as beautiful as comet bugs in jars

Robert Redford in The Electric Horseman, 1979
This is not Sparks Nevada, but don’t let that stop you from dressing like this.

Need some hot fresh dance music for your Saturday night? Vince has spent the last snowy nasty cold wet afternoon weaving some hot guitar licks and classic beats for your booty-shakin’ pleasure.

One of the things which has been keeping me from going completely bonkers from seasonal affective disorder this winter has been The Thrilling Adventure Hour.  It’s a classy, funny, smart, strange show, in the style of “old-time” radio drama and comedy, performed in front of a live audience, with a live band and Foley. Mainly, I listen to Sparks Nevada, Marshall On Mars and Beyond Belief, because they’re bizarre and hilarious, and Paget Brewster’s voice is like being wrapped in a silk and cashmere cocoon, filled with vodka and dipped in chocolate.

Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster in The Thrilling Adventure Hour segment, "Beyond Belief."
Also, Paul F. Tompkins totally wants to be best friends with us, and that’s okay too.

So, I was cleaning my writing room.  The Wreck Of The Alberta and Who Is Cattle Kate? are finished (for now) and  the current pair of plays I have to write this semester (pairs. why do they always come in pairs?)are still unformed, and singing along with the Sparks Nevada theme song was keeping me from feeling like this was an exercise in futility.

Within a few minutes, I heard a strumming in the next room. Vince, in his savant-like fashion, listened to the theme song (written by Eban Schletter), figured it out and taught it to himself.

So, while we’ve been trying to keep winter gloom from making us want to peel off our skin and run screaming through the icy dark streets of Philadelphia, Vince re-interpreted and re-arranged The Theme From Sparks Nevada, Marshall On Mars, in the style of The Shadows.

And, WordPress isn’t going to let me embed the link from Soundcloud, so, you’ll have to click here to go to the Soundcloud page for the song.

Damn, he’s good.  Click, share, like, enjoy.  

The fat lady has sung.

Traveling Light closed last night, and finally I can post the photos that would contain the most devious spoilers.  As always, all photos by Kyle Cassidy. Kyra Baker as W.P.C. Foster, Terence Gleeson as Officer MacDonald, Doug Greene as Joe Orton and Bob Stineman as Brian Epstein. Click on the images to view them full size.

recognition

smooch

"what's gotten into you, Foster?"

big reveal

Sad to see this opportunity go, but I’m deeply grateful for the good audiences who joined us, and the hard work, love, talent and skill of the entire cast and production team.  Now, on to the next project: I’ve got two feature-length scripts to write this semester, and the writing elves are threatening a strike.

Oh, one more thing:

Liam's photogenic

Not only is Liam Castellan a warrior prince and a scholar, but he’s the most casually photogenic person I know.

grave matter

I listen for your footsteps, coming up the drive

This production of Traveling Light has a really special set. I haven’t mentioned the crunchiest part yet, but Jessica Foley does in her review for Phindie.

” I could report to you an intoxicating intimacy between Epstien and Orton built around a silk shirt and a deliberate tug at a belt buckle, or you can run up to the very top of the Adrienne and see it for yourself. To quote Joe (Orton): “Print is less effective than the spoken word because the blast is greater.”

L-R: Officer MacDonald (Terence Gleeson) drills WPC Foster (Kyra Baker) on police procedure, as Joe (Doug Greene) and Brian (Bob Stineman, not pictured) keep out of sight, but are they out of earshot? Set design by Kevin Jordan, lighting by Andrew Cowles, photo by Kyle Cassidy.
L-R: Officer MacDonald (Terence Gleeson) drills WPC Foster (Kyra Baker) on police procedure, as Joe (Doug Greene) and Brian (Bob Stineman, not pictured) keep out of sight, but are they out of earshot? Set design by Kevin Jordan, lighting by Andrew Cowles, photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Director and producer Liam Castellan assembled a team of crack shot designers who connected deeply with this piece. Set designer Kevin Jordan spent many years in the military and in England, and knows the science of sneaking up on people. Costume designer John Hodges loves period costuming and clever details, he brought form, function, fashion and fun together for maximum effect. Lighting designer Andrew Cowles knows “too late to be night and too early to be morning,” and the subtle changes that time period has.

Come join us.  You have six more chances to see this show. Click here for information about dates and times.

Mark Cofta’s CityPaper review

Mark Cofta followed up his CityPaper feature piece with a review that makes my heart grow three sizes.

An incisive script builds on an intriguing what-if. 

WE THINK:  Friel’s incisive script builds on an intriguing what-if: not-so-closeted bad boy Orton (Doug Greene) and very closeted Epstein (Bob Stineman) certainly met when Orton wrote his never-produced Beatles movie, so were they friends, maybe even lovers? Were their tragic deaths somehow related? In Traveling Light, they clash in a moonlit cemetery (set by Kevin Jordan, lighting by Andrew Cowles), and the adversaries — Epstein had just rejected Orton’s lurid work as “unsuitable” for “my boys” — soon realize they have much in common.

Friel and director Liam Castellan turn the play’s farcical absurdities, including the intrusions by two cops (Kyra Baker, Terence Gleeson) and the boys’ trading clothes (Epstein’s tailored Italian suit for Orton’s leather jacket and jeans), into affecting moments of discovery. As in Orton’s plays, the silly events are meaningful, and vice-versa.

Baker’s sincere performance reveals the challenges of women invading the man’s world of police work, an effective parallel for the struggles of closeted gay men. The world was changing fast in 1967 for women and homosexuals, and establishment men (as represented by Gleeson’s hilarious yet brutal dictionary-quoting constable), feeling threatened, lashed out. These relationships may never have happened, but Traveling Light makes them feel real.”

You have eight more changes to see this show, so don’t let it get away.

almost caught

almost like being in love

Kyle’s photos have so much depth and detail that I can’t put them up full size; you’ll have to click on them for a full view.  There are a lot of beautiful pictures which I’m hesitant to post, because even though they’re so good, they’ll spoil the story. So, if you’re thinking about coming to see it, and you look at these pictures and you’re still on the fence (I know what it’s like), know that everything you see here is EVEN BETTER when it’s live, 3D and streaming in real time in your face. Much more than this is going to happen, so come join us.

All photos below: Bob Stineman as Brian Epstein, Doug Greene as Joe Orton, Kyra Baker as  W.P.C. Foster, Terence Gleeson as Officer MacDonald.

it's been a rough couple of weeks

have you somewhere to go

how will you get out

 

wait five minutes

almost caught

vigilant

caught?

you say you're brothers?

last night as I lay on my pillow

I can tie a double windsor blindfolded

why should I let her be joe

3 way recognize

Mary

Joe caught

What happened? What’s the transformation? Will Brian and Joe survive the night? Join us and find out! 

I read the news today, oh boy.

You want to come see Traveling Light.  I haven’t been writing much lately, but other people have been, and the hard work of the production team and actors is coming to fruition in a delicate and multifaceted setting.  Fortunately, so far our coins in the wishing well are echoing and rippling rather nicely.  Playwrights work in planned obsolescence; you write and hope that your work will be handed off to others who will include enough of themselves that the piece can live on its own. So far, this theory holds up beautifully.

City Paper’s annual Fringe roundup includes a feature piece about Traveling Light by Mark Cofta. There are a lot of shows mentioned in this article worth your attention, but trust me, the Traveling Light article is there.  Keep scrolling!

The Philadelphia Daily News featured Traveling Light in their feature article by Chuck Darrow. 

Liam Castellan was interviewed by Phindie, and the box office has been notified that Vladimir Putin is absolutely not permitted to attend our show. Sorry, Pooty-Poot, you’re banned.

RepRadio came to rehearsal so we could talk about things. if you like to listen to conversations about theatre, RepRadio should be on your short list of podcasts.  Darnelle Radford is really good at bringing out what’s best about theatre in this area.

Last night, Kyle Cassidy came and took photos of the final dress rehearsal. Having a photographer present seemed to give the actors a strong sense of how they relate to space and each other and remind them of physicality. Kyle has an excellent ability to use light to create texture and palpability in his photos. It also felt like having Obi-Wan Kenobi with us, at the beginning and at the final dress, to bookend the creative process.

I’m going to put photos in a separate post, because they’re big and beautiful and speak for themselves, but for now, here’s a taste:

Clickenzee to Embiggen!
Officer MacDonald (Terence Gleeson) on the hunt for sexual deviants, as Joe (Doug Greene) and Brian (Bob Stineman) try to blend in. Photo by Kyle Freaking Cassidy.

Clickenzee to Embiggen!

Tickets available here, if two is not enough dimensions for you.  And it should not be.

JOIN US!

Murder on Choctaw Ridge

Last night, as I was getting ready to leave for rehearsal, Vince was sitting on the couch eating a big plate of poached haddock and brown rice.

VINCE: I found out something really important.

ME: What’s that?

Bobbie Gentry's haunting ballad, Ode to Billie Joe, peaked at #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Bobbie Gentry’s haunting ballad, Ode to Billie Joe, peaked at #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.

VINCE: The truth about Billie Joe McAllister and The Tallatchee Bridge.

ME: Really.

VINCE: Mm-hm.

ME: What’s that.

VINCE: He didn’t jump.

ME: No?

VINCE: He was pushed.

ME: …

VINCE: Think about it.

ME: I am.

VINCE: Why would the narrative voice be filled with so much guilt in the second half of the song, if not to cover a crime for which she’s nearly caught?

ME: But… she’s got an alibi. She was down in the field balin’ hay. Or her brother was balin’ hay and she was chopping cotton or something.

VINCE: But Billie Joe McAllister didn’t just jump off the bridge. Not that morning.

ME: When did he jump?

VINCE: The song doesn’t say. But he had to have jumped the day before, otherwise how would the mother know and bring it up so casually at the lunch table?

ME: Okay, but an admission of guilt doesn’t mean anything, what’s the motive?

VINCE: Well, that’s the big mystery, isn’t it?

ME: Where did you get this information?

VINCE: I just thought of it, right now.

Now that I think about it, and after double-checking with lyricsmode.com:

Billie Joe McAllister couldn’t have been pushed by the narrator, because the mom reports “Today Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchee Bridge,” and the narrator has an alibi and a witness.

But you know who doesn’t have an alibi? The mom. I think she pushed him.
Oh, sure, apparently, she was cooking, but none of the food she served is stuff that requires close supervision: the black-eyed peas could have been on a low simmer and the biscuits could have been in the oven for a long time on low heat, as could the apple pie. And there’s no proof that the food was served hot, she could have cooked it the day before. Also, the father mentions that they have forty acres; a family living on a farm or ranch that large wouldn’t have found out about a suicide investigation that quickly without first hand knowledge.
And, Mama does have a motive, because she’s trying to set the narrator up with the preacher.
And she shows absolutely no remorse. Clearly, Mama is the cold-blooded killer.

Law & Order: Sixties Popsong Unit. DUNH-DUNH.

Evidence also available at lyricsmode.com. 

too late to be night, too early to be morning

So, here’s some of what we were up to at Mount Moriah Cemetery. Again, Kyra Baker as WPC Foster, Doug Greene as Joe Orton, Bob Stineman as Brian Epstein, all photos by Kyle Cassidy.

Photo by Kyle Cassidy

Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Photo by Kyle Cassidy.
“do you know the story about the woman who had to be buried in the wall of the graveyard?”

150

Photo by Kyle Cassidy.
“It’s not that Imelda Marcos is evil, per se; it’s that she sent the entire frigging country after us.”

Only seven weeks to Opening Night.

Performance Summary:

Traveling Light by Lindsay Harris Friel, directed by Liam Castellan.

Produced by Liam’s Sofa Cushion Fortress, September 6-14, 2013

at the SkyBox at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St 3rd Floor, Philadelphia PA 19103

Ticket Prices:   $20 (tickets $10 on 9/6)

Tickets:     at the door or www.fringearts.com or call the Festival box office

More Info about the play and all the artists involved:    www.liamcastellan.com

A tale of two Georges

GeorgeHarrison-LivingInTheMaterialWorld-poster  Last night we watched Living In The Material World, the George Harrison documentary that Martin Scorsese made a few years ago. It’s very good.  It’s about half George’s solo career and life after 1970, and the other half is his childhood and the Beatles years, without going into too much detail. Overall, the film makes the point that George Harrison was very good at balancing his spiritual and earthly selves: he could perform, have relationships, produce movies, play jokes, and make money, but he also was the guy who could just float away on a cloud of spiritual sound.

The documentary has no narration, so the individual clips and interviews speak for themselves. Which is nice. You don’t feel like you’re being spoon-fed or distanced. So, for example, it opens with film of the World War II bombings in England, coupled with the song “All Things Must Pass.” The documentary also includes letters George wrote to his family, while the Beatles were in their first years of touring, read by Dhani Harrison, which is heartwarming and also kind of eerie.

Dhani Harrison is totes adorbs, by the way.

So, for three hours, I put away my phone, knitted, and watched this documentary about someone who spent their life trying to make the world a better place for everyone he met.  It seems as though he did. George Harrison was no pushover, there is a part that shows him telling a reporter to step off shortly after the announcement of his cancer diagnosis. But in general, people talk about his literal and spiritual generosity, his peacefulness, how he could walk into a room and make everyone there calm and happy.  It’s infectious, and leaves you wanting to sign up for a meditation course.

Trayvon-BTMP-SHEP-COMP  Then I picked up my phone, checked Facebook and Twitter, and found out about the Zimmerman verdict.

When I was young, and learning to drive, my mom and grandmother, on the other hand, gave me the talk about Driving While Female and Dealing With Police.  They said, “if you are driving alone at night, and a cop tries to pull you over, drop your speed, get over towards the side, and drive your car to the nearest well-lit and populated area, where people can clearly see you.”  and then, don’t sass off, make eye contact, make sure they can see your hands.

One night, I was at home on a Saturday night because my boyfriend was working at the local movie theater. This was back in the days when movies were on magnetic tape in small plastic boxes and you had to go to a store and borrow them in exchange for money. I had a hankering to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, so I went down to the local video store, rented the movie, stopped at the convenience store next door, got some tasty snacks, and thought, I bet my boyfriend would like a tasty snack (not a euphemism). so I took the long way home, stopped by the box office, said hi, gave him a snack, got back in the car and headed home. I knew my parents would be pissed at me for being gone for more than the fifteen minutes it really takes to rent a movie, so I was a little anxious.

It was probably about 8:30pm, after dark, and I turned onto a long downhill stretch that’s clearly marked at a speed limit that is less than your car would take if you were coasting. It’s the kind of road that suburban teenagers and idiots love to burn through, so you almost have to fight your car’s weight a bit to stay under the speed limit. I always liked this strip of road, and I always liked the challenge of trying to coast and stay as close to the speed limit as possible. So I coasted the mile or so to the next stop light. Was I speeding? I don’t know. Was I pressing the pedal to the metal? No.

At the next stop light, I noticed that the car behind me had its high-beams on, as if the driver were trying to intimidate me, or see what radio station I had on, who knows. It was bright enough to make me think, Jeez, somebody’s a bit too interested in me.

Having been followed late at night by guys trying to intimidate women before, I thought, that doesn’t look good. Delaware County has a lot of bored people, and a lot of cars. It wasn’t uncommon for bored male drivers to try to intimidate female drivers around there, and I had been followed by unsavory creepy drivers before (once I had to drive back to the movie theater after a late-night shift because a drunk guy followed me, and as he told my friends after they got between his car and mine, “I was just tryin’ to get some pussy”).  I told myself that this was all in my head, and to get home so my mom wouldn’t be mad.

So, I turned onto a winding, forested back road to get home, and the car followed. I thought, okay, please leave me alone, pal. The high-beams filled my rear window, and I got scared. I sped up. Next thing I know, the rearview mirror was full of spinning red and blue lights.

Within sixty seconds, a young State Police officer was shining a flashlight in my face and asking why I was driving so fast on a back road. In a panic, I spit out that I had been followed by Bad People before, that I thought this was happening again, that I was scared and trying to get away from him.

A few seconds of silence passed.

The officer apologized, gave me back my documents, and said I was free to go.

When I got home, I told my mom what had happened. She told me that in my dad’s years in criminal litigation, he’d heard many stories from police officers in suburban areas who used to intimidate young women with threats of speeding tickets and having their license taken away in exchange for blow jobs.

Is this the same as The Talk and Driving While Black? No.
Have I encountered police officers whose ego was bigger than their intelligence? Yep.

Similarly:

-An ex of mine had a story about how, at about age 17, he was walking from a girlfriend’s house to his car, parked several blocks away, after dark, and was picked up by the police because someone had seen trespassers in the area. He was handcuffed to a radiator and hollered at by cops until they got bored and let him go.

-Once upon a time in New Jersey, I carefully made a legal left turn onto a road and was pulled over by a bored State Police cop who didn’t like my rainbow bumper sticker, and offered to take apart my car to search for marijuana. I was dumb enough to say, “Go right ahead, knock yourself out, you won’t find anything.” He decided not to search my car. I guess he didn’t want to do the paperwork. My car was impounded, and when he asked if I understood why he was taking my car and issuing a ticket, I said, “No, I don’t. Why did you pull me over?” he said, “I always pull over cars that have…” then he gestured at the back bumper of my car, waving left-to right, following the pattern of the rainbow sticker, and said, “License plates like that.”

The Zimmerman case isn’t about police intimidation. He wasn’t a police officer. He’s a small man with an ego bigger than his intelligence. It’s “hey you kids get off my lawn” taken to the worst possible conclusion. I’m angry that the prosecution didn’t make a stronger case, and wondering exactly what kind of rocks the jurors live under.

I’m wondering why we’re a nation of intolerance and ignorance. We all have the capacity for compassion and empathy, we all have the opportunity to sit down and quiet our minds or de-escalate a drama.  I don’t understand the attachment to violence George Zimmerman must have to not just leave Trayvon Martin alone.

It’s a dangerous precedent.

On that note, here’s a classic piece of American literature which I think should be recommended reading in all schools.  Be kind today.

A Midsummer Night’s Dreamers

Traveling Light makes its Philadelphia premiere this September in the Philly Fringe.

Traveling Light 1st image  Once upon a time there was a young man who heard some really beautiful music. He’d dedicated his whole life to aesthetic pursuits, but when he went down into a dark cavern and heard the beat and the harmony, he knew he had to bring that beautiful music up out of the dark and polish it and present it to the whole world. This music became bigger and stronger and more beautiful, until finally it could move on its own, and it was too heavy for him to carry any more, and it threatened to break him.

At the same time, there was another young man, almost exactly the same age, who liked to tell stories. Unlike the first young man, he’d been surrounded by a lot of ugliness and anger for most of his life, and the best way for him to deal with it was to create stories in which tricksters gave the bad people the badness they created right back. He went to a school that taught all about beauty (strangely enough, the same school that the first young man attended), and the first time he tried to make something beautiful and strange, it was so strange that people got scared, and he was sent to prison. While he was in prison, he polished his process, and when he got out, he continued making things that were strange and odd and funny and sad, with a vengeance.

This was all at a time when the world was changing. It was easier to make your voice heard over miles and miles, and the world seemed to be getting smaller, and  people were starting to realize that maybe if they started treating each other as equals, kindly, amazing things could happen. But sometimes, even that was abused, because it’s awfully hard to get rid of things like greed and jealousy.

The first young man said to the second one, maybe this beautiful music I manage and your odd and strange stories could be put together to make something amazing. and the second young man said, I’ll see what I can do. so the writer went home and wrote a story, and brought it back to the music manager.

and the music manager said, this is too much. this is just too extreme, and rough, and unusual, and I don’t even know how to describe it.

and the storyteller said, but you’re just the same as this kind of story, you’re indescribable in the same way. you’re also that which can’t speak its name for fear of prosecution.

Later that summer, the storyteller came home, to find the person he expected to be waiting for him, waiting, as always, but this time with a hammer and a jealous rage, and by morning, the storyteller was dead.

and twenty-one days later, the music manager took too much medicine that he thought he needed, and the next morning, he was dead too.

the story teller kept a diary. so did the music manager. those diaries are kept secret, as diaries should be. but some things happened that summer, and some of the diaries’ pages are believed to be destroyed. and nobody knows why.

that summer was called “the summer of love.” which is an odd name for a summer in which there were a lot of fires and war and riots and protest. there were also a lot of warm, sexy nights where people broke rules and did what their hearts told them to do.

this isn’t a dissertation. it’s a play. less factual, more fun.

——————————————————————-

It feels weird to be promoting this play in Philadelphia, now, when I wrote it years ago. The production in Minneapolis, by Theatre Pro Rata, directed by Natalie Novacek, is still extremely close to my heart, and had a lot of magic in its site-specific production at Layman’s Cemetery.  Carin Bratlie and I still brainstorm and I still miss Minneapolis, the people I met there, and their commitment to making fun, brilliant theatre. After that production, I somersaulted straight into Temple’s MFA program, and it’s been hard to come up for air at all ever since.

I don’t want people to think this is the only play I’ve ever written, but it seems to be the one people like the most, and I’m deeply grateful that Liam Castellan said, “I am going to pick this play up and run with it.” and finally, this play gets to happen in my home town.

We have a cast. They’re beautiful. We’re still looking for designers and crafting press releases and planning photo shoots and so on and so forth. for now, I get to be so excited about it that I am forced to be experimental with capitalization.

Details to follow. Keep your eyes peeled.