Thursday, March 16, 2017

JAN KULTURA and Why We Need Plays About Capitalism


Over on 2am Theatre, the long-running group blog featuring essays by various theater artists and pundits, Pete Miller, explains just "Why We Need Plays About Capitalism".

After a summary of how economists define capitalism, its functions, goals, and the ways it often fails short of its goals, and noting a general dearth of plays addressing these topics, he turned to a survey of 41 plays on the National New Play Network's New Play Exchange -- an essential service both for playwrights and theater companies seeking new work -- Miller broke the plays down into five categories:

Plays with the Economics or Capitalism tag are mostly about:
1. People suffering in a climate of reduced employment opportunity.
2. The broad impact specifically of unscrupulous and unconstrained capitalism on the less wealthy.
3. The villainy of specific bad economic actors and its consequences.
4. Classism and isolation between the wealthy and the poor in general.
5. Send ups of the absurdity of profit seeking as a primary motivation.

All of these are important topics, and I was favorably impressed with the vast majority of the scripts. However, only category number 5 really spoke to any of my example capitalism failures, and almost none of the plays revealed a sophisticated model of capitalism as part of their structure.

However, there were two plays that he felt did model capitalism, one of which is my Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets the Crowd:

There were two plays that specifically spoke to economic theory, in the same way that [Michael Frayn's] Copenhagen speaks to physics or [Tom Stoppard's] The Hard Problem speaks to brain science. (I’ve seen productions of both of those plays recently, so may be a little over-prepared to see more work with a hefty academic basis.) Clearing Bombs by Eric Samuelsen imagines a conversation between two major 20th century economists stuck on a rooftop during WWII and passing the time with a deep but lively economic debate. Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets the Crowd by Ian Thal is a short play that essentially presents a case study of crowd sourced creativity as a vehicle to steal ideas from people without having to pay them – well larded with good economic thinking. These stood out to me as good examples of scripts we could stand to have more of.

Miller's essay is an interesting read even if it did not offer play recommendations, and I might not have known about it had not been for the fact that his wife and I went to the same high school and she recognized my name after she read his essay.

[As a side note, I'm on record as not being a fan of Frayn's Copenhagen -- however dazzling the discussion of quantum mechanics and nuclear fission might be -- Frayn commits several instances of historical revisionism and falsification that I find tantamount to Nazi apologetics.]

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Talia" A Radio Play Now on The New Play Exchange


Back in 2015, a radio producer who had read my Arlecchino Am Ravenous invited me to contribute a script for an anthology series he was planning, a collection of audio drama adaptations of the tales the Pentamerone of Giambattista Basile (1566-1632). The Pentamerone is the earliest known attempt to collect a nation's folktales, in this case, the nation of Naples, and was to inspire the Brothers Grimm in their nineteenth-century project to collect German folktales. The work was originally published in two volumes, posthumously in 1634 and 1636, and under the pseudonym Gian Alesio Abbatutis, by his sister under the Neapolitan title of Lo cunto de li cunte.

I was asked to adapt "The Sun, The Moon, and Talia" a fairytale generally considered to be the one of the earliest extant variants of a story known in the English speaking world as "Sleeping Beauty." After two separate drafts of the script, the producer just went silent, so as far as I know, the anthology series is no longer a going concern. So now I am sharing it with readers on The New Play Exchange.

A note to readers: One challenging aspect of adapting the fairytale was that the original folktale describes the rape, which did not carry the same level of moral revulsion in the seventeenth century as it does in our era. So while I felt the need to keep the rape in my version, I could not keep the happy ending of Basile's version. A different choice is made by John Edward Taylor who, in his 1847 English translation of the Pentamerone, instead chose to retain the happy ending and leave out the impregnation by rape of the sleeping protagonist, leading to this weird passage as he attempts to suppress any knowledge of the trauma in his readers:

Meanwhile, two little twins, one a boy and the other a girl, who looked like two little jewels, wandered, from I know not where, into the palace and found Talia in a trance.

Needless to say, my version of the story is not appropriate for young people, at least as we in the twenty-first century understand childhood.

You can read Talia on the The New Play Exchange, along with my other plays.