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Drama Under the Influence


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Washington Examiner
"DUI: Punch-drunk love"

By Doug Krentzlin
March 7, 2007

With 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.

'Trifles,'in 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.)

Not surprising, it is the comedies that have dated the least and remain the most entertaining.

'Here 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 Mabel (Robison).

All of the actors do terrific work, the standout being Robison, who proves to be a first-rate comedienne in the two comic plays.

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.

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City Paper

Soaring 20s: American Century Theater reaches into the archives for Prohibition-era plays, all written by super-smart women.

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
"Drama Under the Influence"
Submitted by Debbie Minter Jackson
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.

The 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. 

All 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 winner.

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