Streetcar Named Napoleon

After the opening night of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Orcas Center last night, it suddenly occurred to me why my character, Pablo Gonzales, hangs out with the likes of Stanley Kowalski.  

It has been established (in my imagination) that Pablo’s father, the village drunk, was struck and killed by a streetcar named Napoleon when Pablo was only 15. This affected him in several ways. Pablo never consumed alcohol as an adult, an escape sought after by most of the people that surrounded him in New Orleans. He also immediately felt a repugnant fear of the Napoleon line, the very streetcar that killed his father and would never ride it. However, from the age of 15, he had been missing a father-figure in his life. Although roughly the same age, Stanley became this authority-figure for Pablo;  the emotional and physical abuse with which Stanley treated his wife, Stella, strongly resembled the Gonzales machismo to his subconscious. Thus, Pablo had never been stirred to consciously rationalize Stanley’s brutish and beastial behavior.

This changes, however, when Pablo has to deal with the emotions that surface when he discovers that Stanley raped Stella’s sister, Blanche Dubois, and has arranged to have her committed to an asylum. Although Pablo knew very little about Blanche, he saw not a woman dangerous to herself or anyone else, but a vulnerable woman whose rumored (yet true) antics were merely a cry for help. The physical and emotional abuse she suffered from Stanley placed her on a precipice from which she had no recourse but to fall when he raped her. In so doing Stanley crossed a line with Pablo. We see this contemplation in Pablo in the way he glares at Stanley at that end of the play. It is a sign that the status quo of this poker group is about to change.

With this is born an idea that I shall cultivate during the run of the Orcas Center production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Why not write a 10-minute play for the 2019 Playfest at the Grange on Orcas Island? Why not, indeed!  And so I offer A Streetcar Named Napoleon. You know the backstory, so let’s introduce you to the plot.

After the final scene of Streetcar, Pablo has to address some emotions that have come to the surface. Stanley has gone too far and has become repugnant and so the play begins with Pablo’s emotional quandary and deciding to quit the poker group. But, that is not enough for him because the frequent sight of Stanley at the plant disgusts him. After talking with his wife, Maria, he decides to follow his dream of opening a Cuban restaurant by taking over an establishment previously owned by his cousin. His hero’s journey involves both letting go of the repugnant Stanley and his fear of riding the Napoleon; for without a driver’s license and his own transportation, he is forced to take the Napoleon in order to get to his restaurant.

Pith and Moment: Why Hamlet? Why now?

‘Twas 37 years ago when I was smitten by the BBC production of Hamlet starring Derek Jacobi as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius. I was only a high-school sophomore. With time on my hands – several hours after school each day waiting for my father to pick me up at the end of his work day – I began to memorize Hamlet’s soliloquies. By the time I was a senior, I was determined to produce the play and with the support of the English department, I cast the major players and we began rehearsals. Then, Ophelia broke her leg quite badly. While we gave up the production, the attempt was immortalized in our yearbook.

For some time afterward, I fantasized playing that role. Alas, time got the better of me. In my mind, the character of Hamlet should be around 25 years old, give or take. Depending on youthful exuberance, the actual actor’s age could range perhaps between 20-35 years. I don’t want to see a 40-year old prince pining for young Ophelia. Those two characters, especially, should be young, naive, and inexperienced to be countered by the sagacity of older parental influences such as Polonius, Gertrude and, dare I include him (yes), Claudius. All the more their youth makes their untimely ends even more tragic. And now, as I, 52 years old, look in the mirror at my balding head and gray hair, I realize that I will never, never be Hamlet.

Another thing I now realize is that I had not only wanted to be Hamlet, but I had wanted to share my vision of the play as a director. And just as I founded the Orcas Island Shakespeare Society at the beginning of this year, it came to me: the inaugural play we produce will be Hamlet. “Wait,” I thought. “There is something better than a production of Hamletan all-female production of Hamlet!”

In Shakespeare’s times and for years after his death, all of the roles in his plays were performed by men. Female characters were often played by younger male actors. Let us recall some of the acting companies of the period. As Peter Akroyd writes in his biography, Shakespeare, “In the seasons from 1583-1586, at least eight sets of players performed in the guildhall at Stratford – among them the Earl of Oxford’s Men, Lord Berkely’s Men, Lord Chando’s Men, the Earl of Worcester’s Men, and the Earls of Essex’s Men.” The boldface is my emphasis and it should be evident why. Much of the world today remains patriarchal. However, in more than 400 years since those days of all-male players, the intelligent people of the world have awakened to the notion that one’s power and abilities lie not in the sex of the individual, but in the will to bring an internal passion to the external world. (The modern term “gender equality” just doesn’t sit well with me semantically. I prefer an “egalitarian society” in which chromosome composition does not present a bias. Of course, men and women are different biologically, chemically, and emotionally; male and female genders are not equal, but both sexes do have (should have) equality in opportunity. ) I can only imagine what is was like to watch all men, in play after play, portray both sexes. Surely the story, Shakespeare’s poetry and prose, may be conveyed in earnest and received by a captive audience. What was the synergy of an all-male cast performing Shakespeare? Enough. I’m directing an all-female cast not to counter the sexism of the past or present, but for the singularly amazing opportunity to see what the synergy of an all-female cast can bring to the dark and tragic tale of the Prince of Denmark as told by William Shakespeare. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I resonate more with women than men. If anything, it should make directing it easier. (PS: The prop skull of “poor Yorick” will, alas, be modeled from a female human skull! )

In embarking on this journey, I have had a resounding personal breakthrough. The reality that I have been living as Hamlet for over 37 years has crystallized. We share the same fatal flaw: inaction, or more accurately, thinking to the detriment of resolution. I overthink everything, examining both pros and cons. This is a good attribute when there is a high risk of value loss, say life or limb. However, over-thinking and, even worse, anticipatory anxiety that results from mulling over the possible negative results and subsequent reactions, can just suck the marrow out of life. It leads to depression.

“And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”
– Hamlet, Act III, Scene i

“Well,” I say, “I am Hamlet no more! “ With this enterprise of directing an all-female Hamlet, I am shattering that crystal and finding catharsis. The currents of my pith and moment will not turn awry. Nothing will diminish my internal passion. This product of unabated alchemy will be an epic experience for Orcas Island and the Orcas Island Shakespeare Society.

It is often said: don’t think, just do!

Let us commence!

OISS, a nonprofit is born on Orcas!

In the fall of 1981, I was smitten by the BBC production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Derek Jacobi as the Prince of Denmark and Patrick Stewart as Claudius, so much so that I began memorizing Act I immediately in the hopes of producing the play before I left high school. In the fall of 1983, it was becoming a reality as I had cast most of the major players and the English department was behind my production. Well, Ophelia broke her leg fairly badly and would be on crutches for awhile. That and other factors which I cannot now recall led to the play’s cancellation.

Aside from taking a college course in Shakespeare in the Spring of 1985, it would be some time later before the Bard would have me in his grip again. Even then, I often skipped classes and rarely did the necessary readings for the course because I was spending more time writing music or acting with the college theater department. Shakespeare didn’t really fit in then. In fact, it was strange to find such a subject-specific literature course at an engineering college. It had fairly recently (in the year I matriculated, 1984) gone from Clarkson College of Technology to Clarkson University. So, it finally had a substantial offering in the humanities. As usual, I have digressed…

My interest in Shakespeare was rekindled when I was strong-armed, roped, hoodwinked, asked to be involved in the Orcas Island Shakespeare Festival, not an official festival per se, but rather a week of Shakespearean activities produced by a committee of the local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber had been given a five-year grant which was to be applied to boosting local businesses and attracting tourists in the shoulder season in the month of April. I participated in its last two years as an actor and in the final year I also served on the planning committee. I was excited that the theme for this annual (albeit limited to a term of five years) business event was centered around Shakespeare, a theme for which I had an affinity. And when it was over, I thought someone should consider starting a non-profit organization which could see to an annual festival, a celebration that would become part of our local heritage. Moreover, it would be great to infuse Shakespeare’s works, life and times into other community programs, i.e. talks, classes, performances in schools, at the library, and other places. In other words, give the subject a permanent presence here for those who wish to be entertained or educated, or to do the entertaining and educating. “Let’s explore Shakespeare together as a community”, I thought.

On January 1, 2019, I officially founded the Orcas Island Shakespeare Society as a nonprofit organization in Washington State. As said in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Act III, Scene III – “Huzza!”

Now, I’m too old to play Hamlet. That’s regrettable. I no longer entertain that idea in the least. But, I can vicariously live through something as remarkable – even better!  I’ve decided that while we have a lot of planning and organizing to do in terms of programming, the Society’s own (yet-to-be-formed) company of actors will perform an all-female production of Hamlet. Huzzah (my preferred spelling)! There have been productions of Hamlet with an all-female cast and I suppose I will try to see some of those that have been recorded. They will not, however, have any bearing on my direction. This will neither be an abridged production nor a gender-bended modern adaptation. Not until many years after Shakespeare’s death did female actors take the stage in his works. In his lifetime, all of the actors were men. I can’t imagine how this seemed, especially in the more serious plays of tragedies and histories. But, if a gander can portray a goose, then a goose can portray a gander. A stage with only female actors will be, to my mind, an extraordinary experience. Those who know me well, know there are more women in my life than men; I am just drawn to feminine energy. Thus, directing a female troupe will be nothing less than sheer joy!

2019 is the year for planning: building a society and an acting company. You can expect to see the OISS production of Hamlet hopefully in the summer of 2020 or 2021.

In the meantime, stay tuned in to www.orcasislandshakespeare.org and like us on Facebook, for now the only social media platform I will personally manage. (Other members may take on Twitter, Instagram, etc.) If you are local, consider joining us. We will have weekly meetings at the library starting in Spring 2019.

Adieu!

An Acting Imperative

I was recently reminded of a quote by Kurt Vonnegut: “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” Well, I don’t think I’m a monster, but I if I don’t write often enough I feel my soul will fly up and I wouldn’t want to be around what is left behind. I haven’t been writing and I find myself philosophizing to the point of losing sleep at night. Last night a question was running around in my mind – how accurate should an actor be reciting his or her lines for it to do justice to the intent of the playwright? I’m writing this essay to alleviate my anxiety so that I stand a chance of sleeping well tonight.

A brief note of why this is important to me is in order. I’ve been working on my magnum opus for nearly six years now and studying language has been an important adjunct. In particular, I’m in my fifth year of a Latin course, classes of which only occur once each week. And despite the fact that English has Germanic roots, the extensive focus on Latin grammar consistently over the years has revealed a lot of English grammar that I don’t recall learning in high school or college. The grammar rules may have been there, but applying those rules had not been. Now I find myself seeing the power and magic of words more than ever. And the subject of my concern is the potential (power) held in the voice and mood of language.

I am not a scholar of Tennessee Williams and his work and aside from watching “The Glass Menagerie” performed live once over twenty years ago, I have only read “A Streetcar Named Desire” once. So, I have to make the assumption that he was deliberate in his words and cognizant of how his words may be construed or misconstrued. And recalling the question at hand, I conclude that his words must stand alone in portraying, text and sub-text, implicit mood and explicit emotion. Thus, an actor should strive as always to recite the lines verbatim, with little variation.

The example that got me thinking of this is as follows. In Scene Three of “Streetcar”, Blanche asks Mitch if he has any cigarettes. The lines follow:

Mitch:  Sure.
Blanche:  What kind are they?
Mitch:  Luckies.
Blanche :  Oh, good. What a pretty case. Silver?
Mitch:  Yes. Yes; read the inscription.
Blanche:  Oh, is there an inscription? I can’t make it out.

Let’s suppose instead of Mitch saying “Yes. Yes; read the inscription,”
we hear “Yes. There’s an inscription.”

Two things happen here. First, Mitch’s mood has changed from the imperative to the indicative, a rather active command, becomes a passive statement. This can be (but may not be in every case) extremely important in conveying a character’s personality. For example, an overconfident macho pack leader such as Stanley Kowalski would come across more “in command” if he were to use the imperative mood. However, using the indicative mood as well as a passive voice would weaken his machismo.  But, in this example this is Mitch we are talking about so, there’s a decision to be made: how much of a boss should Mitch be? I won’t answer that question here. Only I wish to import that diction is very significant in a performance.

The second effect is more subtle. The exchange lacks virility. Notice in the case of the actual text:

Mitch: “Read the inscription.” (imperative and active)  Let’s call this voice/mood experience, A.

Blanche: “Oh, there’s an inscription?” (indicative and passive) Let’s call this voice/mood experience, B.

The dynamic of the dialog is lively going from A to B.

In the case of the following deviation:

Mitch: “Yes. There’s an inscription.” (indicative and passive)

Blanche “Oh, there’s an inscription?”  (indicative and passive)

The dynamic in this case is, well, static, B to B; there’s no change. The voice/mood is stagnant.

Of course, there’s no reason to consider that one is better than the other.  Sometimes an exchange should be static rather than dynamic. There is something subtle here.

Being true to the script is an homage to the playwright. Then again, plays are usually written for the zeitgeist of the period. Revivals are therefore anachronistic. This is what makes them potentially fascinating because there is an opportunity to play with the language, to explore a story and vary portrayals.

Enough said. I think I can sleep tonight.

RIP, Beau.

RIP, Beau. After 48 hours of vigilant attendance and hospice care, and after every attempt to save him including veterinary house calls in his final hours, our beloved canine family member passed away Sunday afternoon in the company of his three humans. No longer limited by the constraints of their material bodies, he and his caprine brother, Casper, are hanging out together again in a sacred and transcendent space in our hearts. ♥

Mid-September News

I’ve been on a writing hiatus since the beginning of August in order to facilitate moving my family into a new home.  Only this weekend are we finally moving things from storage to the house. Tomorrow will be the third and final day of loading and unloading a 20-ft truck and not enough room in our small house for all of it to stay. It’s time to simplify and rid ourselves of so much clutter. A yard sale will happen next weekend, and probably the following weekend or two as weather permits. We have way too many things to go through to do it all at once.

While I intend to write intensively in October, in the mean time I will publish some poems here over the next few days that were written earlier in the summer.

I’m officially back on duty as Secretary on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Orcas Island Public Library (FOIL). After a leave, I can now attend the monthly board meetings and volunteer again during the week. Next month is our annual meeting for all  members and there’s a bit of work to do.

Remain resonant for some poems to follow!

m.

Music Among the Synchronicities of My Life

About 18 years ago (September 8, 2000 to be exact) I planted my feet on Orcas Island for the first time with my lovely wife (at that time she was my future wife), Mariah,  for the sole purpose of hearing a Seattle musician perform at Susan Osborn’s performance venue then known as the ‘The Living Room’. We were merely groupies at the time, following local performances but not having really known the piano-playing songstress before then. Her name was and is Mary Lydia Ryan and I now consider her one of my dearest friends still on Earth today.
 
[synchronicity alert] As of August 1st, Mariah, Thian and I have just moved into our new home which happens to be the house next door to that former venue, The Living Room, which is now an art gallery for local visual artist and painter, Jacqueline Kempfer.

Another crazy thing [synchronicity alert] is that one of my favorite muses among new age composers since the 1980s is Suzanne Ciani, who also happened to perform at The Living Room, although I was neither then nor afterward in a position to hear Suzanne perform live. (Suzanne, if you are reading this, you are always welcome to perform in my living room, right next door to your last venue, using my GEM Promega 3 digital stage piano which I always offer to Mary Lydia Ryan when she performs on Orcas!)
The house next door is a multi-unit construction and is now owned by a nice woman named Robin who I just met a few days ago. That’s easy for me to remember because at the time I was trying to break into the new age/ambient/electronic music radio scene with my CD in 1995, I often came across a woman named Robin Spielberg, who as another solo piano artist seemed to be in the charts a lot in New Age Voice, a publication of radio station playlists. I admit I am not familiar with Robin’s music. [synchronicity alert] Mary Lydia Ryan, however, is familiar with Robin’s music because she has performed with her at the Whisperings Solo Piano Radio All Star Show in California a few years ago and they are now friends on Facebook.
 
Wait, there is more! You can join in the synchronicity.
 
Mary Lydia Ryan often visits Orcas Island, in some years more times than others. She will be playing at the Village Green stage in Eastsound this year on Sunday, September 2, 2018 at 5pm. Share with friends so that we can encourage a long set of music and an encore of sumptuous songs as well as solo piano compositions. It’s Labor Day weekend and a picnic is in order. I’m more than happy it’s only three blocks away.
Hope to see you there!