Thursday, July 31, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
Since I did the reading of Doctors Jane and Alexander yesterday, I am putting an excerpt from the picture book I am working on about my grandfather.
The reading yesterday went well--small audience, but it gave me a sense of where the show is. And the actors did a great job--I'm lucky to know so many talented people.
The main conundrum left, I think, is how to involve my grandfather more/dramatize his arc. The problem is a lack of data...there's much less found text about him then, say, my Mom, who I can interview at any point.
But I'm thinking about it...
Anyway, here's a excerpt from a picture book I am tentative titled My Grandfather, the Blood Doctor
“Your grandfather is a very great man,” people would tell me, growing up. Even my own doctor, Dr. Poch, told me that. My grandfather had made a great discovery, something that saved a lot of lives: the Rh factor.
I was very proud. Even though I wasn’t sure what exactly the Rh factor was. Something to do with blood.
My grandfather’s name was Dr. Alexander Wiener. That was the name that was on his books, or in articles about him, or even in a cartoon about him I had once seen in a school magazine.
I called him Pop Pop Al. I liked to sit on his lap in the living room, when I visited him in Brooklyn.
My Mom called him Dad.
When I was little, I was scared of blood. When I saw blood, I used to feel a little bit like throwing up. Once, my doctor needed to take some blood of mine for a test. I cried.
To make me feel better, my mother told me what it was like to be the daughter of a blood doctor.
“When I was your age,” she told me, “my sister Barbara and I used to play in my father’s laboratory all the time. In our house, we had the rooms in which we lived upstairs and the laboratory downstairs. Sometimes, we would come to visit Pop Pop downstairs, and he would give us his empty serum boxes. We attached ropes to them and played a game we called Elevator. We would fill the boxes with toys and pull them up and down the stairwell.”
“What’s serum?” I asked.
“Blood is made up of serum and plasma,” explained my Mom. “The plasma is what looks red, but the serum is clear. Pop Pop would separate the plasma from the serum in his laboratory. He used something called a centrifuge, which would spin test tubes full of blood round and round.”
“Gross,” I said.
“I thought it was really interesting,” said my Mom. “It would spin so fast. Sometimes he would send the test tubes full of serum to the hospital. That was what the serum boxes were used for.”
“And you played with those?”
“Not the ones that had been used, of course, that wouldn’t have been safe. Just the empty ones no one had used yet.”
“There were some women in his lab who worked as his assistants,” my Mom continued. “They were always very sweet to us. They would play with us, during their free time. Sometimes, Pop Pop tested their blood, when he was doing experiments.”
“They must have hated that,” I said.
“No, they didn’t mind. They wanted to help. They didn’t seem scared at all.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The odd thing about playing myself, in this play, is that I feel oddly confined. During previous performances (when I first came up with the idea in the 24-7 Fest for the ten minute version, in the NEUROfest, at Ensemble Studio Theater, or in private readings with friends) I have always had someone else play me. And I think what I have enjoyed most, those times, is having someone play a line in a completely different way than I would--show a different emotion, etc.
The least like me, in some ways, was my friend Peter Bean (who plays my brother in Sunday's version). In some ways, for that reason, I almost liked his interpretation best. He wasn't afraid to be angry, or to decide intention. He even challenged whether "Edward" would say one particular line.
He would, I assured him. In fact, he did.
And watching Jorge Cardova (left, along with the amazing Alyssa Simon, also in Sunday's reading), I really enjoyed little moments of annoyance he showed towards a cousin (not in this version), which in reality I never felt at all, but which enhanced the scene. Or Max Zener, when reading it for me in a private roundtable situation, was able to show similar annoyance with my Mom in ways I didn't actually feel at the time, but worked well in that moment.
But if I, as an actor playing the character Edward, showed that annoyance, it suddenly would have had too much authority. It would have been Edward, the playwright, or Edward, the person, commenting on his own personal annoyance, rather than an actor's interpretation.
So I am almost handcuffed by reality.
Because how am I to act onstage? Not as I truly acted in life. Stage needs to be heightened. I need to create the character of me, not just me. But since this character isn't the sort that deliberately and clearly departs from reality, I just need to find a way, really, to be me, only more so. And without the ability to truly shade the emotions at times without creating a secondary commentary on my own work...
And this is not just me playing me. This is me playing me and having lines that are based on direct quotations--from me. I am performing interviews I had in the same words I had those interviews. And wishing I had been a little more clever in what i had said. And then, in this reading, it's me directing me (which I never do) to say that which I had said in way that is interesting and works well for the intention of the playwright--me.
It's really one of the harder roles I've had to play.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I had missed it at the Public (to my chagrin--I had a chance at free tickets). I had missed it during its run, thus far. And I was tempted to wait for the taped version--but it seemed like the sort of musical that should be seen in person.
Which it was.
It was enjoyable. But it wasn't...transcendent.
And so I was disappointed.
It is an unfair standard, I know. Perhaps it's the amount of money involved (I went through TKTS, still an expensive proposition). But I do not go to theater, any theater, to see something acceptable. I go to be awed.
And I have been awed. I know it's possible. It's happened on Broadway. It's happened Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway. It even happened once in a junior high school cafeteria, where an amateur group performed The Bald Sopranno.
But usually, it doesn't happen.
My criticism of Passing Strange (not that it matters so much, after the fact), is that everything onstage, the music, the story, the artistry, was all...a little pedestrian. The rock music was decent, but not exciting. The story was at time interesting, but often meandering. The performances...the performances were good.
But not transcendent.
I also seem to be one of the few who was not overly excited by August: Ocean County. It was a decently made play. Strong enough characters, a dysfunctional family setting that rang familiar, and a lot of bickering. Tragedies, plot twists...though the sort of plot twists and tragedies that could be seen in any soap opera.
Not to put down Tracy Lets. He's a decent writer.
Just not transcendent. To me.
At Passing Strange, I was sitting next to a woman who had already seen the show three times. And in blogs and reviews I read such praise of those shows that I expected them to be more. What is it that transported the woman next to me while I remained on the ground. What inspired the flowing praise for August: Ocean County? Even the blogs were full of nothing but praise.
I feel like the old curmudgeon of Broadway.
But I do want to say--really? Is that enough? Explain it to me, please explain it to me. Because I want to believe. I walk in the theater, each time, hoping to see greatness.
There are actually a good number of shows that have, over the years, fit that criteria, but sometimes I have to recite some of them to myself to remind myself I am not just a curmudgeon:
Caroline or Change
I am My Own Wife
The Far Side of the Moon (Robert Lepage)
The Trojan Women (Andrei Serban)
Peter and Wendy (Mabou Mines)
A Doll's House (Mabou Mines again)
The Green Bird (Julie Taymor)
The Chairs (Simon McBurney)
Just what happens to pop into my head right now...I almost wrote Sunday in the Park with George or Richard Eyre's Macbeth, but I had to remind myself that I had only seen those on video.
There are others, as I said. And there will be more. I hope.
But not Passing Strange. And not August: Ocean County.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
As it happens, I have a tape of an even earlier version, a twenty minute one-act directed by Ian W. Hill. I showed my Mom the tape yesterday. She had been in audience, but she had forgotten it.
My play is based greatly on found text, most frequently transcripts of interviews I had with my Mom just after she had her stroke three years ago.
And as long as I'm handing out praise--I was reminded how well everyone did in the one-act, some of whom have stuck around and helped tremendously with the development of the play since. I also really appreciated the touches Ian added. The music was particularly well chosen, and I am ripping off his ideas for the comic book scene, as I did for the reading at EST (my grandfather appeared in a comic book, which I use as part of the found text)
When my Mom saw Ian's version live, she had called out a few corrections to the audience (the cast rolled with that very well).
This time she watched it more in silence. At one point, after a particularly poignant passage from our interviews, she turned to me and asked "Does she hurt?"
"I don't know, what do you think?" I asked.
"I know you don't know," she said. "But she does."
Afterwards, she declared she very much enjoyed the play. "What did you like best?" I asked.
"The plot," she said. "Of course, there was no plot."
I like that part, too.
Anyway, the reading is going to be at Manhattan Rep (303 W. 42nd St., 3rd floor) Sunday, July 27, at 7:30pm. It stars Peter Bean, Rufus Collins, Rosalynd Darling, Madelene DeLeon, Josh Mertz, Alyssa Simon, and me (I have decided to play myself, for this reading...previously it was done by someone else)
It is a fundraiser for Re: Directions Theater (Tom Berger and Erin Smiley, producers). $10 requested.
Oh, and an official description:
Using found, fabricated, and occasionally finagled text, Edward Einhorn explores the life of his grandfather Alexander Wiener, the co-discoverer of the Rh factor in blood, through interviews with his mother Jane Einhorn, a PhD psychologist who recently retired due to a debilitating stroke. In the course of these interviews his grandfather's ambitions and achievements are contrasted with his mother's and ultimately with his own.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Disch was a professor of mine at Johns Hopkins, teaching Science Fiction Writing. I knew very little about him at the time, except that I found him difficult to please. I wrote a series of stories for him, none of which seemed to suit him. I remember his complaining that my story "Amnesiac Man," a story about a superhero who gained his powers by forgetting he had never had any (a foreshadowing of my interest in neurology?) was written "with my left hand." He then proceeded to tell me that I had a C so far, that I could write him one more story to change that grade, but that it would have to be truly impressive to have any affect. And that he doubted it would be. I left feeling very depressed.
I wrote him a story called "Finding Myself," about a woman obsessed with her clone (I have been thinking of that story a lot recently--it foreshadowed another neurological piece, which I'm currently writing, Blind/Sight). He took it and left Johns Hopkins, never to return. He never gave me any feedback on the story.
I received a B+ for the course.
Years later, "Finding Myself" is the only story I wrote for him that I like.
After college, I became slowly aware of some of his work. I saw the Brave Little Toaster, which remains one of my favorite children's movies. I worked with an actor, George McGrath, who had starred in The Cardinal Detoxes, the controversial downtown play which the church tried to close down. I read his theater criticism in various magazines. I read On the Wings of Song, one of his science fiction books.
I even played his text adventure game, Amnesia. It was set, very specifically, in New York, with each street corned defined very exactly with the appropriate landmarks. Hmmm....the Amnesiac Man...did he suspect plagarism or an ill conceived homage...
I began to feel a great kinship with his work. He worked in downtown theater. He write children's books. He was interested in science fiction. His interests were eclectic, in that they fit on many odd niches.
He lived downtown. At one point, I believe, I sent him a letter, inviting him to a play I wrote. I never heard back.
The circumstances of his death were depressing, His long time partner had died, leaving him in a rent controlled apartment owned by NYU--which NYU wanted him out of. It had been under his boyfriend's name, and, of course, since they weren't married...
Infuriating, really, on many levels.
I'm sorry to hear of his passing. And I'm sorry that, while he was my teacher, I didn't take advantage of the opportunity more.
Even if he was an old curmudgeon.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
The big topic that came up, as usual, was the Equity Showcase contract, which is both extremely outdated and extremely detrimental to everyone who works in small theaters, actors included. But I heard some good news about that, the first in a long time, which indicated to me that there may actually be a break in the ice there. Not much more on that now--don't want to jinx it.
That in itself was a good reason for optimism, though it was interesting to me that when i spoke afterwards with a friend who has been running his own theater company for a year, he found the Equity talk depressing. I think the difference for me was--I had already been hearing, for the fifteen plus years that I've been running Untitled Theater Company #61, all the negatives. Change is hard, especially when your dealing with unions, especially when the people who have time to be on union committees aren't usually the youngest or the most in touch with the current situation. But to hear that there may be some change, that Equity may have begun to realize that the contract helps no one, themselves included...that is a reason for hope.
And seeing a small portion of our community fill the orchestra--somehow, that made me hopeful as well. Of course, at times it is almost depressing--with so many people producing so much theater, how does one emerge from the crowd. But the converse can be true. The whole can be a powerful force. which is what i think the convocation was about.
Friday, July 11, 2008
I should be writing picture books.
Instead, I have been writing a radio play.
At least, I think it's a radio play.
It has something to do with a few neurological concepts: Mirrored self identification syndrome and Blindsight
Mirrored self-identification syndrome is the phenomenon of seeing oneself in the mirror and not believing that the person in the mirror is oneself. It is related to the Capgras delusion, in which one sees another persion (usually someone with who one has an emotional connection) and believes that person to be an impostor. In the NEUROfest, we had a play called Impostors, which was all about Capgras
Blindsight is the ability to see, even when one is not conscious of seeing.
To me, the two phenomena are two sides of the same coin. The reason one has Capgras or related disorders is that the connection from the eye to the emotional part of the brain has been broken--in other words, one can looks at oneself or another and say, that person looks like someone I know, but he/she/I doesn't feel like someone I know.
But here's the amazing part, to me: The brain then decides that it is more likely that one is looking at a doppleganger than there is something awry inside. The brain is always covering for itself. It can't be wrong, the world must be. If something doesn't feel true, it must be false.
In blindsight, some believe, it is the connection to the part of the that consciously registers sight that is broken. But the connection to the emotional--that's still there. There have been experiments where people who believe they are blind are shown highly emotionally charged pictures, and they react emotionally--they feel, they just do not know why they feel. They see well enough to navigate a room or pick up an object, they just don't know how.
When asked how or why people will often come up with rationalizations for what they cannot explain. They laugh because the doctor is funny, not because they are being shown a funny picture. Or they feel angry at the doctor, if another picture is shown.
The implication is, of course, that we believe in facts, even such basic facts as our own identity, not because of objective truth, but because of our subjective emotional connections. And then we convince ourselves it is based on objective reasons we are fully conscious of.
An excerpt (the "dialogue" is from the thoughts of the man with mirrored self-identification syndrome):
I am not I.
Who am I then? Surely, I look like myself. If I did not know myself well, I would be easily fooled. The thinning hair with spots of gray, the slightly crooked nose, the deep blue eyes (yes I do have a touch of vanity, even when talking of my doppelganger), they are all what I have come to recognize as the form which I inhabit.
But it is a shell, empty. It is not me.
No trauma has occurred. I do not suffer from depression. I do not suffer from paranoia. But I suffer. Or so I would, if I were here.
I am a character from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, narrating my life story after my body has been snatched.
The fellow in the mirror miraculously moves his mouth. Who are you? He asks. He is not making a sound. He does not need to. I can read his lips.
I don’t know, I say, but he says it too, everything I say he says. Or I do not speak at all, and it is all him.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
What do I want it to be about?
Theater. Writing. Neurology. Being a writer. Being a director. Children's books. Oz. Probability. The Czech Republic. Absurdism. Ideas.
I want it to tie into the theme of my theater company, which I term a Theater of Ideas: scientific, political, and philosophical.
I want it to relate to my other creative projects as well, especially my children's books.
I want it to be personal, in the sense that it gives a sense of personality, but not personal, in the sense of a daily diary of my life.
I want it to be interesting.
I want it to be manageable. I don't want it to take over my writing time.
Let me be honest. I want it to be good self-publicity. I want it to be good publicity for my theater company.
I want it to be a way to hear feedback.
And I want it to be a forum for thought.
So it begins...