March 7, 2007
the exception of Solas Nua's productions of Enda Walsh's work,
one-act plays seldom turn up at Washington-area theaters.
Now, local audiences are being treated to two collections
of one-acts, American Century Theater's 'Drama Under the Influence'and
Washington Stage Guild's 'Shaw's Shorts.'(Next month will
offer a third collection consisting of Samuel Beckett one-acts,
courtesy of Keegan Theatre.)
Compiled and directed
by Steven Scott Mazzola, 'Drama Under the Influence'is the
most interesting and eclectic assortment, seven short pieces
all written by women between 1914 and 1931. There are two
Expressionist plays (Sophie Treadwell's 'Eye of the Beholder'and
Gertrude Stein's 'Photograph'), two comedies (Dorothy Parker's
'Here We Are'and Susan Glaspell's 'Suppressed Desire') and
three dramas (Glaspell's 'Trifles,'Eulalie Spence's 'Hot Stuff'and
Rita Wellman's 'For All Time').
'Eye of the Beholder,'a
portrait of a woman (Lauren Judith Krizner) who is either
a Jezebel or victim or both, depending on the point of view,
is a fascinating vignette. 'Photograph,'on the other hand,
shows why you don't see a lot of revivals of Stein's plays.
(It helps that, since 'Photograph'doesn't have any plot or
story, Mazzola has cleverly chopped it up to use as a transitional
bridge between the other plays.)
The dramas also
are a mixed bag.
which two women (Katherine McCann and Tanera Hutz) accidentally
stumble upon the crucial clue explaining why an abused wife
murdered her bully of a husband, is, by far, the most effective.
('For All Time'is an intriguing forerunner of Daphne du Maurier's
'Rebecca'in its depiction of a psychotic housekeeper devoted
to the memory of her late charge.)
surprising, it is the comedies that have dated the least and
remain the most entertaining.
We Are'is a timelessly funny sketch of two newlyweds (Colby
Codding and Jennifer B. Robison) whose pre-honeymoon jitters
lead them to engage in a series of increasingly petty squabbles.
'Suppressed Desire'is a hilarious send-up of Freudian psychoanalysis,
with housewife Henrietta Brewster (Mary McGowan) interpreting
the dreams of her husband Stephen (William Aitken) and sister
of the actors do terrific work, the standout being Robison,
who proves to be a first-rate comedienne in the two comic
With 'Drama Under
the Influence,'American Century continues with its mission of
presenting undeservedly obscure stage works that audiences are
not likely to encounter elsewhere.
Out at Arlington's Gunston
Arts Center, the American Century Theater takes a more sober
look at a later era in the country's history: the ’20s,
when booze was illegal and the recently enfranchised female
half of the population was flexing its muscles—especially
its intellectual ones. To showcase some of what theater's
smartest women were writing when they had precious little
chance of getting it produced, director Steven Scott Mazzola
has created Drama Under the Influence, an intriguing
sort of collage built from half a dozen short plays by women
writers, some famous and some obscure.
It's largely a fascinating
experiment. Mazzola confronts the farm women closing ranks
in Susan Glaspell's murder mystery Trifles with
the fractious, class-conscious Europeans in Rita Wellman's
For All Time, and considers the jaundiced newlywed
comedy of Dorothy Parker's Here We Are in the afterglow
of Sophie Treadwell's Eye of the Beholder, with
its incisive inquiry into roles and objectification. He
swings through the humid urban evening of Eulalie Spence's
Hot Stuff, with its tough-talk tale of a risk-taking
woman bookie, and returns to Glaspell for a brittle domestic
comedy about psychoanalysis—Suppressed Desire,
whose topic and tone couldn’t be further from the
Midwestern home truths of Trifles. Mazzola frames
the whole with the five fleet, elusive acts of a seventh
play—Photograph, one of those playful Gertrude
Stein deconstructions that starts with a notion and riffs
until everyone's thoroughly lost. (It's fun, if you don’t
insist on struggling to make sense of it.)
As often happens at American
Century, there are bumpy bits and thin bits, but there are
tasty moments enough: The Parker is a stitch, the Wellman
is moving and then shocking, and Glaspell's head-shrink
play is a miniature riot. Clever man, Mazzola, to make ’em
think and leave ’em laughing.
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DC Theater Scene
Under the Influence"
Submitted by Debbie
Posted February 27, 2007
The American Century Theater's
Drama Under the Influence at the Gunston Theater
in Arlington (TACT) is a clever compilation of short plays
by early 20th Century female playwrights.
Once again, TACT has shown that digging through the
old dusty attic of America's
theater history can unearth some amazing forgotten treasures.
Some of the writer's names have a familiar ring, Gertrude
Stein and Dorothy Parker achieved celebrity status for their
essays and social commentary, and Sophie Treadwell's Machinal
may have been seen by a select few.
Still. their voices as playwrights, along with the
works of Susan Glaspell, Rita Wellman and Eulalie Spence,
would have receded deep into forgotten history books without
TACT's tireless mission of "…presenting great, important,
and neglected plays of the Twentieth Century."
At times stunningly serious, other times playfully
whimsical, the plays were written and produced between 1914--
1931, a time of tumultuous political change, financial uncertainty,
and looming devastation of World Wars.
The early voices of feminine identity emerging through
this period and contained in these pieces are painstakingly
real, refreshing, and quite engaging.
carefully selected works in Drama Under The Influence
relay a timeless approach to women's lives and aspects
of the female experience.
Rather than featuring them in a simple, linear fashion,
the director attempts to weave them together almost seamlessly
for a more unified experience. Gertrude Stein's Photograph:
a Play in Five Acts makes full use of the conspicuous
picture frame on the stage and the expanding corners that
ultimately frame the set.
Her piece, which is more stylized with her characteristic
play on words, nuanced interpretations, and even sound combinations,
is performed in segments between plays, which helps transition
between the various moods, and even serves as a finishing
touch finale. It's
a very creative and innovative approach to help get into her
work which probably crosses more into the category of performance
art than a "play."
The director, Steven Scott Mazzola is well versed in
reclaiming forgotten theatrical works for today's audience,
and he has a comfort level and keen sensitivity with this
material, from the arrangement of the pieces to accommodating
all the stories on the simple yet effective three level set,
designed by Elizabeth Baldwin.
of the plays relay an emerging and exciting sense of self-discovery
and also a freedom of expression.
Sophie Treadwell's Eye of the Beholder
opens the evening and is staged with an Eastern influenced,
almost Kabuki stylized approach to introducing relationships.
Susan Glaspell's Trifles is a masterpiece
in slowly uncovering hidden motives for a husband's
murder, while her Suppressed Desire playfully mocks
the dangers of over-ambitious psychological analysis.
Dorothy Parker's crackling wit tackles human
relationships in Here We Are, with a newly wed couple
on a train ride to their New
York city honeymoon suite, if they can survive their own insecurities
and psychological meltdowns.
Eulalie Spence's Hot Stuff shows off
a con artist at the top of her game, while Rita Wellman's
For all Time shows the devastating effects of possessive
love for a memory. Each
of the plays is well acted by an ensemble of seasoned performers,
and except for the Wellman piece that drags a bit, they clip
along at an entertaining and comfortable pace with costumes
nicely designed by Jennifer Tardiff.
By design, Drama
Under the Influence is "a latest installment of TACT's
'Reflections' series, featuring new works that explore important
figures, events or movements of the Twentieth Century."
Without a doubt, this compilation of plays gets across the
depth, insight, courage, gritty reality and humor of several
influential and talented female writers of the time. As
with any good treasure, their messages are timeless. The TACT
production team deserves our attention, and even our gratitude
for digging among old discards and coming up with this
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