Drama Notes: Meghan Kennedy

drama notes meghan kennedyIn the early 1960s, the nation was on the precipice of great social change—the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the rejection of the social conformity of the 1950s would soon rock the country to its core. Meghan Kennedy’s new play Napoli, Brooklyn is set in Brooklyn, NY in 1960 and in it, you can feel the beginnings of these momentous changes taking their course. 

Napoli, Brooklyn is, in many ways, a quintessentially American story. The play revolves around the Muscolinos, an Italian immigrant family and their three American-born daughters, trying to survive—and even thrive—in a world that’s simultaneously bursting with possibility and rife with obstacles. They are a family like so many other immigrant families living in New York during the last century—jobs are scarce, money is tight, and the ever-elusive American Dream acts as a beacon of hope. And yet, the nation—and the world—are about to change forever, and the myth of the American Dream is about to become exposed. As the Muscolino daughters come of age, so they too become awake and aware of the inequalities in the world, and the tremendous effort it will take to overcome them. 

 

Long Wharf Theatre’s Literary Manager Christine Scarfuto sat down with Meghan Kennedy to ask her a few questions about the play:

 

Q: What was your impetus to tell this story? Where did the idea for the play come from? 

 

A: Napoli, Brooklyn is loosely based on my mother’s adolescence. She grew up in a big, Italian Catholic, immigrant family. I grew up hearing stories about the plane crash in December of 1960, which happened close to her apartment, and that image always stayed with me—a girl witnessing a giant plane crash in the middle of her small, Brooklyn neighborhood. At the same time I was also interested in how the struggle in immigrant families is passed from generation to generation, particularly among girls. They had to fight so hard to find their voices, and even harder to keep them intact.

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Q: The Muscolino daughters are raised Roman Catholic, and prayer plays a tremendously important role in the play. What strength do these women find in spirituality? Why is it so vital to their existence?

 

A: There’s a Mary Oliver quote I like a lot, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” I think for these women prayer is, at least in one sense, attention being paid to their innermost selves. It is the beginning of devotion to who they are and who they might become.  The act of praying is different for each of them—for one it’s a conversation, for another it’s a battle, for another it’s a passageway. In such an oppressive environment, they are searching for a way out and a way in at the same time and prayer becomes a vital part of that search.

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Q: How do you feel the play resonates with the present moment? And why do you feel these stories are vital for us to bear witness to right now?

 

A: With the new presidential administration, I’m happy this play is going into production right now. I think we need to see a stage full of women who are fighting for survival. This is a story about women and immigrants, two groups that need as many spotlights on them as possible right now. At a moment in history when our rights are at stake and our voices are being threatened… I think it’s the perfect time to make some noise.

Plane Crash

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Theatre Community Shines A Light

GHOSTLIGHT BLOG

Ghostlights carry a somewhat magical reputation in the theatre community. For the superstitious, the ritual of placing a naked bulb in a darkened theatre after every performance is a time-honored way to ensure that ghosts and general bad karma stay far away from their company of actors and crew members. For the more pragmatically minded, the ghostlight simply shines to create a clear path for anyone who happens to stumble upon it. Whatever you choose to believe, the ghostlight is universally known as a symbol of safety.IMG_4669

Last night, on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, the New Haven theatre community joined together in solidarity to embrace that same symbol of safety with The Ghostlight Project, an event that took place at theatres nationwide. In the midst of a barrage of hate crimes and promises of exclusion from prominent government figures, a group of theatre artists decided it was time for the theatre to publicly re-establish itself as a place of welcome and equal rights for all, and especially those who feel marginalized by the incoming administration.


IMG_4671At 5:30pm, a group of about 100 theatre professionals, students, and patrons gathered at the Shubert Theatre in downtown New Haven, bringing their friends and homemade signs with messages of hope. Josh Borenstein, Managing Director of Long Wharf Theatre, kicked off the event by inviting the crowd to shine their flashlights and glow sticks into the air. The lights glowed for the remainder of the event, as Victoria Nolan, Managing Director of Yale Rep, spoke to the group: “Like the ghostlight, the light we create tonight represents our commitment to safeguard. It will symbolize safe harbor for all of our values, and for any among us who find ourselves targeted because of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, disability, gender identity, sexual identity, or dissonant actions in the coming years.”

In a moment that truly encapsulated both the reflective and progressive nature of the gathering, Aleta Staton, a local actor, activist, and educator, addressed the crowd and read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, ‘Praise Song For The Day”, the same poem that was read during Barack Obama’s historic inauguration: (an excerpt)

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Theatre is, and must always remain, a place of inclusion. It is our job to tell other people’s stories, and that would be virtually impossible if we couldn’t first accept and respect others who are different from us as human beings deserving of freedom and happiness. As we march ahead into a future that at times feels foggy, let theatre, and the arts community as a whole, be a shining example of the world we hope to create.


-Maria DiFabbio

 

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In Memoriam | Harlan P. Kleiman

Harlan Kleiman and Jon Jory, founders of Long Wharf Theatre, Winter 1966

Harlan Kleiman and Jon Jory, founders of Long Wharf Theatre, Winter 1966

Long Wharf Theatre honors and celebrates the legacy of Harlan P. Kleiman. Were it not for his vision, skill, and determination, we would not be here today.

It took the steadfast belief exhibited by Harlan and his co-founder Jon Jory that New Haven deserved and could support a regional theatre of the highest caliber. After their time at Yale, the two men tested their ideas at a small summer theatre in Clinton, Connecticut, before making the move to the Food Terminal on Sargent Drive, one of the most unlikely theatre spaces in America. Founders of Long Wharf Theatre recalled fondly the pitch that Harlan and Jon Jory used to give to prospective patrons – they called it their “Gallagher and Shean” act – which the two men took all over New Haven to gain supporters for their fledgling theatre.

Harlan and Jon had to borrow an office for official looking meetings – they didn’t have the money to rent anything of their own. They talked about strategy in kitchens over bowls of chili. They were joyful of the old movie seats arriving at the theatre and when the first subscribers started sending in their checks – seemingly mundane tasks that were monumental in the early days of a theatre startup. It was a place of tremendous excitement and vitality, all moving towards the opening of The Crucible in July 1965. At every step, Harlan was present, guiding, and shaping,.

It was a testament to the beauty – and perhaps blind optimism – of youth that it never occurred to anyone that success was almost impossible. Yet, Harlan was crucial in overcoming the odds.

Jory himself recalled Harlan’s brilliance and his urbane sophistication. People were simply just drawn to him, Jory said, something that certainly helped in getting our beloved theatre off the ground.

Over 50 years later, millions of people have crossed through Long Wharf Theatre’s doors. We have sent more plays to NY than any other regional theatre. We have cultivated artists of all types, and Long Wharf has become one of the preeminent theatres in America. None of this could have happened without Harlan’s work.

It is clear that Harlan was a man of considerable talent, energy, and intelligence. He touched so many people throughout his life in so many different ways. We in New Haven are just a few of those people.

Right before he left Long Wharf Theatre to participate in so many amazing things, he said “A great deal of my soul is in this theatre …”

Because of this very thing, we are forever in his debt.

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Chess in ‘Endgame’

Brian Dennehy and Reg E. Cathey in Endgame. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Brian Dennehy and Reg E. Cathey in Endgame. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

The game of chess was a major influence on Samuel Beckett’s early writings. Around the time of his 1938 novel Murphy (in which Murphy and the suicidal Mr. Endon play a crazed chess game), chess became one of Beckett’s abiding passions. He frequented Parisian cafes where the best chess players congregated, and he followed his friend Marcel Duchamp’s chess column. He also read Duchamp’s Opposition and Sister Squares Are Reconciled, his contribution to chess literature that deals primarily with the endgame.

Beckett’s Endgame makes several references to the game in the text, including the title of the play itself. The endgame is the third and last division of a chess game. During a game’s opening, strategies are set in motion by the positioning of key pieces; during the middle game, opponents organize their moves, readying for an assault on the king.

During the endgame, explains Beckett biographer Deirdre Bair, “there is either a conversion of the advantage into a win, or else an attempt to nullify the disadvantage incurred in the middle game—also in search of the win. Usually in the endgame, there are no longer enough pieces left on the board to initiate an attack upon the king. This is when both kings are free to come to the center of the board, to confront each other, seemingly uncaring, as they execute the few limited moves still possible.”

Beckett argued, according to Bair, that “once the pieces are set up on the board, any move from then on will only weaken one’s position, that strength lies only in not moving at all. . . . From the very first move, failure and loss were inevitable.”

The chess motif is introduced on page 2 of the play. Hamm says “Me to play.” The line suggests the opening of a chess match, on the analogy of ‘white to play.’ “Hamm is the king in this chess game lost from the start. He knows from the start that he is only making senseless moves. For instance, that he will not get anywhere at all with his gaff. Now at the last he’s making a few more senseless moves, as only a poor player would; a good one would have given up long ago. He’s only trying to postpone the inevitable end. Each of his motions is one of the last useless moves that delay the end. He is a poor player,” Beckett said.

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Inside Studio School

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“Number 23: Don’t say “Bless you” when they sneeze, refuse to say it when they insist.”

“24! Insist on learning to play the piano, when they enroll you insist that you want to learn to play guitar instead.”

“And finally, 25: Follow them around, refuse to tell them what you want.”

“And that’s 25 ways to really, really, really annoy your parents!”

With that, Holden Buckley, Tristan Ward, and Dean Paglino, brimming with enthusiasm, declared the end of their scene. The audience (of mostly parents) laughed and applauded.

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This was the opening scene of a performance by young actors enrolled in Long Wharf Education’s Studio School program. Students who participated in the class, An Actor’s Showcase, presented scenes and monologues they had been working on for seven weeks in front an audience of friends and family in one of Long Wharf’s rehearsal halls.

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The scenes were a combination of previously published work and pieces that the students created themselves. Jake McPhee, Noah Sonenstein, and CJ Linton worked on apiece about fighting the zombie apocalypse and added their own dramatic flair.

“Remember folks, always keep your brains where they belong: IN. YOUR. HEAD.

The first Studio School classes of 2017 have been announced! Click HERE for more information and registration.

studio-school-16-blog-pic-4- Eliza Orleans

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Drama Notes: On Beckett

Left: 1.Samuel Beckett, 1977. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Right: 3.Samuel Beckett by Edmund S. Valtman.

Left: Samuel Beckett, 1977. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Right: Samuel Beckett by Edmund S. Valtman.

Widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century, Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) is perhaps best known for creating a radical new dramatic form. Realism was the dominant theatrical style of Beckett’s day, and perhaps remains so today. Beckett’s work opened up the possibility of a theater that dispenses with the traditional conventions of plot, action, and time in an effort to focus on the essence of the human condition. He wrote characters trapped in frustrated lives devoid of meaning, with an acute sense of longing for love, transcendence, escape, and amusement. His work embodies the brevity and meaninglessness of human existence, the finite and degenerative nature of the body, and the inexplicable striving of the human spirit. Despite its austerity, Beckett’s work has become an essential part of the theatrical canon.

Born in Dublin in 1906, Beckett spent most of his adult life in Paris. He worked for a time under the tutelage of the renowned avant-garde writer James Joyce, who had a huge influence on Beckett’s early work. By the late 1930s, Beckett had become a familiar fixture on the literary and artistic scene in Paris, writing mostly fiction, poetry, and essays. It wasn’t until after WWII that he began writing plays. The war had an undeniably profound effect on his work. After being exiled from Paris, Beckett was desperate to join the Nazi resistance. He volunteered as an ambulance driver for the Irish Red Cross, and worked for a makeshift hospital in Saint-Lô, a city near Omaha beach in Normandy. It had been one of the hardest hit cities during the war, with only a few shells of bombed out buildings left standing. The hospital was the site of immense human suffering, plagued by shortages of food and medicine, and infested with rats. By the end of the war, Beckett was left to come to terms with a world that had been forever changed, with humanity itself in ruins.

4.The ruins of Saint-Lô, Normandy on the River Vire, destroyed by Allied bombing. Photo by US Army, July 1944 (US National Archives).

The ruins of Saint-Lô, Normandy on the River Vire, destroyed by Allied bombing. Photo by US Army, July 1944 (US National Archives).

Beckett began work on his first play, Waiting for Godot, in 1948. In the play “where nothing happens twice,” two men wait in a desolate landscape for a figure that never arrives. While it was eventually heralded as an existential masterpiece, the play was initially received with a mix of outrage and excitement. Audiences and critics alike didn’t know what to make of the play’s stripped down, elemental nature, and its lack of a traditional plot. And yet the play captured theatrical imaginations around the world—perhaps because audiences were hungry to find something that expressed the degree to which humanity had tumbled. Beckett biographer Deirdre Bair states: “The war was over, yet nothing important was really settled—the element of waiting must have had a strong, albeit unconscious, appeal.” The absurdity of the human condition was reflected in the play’s form and content, and it soon became a classic. In the nearly 70 years since it was written, the play has been performed on the greatest stages by the greatest actors of our time, including  Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Bill Irwin, Geoffrey Rush, Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, and Steve Martin.

2.The 2009 Broadway revival of Waiting for Godot directed by Anthony Page with Nathan Lane as Estragon, John Goodman as Pozzo, and Bill Irwin as Vladimir. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

The 2009 Broadway revival of Waiting for Godot directed by Anthony Page with Nathan Lane as Estragon, John Goodman as Pozzo, and Bill Irwin as Vladimir. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

Endgame was Beckett’s favorite play and is often heralded by critics as his greatest and most profound. At its center are two men, Hamm and Clov, living in a bare, grey room: Hamm is blind and cannot walk; Clov can see but cannot sit down. In the years before he wrote Endgame in 1955, Beckett witnessed the death of his mother from Parkinson’s disease and of his brother from lung cancer, and spent long periods in Ireland attending at their sick beds. These experiences, along with those of his from WWII, are deeply rooted in the text. Endgame’s initial productions were baffling to audiences and critics alike, who found the play bleak, obtuse, and lacking a plot. Yet over time, critics and audiences have come to revere the piece, finding echoes of Lear, Hamlet, Prospero and Caliban, Noah and the ark, and the dark imaginings of nuclear holocaust. “There are no accidents in Endgame,” Beckett has stated. “Everything is based on analogy and repetition.” Like the chess game alluded to in its title, for every move, there is a counter move. And in spite of his desolate, desperate circumstances, Beckett points out that Hamm says no to nothingness: “The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.”

-Christine Scarfuto

Sources:
Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. Simon & Schuster, New York: 1990.
Gontarski, S.E. The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett’s Texts. Indiana University Press, Indiana: 1985.
Harmon, Maurice (ed.) No Author Better Served: The Letters of Alan Schneider and Samuel Beckett. Harvard University Press, Boston: 2000.

 

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Edelstein embarks on ENDGAME

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Director Gordon Edelstein talks to the cast and crew of ENDGAME during the show’s first rehearsal

Gordon Edelstein loves Endgame. There is no other way to put it. He talks about the play with profound insight. Always passionate about the theatre, his enthusiasm reaches new heights when he talks about this particular play, one of the most profound works of 20th century theatrical art.

“I have done most of Beckett and this is the play I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” he said at the first rehearsal of the piece. “I promised myself I wouldn’t do until I had the actors who could really do it.”

There is no question he has that now. Gifted performers Brian Dennehy (Hamm) and Reg E. Cathey (Clov) are the duo at the heart of the play, with Joe Grifasi and Lynn Cohen lending able and nuanced support as Hamm’s parents, Nagg and Nell.

Despite his love for the work, Edelstein is a realist. Even a cursory glance at the critical literature about Beckett will show ambivalence. Audiences and critics were both confounded by his work. But scholars as noteworthy as Harold Bloom saw the depth and complexity of Beckett’s tragic and humorous worldview, and over time Beckett drew passionate admirers across the world. Long Wharf Theatre audiences were taken by Dennehy’s tragically beautiful portrayal of Krapp in Krapp’s Last Tape several seasons back. “People are afraid of Beckett. He’s a writer of formidable intellect and some cases formidable impenetrability. But, I just don’t see that,” Edelstein said.

The story is relatively simple. A man and his friend are trapped after a catastrophic event. Their relationship is complicated, to say the least. The play chronicles that relationship. It’s a play about facing death, co-dependency, survival, friendship, parenting – it’s about most things in life, Edelstein explained.

“It is my commitment to share my deep love of this play with the audience. We do that by communicating the play in an accessible, and dare I say, entertaining way,” Edelstein said. “Our job as artists is to remove the tension between the audience and the play.”

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Karen Ziemba has great love for her character ‘Bea’

Edward James Hyland and Karen Ziemba in Other People's Money. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Edward James Hyland and Karen Ziemba in Other People’s Money. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Karen Ziemba saw the original production of Other People’s Money when it first debuted Off-Broadway in 1989. She specifically remembered an up and coming young actress named Mercedes Ruehl as Kate Sullivan, the hot shot young lawyer played at Long Wharf Theatre by Liv Rooth. Makes sense – Ziemba herself was taking the first steps in a career that would lead her to Broadway acclaim.

But it was the performance of character actress Scotty Bloch in the role that Ziemba herself would play almost 30 years later that stayed with her. Ziemba plays the role of Bea, the dutiful office manager who has committed her life to New England Wire and Cable, risking everything to support it and the man she loves.

“I cared so much about (the character). She reminded me of my mother. Bea is strong and does her job well. She has an emotional attachment to the company. Her working for a living and being with these people makes her thrive. I think that is true of most people – we want to have a purpose,” Ziemba said.

When asked what she hopes an audience takes away takes away from the show, Ziemba doesn’t talk about a particular theme or message. She would love it if the characters reminded them of someone they know, a loved one or a friend who has had to make real decisions and sacrifices in their working life. If people come out feeling a little more empathetic, than Ziemba feels that she has done her job.

“(Other People’s Money) is so much like what is going on now. The play mirrors real life,” Ziemba said.

 -Steve Scarpa

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Relishing Antagonism in Other People’s Money

Jordan Lage and Liv Rooth in Other People's Money. Photo by T. Charles

Jordan Lage and Liv Rooth in Other People’s Money. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

There are few things as fun to play for an actor as a good old-fashioned antagonistic relationship. The verbal jousting, the trickery, the impassioned rhetoric – it’s just a downright good time. Liv Rooth, playing Kate Sullivan, the young lawyer defending her hometown factory in Other People’s Money, really has the opportunity to indulge in this production.

Kate is a woman who is really good at her job by any measure, but has been shunted to doing work she’s not particularly interested in. That probably sounds familiar to many out there. Defending New England Wire and Cable – and taking on a big time Wall Street raider – is an invigorating and welcome change of pace for her.

“She’s a very fierce lawyer with a great sense of herself. She is constantly striving to be the best. And she’s got some teeth,” Rooth said. But what of her now somewhat distanced relationship with the town of her birth and the people in it? “In some ways she’s left behind her relatively unexciting New England background. She’s trying to detach herself from that and move onto the big city,” Rooth explained. However, be reassured this young lawyer won’t let personal issues get in the way of gleefully seizing this opportunity. “She’s really invested in everything she does,” Rooth said.

The dialogue is snappy, Rooth adds, and the needs, wants, and desires are very close to the surface for each character, rendering each one complex and truthful. It makes for exciting and timely theatre. “When I first read it, it felt a little dated, but when we were working on it today it feels, especially in light of the past couple of months, really relevant,” Rooth said.

 

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Scoundrals, criminals, Mamet and Jordan Lage

Jordan Lage in Other People's Money. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Jordan Lage in Other People’s Money. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

When Other People’s Money first debuted in New York in 1989 and became a cult hit, it wasn’t on Jordan Lage’s radar at all. “I was doing the reverse mirror image of this kind of play,” he recalled. He was making his Broadway debut in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, playing a baseball player and understudying a few other roles.

Lage, a founding member of Atlantic Theater Company, went on to become one of the leading interpreters of the works of David Mamet, appearing on Broadway in Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-the-Plow, as well as attacking Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s roles at theatres all across the country.

Lawrence Garfinkle, the corporate raider at the heart of Other People’s Money, could be a cousin of Mamet’s salesmen, grifters, and con artists. “What they share in common is ruthlessness, but a kind of roguish charm. They definitely embody a male milieu that has recently found itself on the outs in American culture, and rightly so,” Lage said. “Even though they are fictional characters there are grains of truth to them, and I think that is what made them popular. There was a certain peeling back of the curtain, looking a little more in depth at these characters. When audiences were first introduced to them, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.”

The unscrupulous businessman has become an archetype in American pop culture – just think of Gordon Gekko (“Greed is good.”) in the film Wall Street. Lage has a theory about that. Criminals and scoundrels, going back to the Greeks and Shakespeare, have always made for compelling characters. The stories of their rise and fall have an inherent theatricality that people are drawn to.

Garfinkle is no different. The character became a darling of the Wall Street set when the show made its New York debut. The reception to him today could be very different. We know who these men are in a way they didn’t 30 years ago and our patience with them could be slim, Lage said.  “I don’t know what to expect. Hopefully the play’s charms and the strength of the story itself will give an entertaining evening to Long Wharf Theatre audiences,” Lage said.

-Steve Scarpa

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