For audience members who grew up in small towns in Wisconsin, much about Four Seasons Theatre’s heartwarming production of The Spitfire Grill will look familiar. Everyone seems to know everyone else. There’s one place where the locals hang out to get a cup of coffee and catch up on the latest gossip. Things invariably used to be better, whether that means the local quarry has recently shut down, or GM closed the plant, or the place just looks drearier than it used to. Young people are moving away and the optimism that townspeople once had has been worn down over time. And undoubtedly, there’s nothing more interesting--or suspicious--than someone new settling in the hamlet.
When CBS commissioned Charles Schulz to write a 30-minute Christmas special featuring his famous cartoon alter ego Charlie Brown, network executives did not get the sweet, typical holiday program they expected. Far from an exuberant celebration of presents and jingle bells, the 1965 animated program began with Charlie Brown’s gloomy statement that he just didn’t understand Christmas, and didn’t know how to get into the holiday spirit.
Mark Twain is known as one of America’s foremost writers and humorists. His books, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are standards on school readings lists and he has been referred to as the father of the great American novel.
But that doesn’t mean he wrote good plays. As sports fans learned when Michael Jordan turned in his basketball jersey for a baseball uniform, being the best in the world in one field does not guarantee success in another. Which brings us to Is He Dead?, a play by Mark Twain that was never produced in his lifetime, and was not published until 2003, when it was rediscovered among his papers by a Twain scholar. More artifact than art, It’s currently onstage in the Mitchell Theatre at UW Madison through December 10th.
The “sandwich generation” is a term that’s been applied to Baby Boomers in particular; in mid-life they are working to usher their children out of the nest, off to college, or first jobs, and simultaneously many of them are becoming caregivers for their aging parents. It’s a juggling act that requires not only a lot of love and patience, but a strange transition to new roles — parenting their parents and slowly transitioning to new relationships with their adult children. Inevitably it also involves making a lot of mistakes, even with the best of intentions. And like all complicated relationships, communication is key.
When Artistic Director Brenda DeVita chooses the season of plays that American Players Theatre will mount the following year, it is not a solitary exercise. And surprisingly, it’s not done with a specific theme in mind. Instead, it’s a collaborative process that takes months, involving many conversations with directors and actors. Through ongoing communication, DeVita discovers which plays, authors, and subjects the artists are most excited about tackling next. Then it’s a matter of fitting the projects and schedules together with the theater’s core company of actors to finalize the nine productions the company will put up over the course of five months.
In his 1967 review of the Audrey Hepburn movie, “Wait Until Dark,” legendary film critic Roger Ebert wrote that the classic thriller, about a blind woman being terrorized by three conmen, depends on what he coined “an idiot plot.” Ebert summarized it as “one or more characters being idiots. They get trapped in a situation that they could easily get out of with common sense. But they don’t, being idiots. If they did, they’d solve the problem and the movie would be over.”
The term “sexual predator” is all over the news of late, but more than a century ago August Strindberg created a character even more powerful and terrifying — the sexually charged “psychic murderer.” In his 1887 essay of the same name, the Swedish playwright described a type of sexual warfare where the winner could, through intellect and sheer force of will, “coerce a more impressionable psyche into submission.”
In a French provincial town, two friends are meeting in an outdoor café for a drink when suddenly a rhinoceros stampedes through the village square.
Naturally the friends abruptly stop talking. Shopkeepers and villages gather around to gawk. But instead of alarm or distress at the intrusion of the enormous beast, all the crowd can muster is, “Well, of all things.” A slightly more eloquent version of, “huh,” this clichéd expression so encapsulates the public’s passive response to a clear threat, it occurs in the play 26 times.
As a kid, it was always a treat to catch the 1968 movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on TV—once a year, or so. (This was long before VCRs or DVDs.) Between primetime showings, I kept the vinyl record of the soundtrack in heavy rotation on my parents’ stereo, along with Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and other classics of the era.
Playwright Paula Vogel has an Obie Award for lifetime achievement, a Pulitzer Prize for her play How I Learned to Drive, and a place in the American Theater Hall of Fame. Vogel also enjoyed her Broadway debut earlier this year with an acclaimed production of Indecent, which earned three Tony nominations. Two decades earlier, she wrote one of the most creative and compelling plays about the AIDS crisis, The Baltimore Waltz.