About Me

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I dig jazz and single-malt scotch.  I write plays; I direct them too. I love STAR WARS more than is healthy. I walk my dogs every day, unless it's raining or terribly cold.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The tally for my 2010 year's playwriting revenue is:

$1,725.00 or somewhere thereabouts.


Man, I gotta get published.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Definite CHANCE OF RAIN in Missouri this fall

Chance of Rain: A Noah Riff by Kato McNickle, directed by John Wilson is winner of the National Playwriting for Youth Award and will be presented by the University of Central Missouri October 29 & 30.  Tickets available through the Performing Arts Series - 660-543-8888.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Antigone in the Americas

PHOTO: Teresa Ralli performing her solo-show Antigona

and now
as in ancient times I see the sorrows of the house,
the living heirs of the old ancestral kings,
piling on the sorrows of the dead
and one generation cannot free the next—
some god will bring them crashing down,
the race finds no release.
And now the light, the hope
springing up from the late last root
in the house of Oedipus, that hope’s cut down in turn
by the long, bloody knife swung by the gods of death
by a senseless word
by fury at the heart.
-- The Chorus
by Sophocles
441 BCE
A girl defies the order of her uncle the king and remains resolute in her convictions even unto death. This is the central action of the tragedy of Antigone, as she faces down the tyrant Creon for denying burial to her brother who died a traitor to their city. This story began its stage iteration twenty-five centuries ago in Athens, the creation of the master tragic poet Sophocles early in his career. But even for Sophocles’ audience, the story was an old one, the final act of a multi-generational epic from the age of heroes, a remote quasi-historical past depicting events that shaped the contemporary culture of classical Athens. Portions of the story were altered by Sophocles to strengthen his theatrical allegory of public law verses family duty, as exemplified by his invention of the king’s son Haemon as suitor to Antigone (in other versions of the myth this son is a victim of the Sphinx that is defeated by Oedipus long before the events depicted in Antigone.)

Just as Sophocles reworked aspects of the mythic story of the death of a family, many twentieth & twenty-first century theater artists have reworked and retold this dire struggle of a young girl’s defiance. Three such works being investigated here are Antigona Furiosa (1985) by Argentine playwright Griselda Gambaro, the mono-drama Antigona (2000) by Peruvian performance artist Teresa Ralli, and Antigone Arkhe (2004) by American Latina playwright Caridad Svich. In Sophocles’ Antigone the cultural significance of a girl as the instigating force to the ancient Greek observer is explained by Helene P. Foley in her essay Antigone as Moral Agent, “When tragic poets choose to allow an entire action to turn on the moral decision of a woman or to show women taking or urging significant moral positions in a public context, they apparently make at least a partial break from a cultural ideal and use female characters to explore ambiguous and often dangerous moral frontiers.” While all three new plays reference the primary character in their titles, and all borrow elements from the Sophoclean version, all depict radical reinterpretations of the story elements and depart from the original political intent of the source material. What is gained by reiterating this story? How does reanimating Antigone in these new and varied contexts alter our understanding of her, and reveal our modern assumptions about this ancient story? Why repeat this story now?

Antigona Furiosa
The living are the great sepulcre of the dead!
Antigona Furiosa begins after the end. Antigona is dead, hanged by her own belt, her body dangles over scores of other dead bodies—earlier victims of larger story’s actions—all trapped in a cage. Outside the cage two men drink coffee, seated at a café table. Nearby sits the empty hulk of Creon’s armor. Antigona revives herself, wakes herself from the dead, and loosens the belt she had used to kill herself—moments, hours, centuries, eons ago? The House of Oedipus is already extinct, a recollection that reawakens no matter what efforts are made to erase or belittle the family’s significance and legacy. Antigona rouses herself to address the world that would rather put her away and forget. Just as Antigona’s final actions in life were in defiance of an unjust man-made law, her actions after death are in defiance of forgetfulness and neglect on the part of surviving witnesses to the horrors. Antigona’s attacks are not only against the two men who mock her actions, but also to the audience that watches her. Audience members witnessing the play must also question their own complicity in atrocities, specifically the cycle of violence associated with Argentina’s “Dirty War”. In Argentina between 1976 and 1980 anywhere from eleven to fifteen thousand people were murdered by government and other official agents. The “Dirty War” continued into the early 1980’s, and Gambaro’s play is a very early response to the collective trauma.

Antigona Furiosa is not a veiled critique or questioning, it is direct and explicit in its connections of the ancient story to the current events of the nation. The play presents a dual structure of a synthetic fragment, where all times are present at once, and a circle or loop, where actions are repeating, perhaps endlessly. The synthetic fragment structure allows the character of Antigone to be the young woman from Thebes condemned for trying to bury her brother at the same time as the two men speaking to her can be drinking coffee at a café as it also always all time in between these two disparate events to be possibilities as well. The circle or loop structure becomes apparent when the play’s actions conclude with Antigona hanging herself—the action that is followed by the beginning of the play we have just witnessed.

What this hybrid structure underscores is the difference between the Sophocles rendition and Gambaro’s intent—where Sophocles’ Antigone is traditionally a victim of fate who marks the end of an epic cycle, Gambaro’s Antigona is forever trapped in a cycle of doom. Gambaro chooses to display a simple version of the story, the girl driven by familial obligation to bury her brother in defiance of the law set by her uncle the king. Nowhere is it mentioned that the brother Antigona longs to bury was potentially as ruthless a tyrant as her uncle. The greater political implications of the story are ignored or set aside. What Gambaro emphasizes is disabling grief and feminine powerlessness in the face of masculine political might. These lines from then end of the play display this dynamic:
ANTIGONA: I still want to bury Polynices. I will always want to bury Polynices. Though I a thousand times will live, and he a thousand times will die.
ANTINOUS: Then Creon will always punish you.
CORYPHAEUS: And a thousand times you will die. You don’t have to call death, my girl. She comes on her own. (smiles) Pressuring her is fatal.
ANTIGONA: Will there never be an end to this mockery? Brother, I cannot endure these walls I cannot see, this air that seals me in like stone. […] I was born to share love, not hate. (long pause) But hate rules. (furious) The rest is silence! (She kills herself, with fury.)
A compelling transition occurs with the ‘fury” of Antigona. The circle of the play is drawn in two ways, the way the audience sees it happen with Antigona’s suicide, and the way the reader of the play sees the final word—which returns us to the title of the play. The key is to convey this circle through an action and the thing that is felt by the audience at the end.

But something else happens too. Antigona is transformed in this play, or perhaps by this play—she is no longer the girl from Sophocles’ play, or the character from myth—she becomes a “fury,” an ancient female being responsible for blood justice. Antigona is distorted by fury. That is the trap. That is the cycle. Can the ancient power be claimed and not be turned to vengeance? Antigona Furiosa is a raw display of grief, of witnessing, and of seeing the devastation wrought by continuing to remain the woman in the trap.

I want all the dead to have a funeral
and then,
after that,
I’m caught in your snare guard. My death begins.
Remember my name—
one day I’ll be known as the sister who never forsook
her brother:
My name is Antigone
Teresa Ralli, in developing her one-woman production of Antigona, began with an image. A photograph of a woman walking beneath the midday sun and her companion shadow impressed the artist as Antigone returning across the centuries. This image was among an exhibition featuring black and white photographs of soldiers in training, spattered with the blood of dogs they had killed as an exercise. Another image pulled Ralli to it—the image of the woman in the arcade of the Plaza de Armas—that became central to creating her performance piece. Ralli describes the effect of the photo in Fragments of Memory as “an obsession, a recurring image, always waiting for the right moment to emerge and turn into something real.” The image evolved into a girl with short hair seated in a chair, waiting for a verdict, dressed in a white petticoat called a fustan. The theater piece she intended to create based on these images would be used to express the complicated responses of the survivors of a decade-long repressive and violent political regime.

To begin to make Antigone “real”, Ralli and her director, Miguel Rabio, studied the text by Sophocles. She describes the process as “gathering strength to enter the studio, which waits for us, completely empty.” In a strange way, the team collaborates with Sophocles by immersing themselves in his text as though it had been written for them, to express that very moment. Ralli describes the experience, “Discovering the music in each syllable, the importance of one word and not another, the structure of a thought put into words, the inner world the characters expressed in each speech.”
Ralli’s Antigona becomes the story of the witness, told by the surviving sister Ismene. In the story from the Greek, Ismene’s mythology ends with the death of her sister. Ralli has pulled Ismene from obscurity and places her role as central to the survival of the tale. By collecting interviews from surviving family members of disappeared citizens in her native Peru, Ralli resolved to infuse them into this Antigone:
That’s how another image of Antigone was born. Not the strong Antigone that has appeared throughout the history of Antigones. There have been warrior Antigones, furious Antigones. […] Antigone, it’s believed, is strong: she will stand firm until the end. My Antigone is fragile; even her voice breaks, a soft voice not used to confronting others or making demands. Out of this fragility (which she’ll never lose), a limitless strength and determination emerge.
But Ralli’s work presents the memory of Antigone and all of the rest of the characters. She embodies them all, wearing a tunic over pants, she forms herself into the assemblage of characters: Antigone, Creon, Heamon, Tiresias, the messenger, and Ismene, all in an empty space save for herself and a chair. In the end it is revealed that our narrator has been Ismene, the survivor of the tragedy, alive because she did not act with her sister, Ismene leaves us with her final expression of grief and regret:
[A]sk Polynices to forgive me for not performing this task at the proper time.
was frightened by the scowling face of the king. And tell him
how great my punishment is:
to remember every day – a torture
and shame for me.
Ralli’s performance frames the survivor as the storyteller, as the house of memory. The survivor dedicates herself to the survival of the story, and through the story her sister lives. Unlike Gambaro’s Antigona, who is caught in an endless trap of recurring violence that is literally caged, Ralli’s work is fluid, emphasizing the voice as the primary tool, the body as the container of the story that is endlessly transferable as long as the voice is willing to let the story out and as long as the mind remembers.

Antigone Arkhe
Accuse me of being Death’s bride, and I will accuse you for centuries of going against the laws of heaven, which are beyond time.
--Historical Antigone
As the center and longest piece in the five-part Antigone Project, Antigone Arke by Caridad Svich is also the most technically elaborate. The project was conceived by two initiators, Chiori Miyagawa and Sabrina Peck, in the aftermath of 9-11 to address multiple aspects of world conflict that has marked the twenty-first century. The works were performed in 2004 in co-production between the Women’s Project and Crossing Jamaica Avenue at the Julia Miles Theatre in New York. Antigone Arke (Arke from ancient Greek philosophy as the beginning or first principle of the world) is organized as a synthetic fragment, with multiple temporal possibilities coexisting—or co-performing— all in the same time-space continuum.
An archivist explains the basic functions of the archive and the artifacts on exhibit in this location, which may be a museum, or perhaps the actual location of the historical event being described, or perhaps someplace else. A narration persists, made up from pieces of what could otherwise be interpreted as stage directions, complete with notation in italics throughout, and perhaps these words are intended to scroll across a screen, ala CNN. A digital version of Antigone exists, perhaps exclusively on a screen, perhaps not, the script is not explicit on this point. There is also Historical Antigone existing alongside Digital Antigone. Sometimes the two speak together.

The action of the play is the resifting, rehashing. retelling, the story of the girl sealed in the cave. Artifacts from the event, like her sash and bits of bone, are preserved and on display. Words on screens, a digital character, an archivist—an ancient story told in a new way. The tension in the telling lies not in the story itself, but in the actual telling of the story. When presented as “history” complete with artifacts, a museum, a body, and a gift shop—the story becomes removed from “truth.” This play reveals the greater truth alive in the myth shaped as story rather than fact. As history, Antigone has no blood in it—as myth and tragedy Antigone breathes and speaks.

In the final lines of the play, Svich returns to the archivist who has led us through many of the proceedings:
ARCHIVIST: Antigone’s body has been preserved forever. Her entire body including her brain has been preserved. Some recordings have also been found recently, and while the quality is not good, you can hear Antigone’s voice in a special room next to the gift shop as you leave. You can also visit the archeological museum, and delight in a prehistoric collection, a sculpture collection, a vase collection and a bronze collection from various sites and ancient cemeteries. The taking of photographs is strictly prohibited. A new extension to the museum is being planned, pending financial support. We welcome your contribution.
What do we really need to know about this story? Do we need evidence, or material things? This play pits the storied myth, a name and an action that survives, against proof through tangible objects. Which is more potent? In the end, the story is the true thing, not history or fact.

In her introduction to the collection of plays inspired by ancient Greek works Divine Fire, contributing playwright and editor of the collection, Svich describes the need for current reiterations of ancient works:
The Information Age has changed the way we view the past, and in part unleashed a desire to retrieve knowledge that has been seemingly buried in the great quest for progress. The turn of the millennium has also caused Western society to try to imagine Web link upon Web link what our origins must have been like. Easy access to information nd the multiplicity of it has made us a curious and “curiouser” breed, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll. We have become enraptured by the possibilities available to us and the immediacy with which we can conjure ancient Greece, Rome, or Egypt. This imaginative act of conjuring, aided by technology, has affected how we interpret our world. Histories whirl in bits and bytes and bleeps, and as artists and citizens we try to keep up by taking time to remember. We seek myth because it is our inheritance. In it, we look for origins. […] Theatre, ancient and already called “dead” many times over, has been finding ways to speak to its past for many years. Each generation “kills” what has come before it, and resurrects it at the same time. Art is made through active renewal and reinterpretation.
With Antigone Arke Svich explores the relationship of technology and myth, of modern and ancient. Later in the introduction, Svich cites several 20th century reinventions of the Antigone story:
In times of war, and extreme global conflict and division, Greek dramas rise to the fore on the world’s stages. During World War II Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, a version of Sophocles classical drama, became a worldwide hit, because of its thinly disguised attack on the Nazis and the Vichy government. Bertotl Brecht’s 1948 Antigone achieved international recognition due to its uncompromising attack on tyranny, while Sophocles’ play also served as the centerpiece of Athol Fugard’s acclaimed South African protest drama, The Island. During the Vietnam War and it aftermath, powerful adaptations of the Greeks were presented in New York by the Living Theatre, and Andrei Serban at La Mama.
The Antigone Project offered Svich an opportunity and a political reason to add her exploration to the Antigone canon.

Why Antigones?
Creon, who [after the deaths of Eteoclos and Polyneices] then succeeded to the Theban throne, caused the bodies of the Argive dead to be thrown out unburied, issued a proclamation that nobody should bury them, and posted guards. But Antigone, one of the daughters of Oedipus, stole the body of Polyneices and gave it secret burial; and when she was caught in the act, she was buried alive in the grave by Creon himself.
For the second century BCE author Apollodorus, the two sentences noted above are the entire story regarding the actions of Antigone and her subsequent fate. She is a minor historical character—but the mythology that binds itself to her name and her final actions continues to inspire investigation and expression. In his Forward to the collection of Greek-inspired plays Divine Fire, playwright and historian Charles Mee writes:
One of the great pleasures in a work of art that knows it comes from the culture is that, inevitably, inherently, it contains a tension between the past and the present, the given and the possible, the enduring and the ephemeral. This tension between what is made and what is re-made lives in the very essence of the work—so that our common human project of making life on earth, making a society, making a bearable or wonderful civilization, is alive in every particle of the work. And so we have, in these works, intrinsically, as great a human drama as we get.
In all three Antigones examined here (and Sophocles’ Antigone as well), this tension between the ancient past and the present reiteration of the ancient story is apparent. Additionally, the tension between a recent past and the plays is also present—in the form of atrocities or war—there is an immediate social relevance associated with re-imagining Antigone in each of these plays.

In a lecture given at Trinity College in London in 2000, theater director Peter Hall describes the continued relevance of the Greek epic stories over millennia:
The form – the invocation – is intended to take us up to a level where mighty emotions and mighty conflicts can be expressed. The stuff of these epics became, many centuries later, the raw material for the first great period of drama that survives: the Greek. The myths were interpreted, reinterpreted, and contradicted. And they have gone on being reinterpreted for nearly three thousand years. A myth cannot be ancient: it lives and is still potent – it speaks to us. In that sense, it remains modern by definition; otherwise it would not be audible. It would not have survived. Theatre and myth helps us to understand the mysteries of life – birth and desire, love and death, revenge and forgiveness. And the Greek theatre began the task of representing them. They always have been and always will be the stuff of theatre – the stuff of the actor’s art. And every age must reexamine them because of our desperate need to understand.
And so, Antigone is not an ancient myth, she is vital. All three authors have found her story to be a foundation from which to build a new dialogue.

The act of tragedy is to compel the observer to engage in an individual relationship to a shared public event. The story becomes ours as a community, and ours as a personal experience, all at once. Modern theater theorist Bert O. States calls upon this unique attribute of tragedy’s potential in his book Great Reckonings in Little Rooms:
We often say that comedy arouses laughter and tragedy tears. The fact is, it is melodrama that arouses tears: tragedy arouses silence. The point of the distinction is that tragedy is a noncollaborative form, as usually performed. Tragedy creates an empathic experience wherein we are dissolved in what could be called a magnificent loneliness, felt most deeply in the absolute stillness of the auditorium when tragic characters say such things as “Thou shalt come no more.” What the audience shares in such moments, and in the play at large, is less important than what isolates each spectator vicariously in the experience.
Both Gambaro and Ralli utilize this mechanism inherent in the tragic form. Both plays ask their audiences to question their level of collaboration beyond the world of the play – what part is their collaboration with the world? What sort of collaboration has been played in the face of atrocity? Svich, on the other hand, works to thwart tragic associations, and in its place asks the viewer to consider why this tragic story is not tragic when viewed in this manner.

These Antigones, reborn and re-dying over and over again, are revived and revitalized to rattle the observer just as these Antigones are born and reborn to rail against Creon. Creon himself rarely appears in these plays—he is a name or an empty shell or a minor physical presence. Antigone is the center of these play-worlds, and it is through her that the question of public versus private duty is explored—strong—or fragile—or digital.

This ancient Greek story, elegantly told by Sophocles, continues to inspire. In a panel discussion led by Ken Urban on Contemporary American Playwriting, The Issue of Legacy, Svich elaborates on American playwrights interest in investigating aspects of tragedy, and by extension, our relationship to the Greek plays and provides the perfect observation on which to end:
It is also about trying to remember in a world that is constantly forgetting. Going back to the classics is one way to do that. I wouldn’t use the word “sincerity,” but “purity.” It is an impulse to look back to something pure.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Girls Like Boys: The theatrical role of boyish-women

ANYBODYS: Buddy boys!
ACTION: Ah! Go wear a skirt.
ANYBODYS: I got scabby knees.
---West Side Story

There is a type of female character who serves the theatrical function of representing a tough outsider. She is the boyish-woman. In the popular musical West Side Story Anybodys is described in the stage directions as “a scrawny teen-age girl, dressed in an outfit that is a pathetic attempt to imitate that of the Jets (the all-male, Anglo-American street-gang)”. The character-type embodied by personas like Anybodys often stands in opposition to other female representations present in the play who are conventionally feminine. While the feminine-female-types may populate the world of play in groups, the boyish-woman appears alone. Often categorized as a tomboy, she is readily dismissed by the characters around her as an anomaly, as with the dismissal of Anybodys by Action in the exchange noted above. In the world of West Side Story Anybodys is a wannabe; and what she wants to be is a guy in the gang. In the decades that have followed the premiere of West Side Story the figure of the boyish-woman has appeared many times, occasionally claiming a central role in the narrative. Two plays that explore variations on the tough boyish-woman type are Cherrie Moraga’s The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea, and Luis Alfaro’s Electricidad. What is the relevance of the boyish-woman, and how does she function as a theatrical device?

The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea

Medea comes with a lot of baggage. Her name epitomizes tragic female vengeance: a mother pushed aside for a younger woman by the husband she had saved and brought to power. Variations on the Medea story explore the lengths to which she will go to gain vengeance by accentuating the volatile relationships between herself, her hero husband, and her (usually male) children. Playwright Cherrie Moraga’s riff on the ancient tale imagines Medea in a world created and enacted by a cast of women and one boy (portaying Chac-Mool). The traditional Medea is often presented as having two sons, but Moraga consolidates the two boys into the single heir Chac-Mool. She also invents Luna, a woman significantly younger than Medea who is described in the character list as “Medea’s lover of seven years, a stone mason and clay sculptor.” It is clear before the play begins that Moraga’s Medea will diverge from the standard Greek template, not because of the infusion of additional mythic traditions, but because of the queer aspects she introduces to the Greek story.

Because this narrative presents Medea and Luna as lovers, the assumption is to understand this as a lesbian relationship. Scene One begins with a conversation between Medea and a prison guard, juxtaposing this conversation with a separate scene showing Luna waking and dressing to go visit Medea. We understand Luna’s intent because she is speaking to the woman who is still in her bed. Interspersed with these present-time exchanges is a scene from Medea’s memory of her son Chac-mool being taught to plant corn by Luna. Medea remarks, “And the stonemason’s voice entered me like medicine. Medicine for my brokenness.” Luna walks from memory back to the bedroom, finishes dressing by putting on a “men’s suit jacket” and speaks to the woman in her bed, telling her about Medea and promising to return the next evening. From this we understand that Medea and Luna had once been close, that Luna had been close with Medea’s son, and that Luna has separated herself, at least partially, from Medea. We also understand that we are witnessing the end.

Scene Two brings Luna and Medea together in a time before the prison and the end, discussing a letter that has arrived from Jason announcing his plans to wed a new bride. For their transgression as a same-sex couple the pair along with Medea’s son has been forced into exile in Phoenix. Luna asks Medea if she is jealous, which Medea dismisses claiming instead that she is a rabid dog.

LUNA: You never divorced Jason…why?
MEDEA: You believe in that piece of paper?
LUNA: Yes, when it means you could be taken away from me.
MEDEA: I’m not your custody case. Don’t treat me like one.
LUNA: No, Chac-Mool is. Our son is the custody case.
MEDEA: My son.

This exchange seems to announce Medea’s uncompromising possession of her son, as later she is also unwilling to share Chac-Mool with his father Jason. But one could also read this pronouncement of Medea’s need to be the exclusive parent of Chac-Mool as an extension of her attachment to boyishness. Rather than equating Luna as a female figure who might have equal claim to co-parenting the boy, Luna is actually filling the role of the missing child in the original myth—where Medea has two sons. She is a second boy for Medea, but unlike Chac-Mool who is growing toward man-hood, Luna is an eternal boy who can never achieve manhood, while simultaneously thwarting her womanhood. Later in the play the character Mama Sal explains the parameters of womanhood to Luna:

When you’re a girl, hija, and a Mexican, you learn purty quick that you got only one shot at being a woman and that’s being a mother. […] You go from daughter to mother, and there’s nothing in between. That’s the law of our people written como los diez commandments on the metate stone from the beginning of all time.

Luna has found a place in-between through her boyishness.

Luna identifies herself as a lesbian, and struggles to compel Medea to recognize that they are both lesbians involved in a lesbian relationship. With the question of losing Chac-Mool to Jason Luna observes, “It’s like the thought of losing Chac…no kid between us…and we got nothing to disguise what we are to each other. Maybe for you, Chac-Mool somehow makes us less lesbian.” Throughout the play, Medea resists the label “lesbian,” sometimes by shifting it solely to Luna, and at other times by citing her motherhood.

While others in the play-world, and most observers of the play, regard Luna as a lesbian, Medea slips while drunk and calls her a boy:

MEDEA: Remember how I’d wrap my thighs around your boy’s face. (Holding her face) How come I called it a boy’s face when you’re so female?
LUNA: (Pulling away) Just macha, Medea.
MEDEA: A boy’s hunger, that’s what I saw there in those dark eyes resting between my legs.

Medea trusts the eternal boyhood embodied by Luna. Later in the play, Medea states the danger of a boy growing to manhood, “Betrayal occurs when a boy grows into a man and sees his mother as a woman for the first time. A woman. A thing. A creature to be controlled.” It is the boy embodied by Chac-Mool that Medea seeks to preserve, and is distraught as he passes into manhood:

Can you smell it, Madre? Mi hijo’s manhood. He wears it in his sleep now. In the morning I find it in a heap on the floor, crumpled in his pijama. Like Luna, I bring the soft flannel to my nose. I inhale. No baby smell. No boy. A man moving inside his body. I felt a small rise against my thigh just now, a small beating heart hardening against the place that was once his home. Where is my baby’s sweet softness now?

The deep contradiction this presents is that while she condemns this attraction from Chac-Mool, she celebrates it in Luna. When speaking to Luna about their early lovemaking, Medea describes it like this:

How does it start? How does it vanish? How is it you used to drink from me as if you yourself didn’t taste the same coppered richness when you brought your own bloody fingers to your mouth. As if when you drew a woman’s shape with your sculptor’s hands, you didn’t find the same diosa curves an valleys when you bathed yourself each day. Eres mujer. But for you, falling in love is to think nothing of yourself, your own body. In the beginning all was me.

Medea is not woman-centered, she is not centered outside of her own self at all—she is Medea-centered, which is part of the reason she is unable to recognize herself as lesbian. Medea, the mother, is resistant to queering even in the arms of a woman stonemason. Luna, the boyish-woman who will never achieve manhood survives Medea’s destructive path, but Chac-Mool, who is passing into manhood does not.

In the final image of the play a dying Medea is held in the arms of a ghost Chac-Mool, described by the playwrights as a pieta image. But this is a reverse pieta, the son cradling the dead body of the mother. The mother becomes the boy, the boy becomes the mother.


As Electricidad mourns over the rotting body of her father, she is not happy to be left behind in a world of women. Her brother Orestes is rumored dead in a hit sponsored by their power-grabbing mother, but we know that he is alive and in revenge-school-training on the DL in Vegas. As long as he remains out of bounds Electricidad is surrounded exclusively by women who want her to calm down, come inside the house, and relax. She is having none of it. She separates herself from the other women by staying outside (which is also closer to us as we watch), and by wearing the pure trappings of her “old-school” chola identity: Levi’s, black tank-top, chancla flip-flops, and a layer of baked-on earth left by the Santa Anna winds. In the world of this play, Electricdad is the only character sporting this look in such a male-centric way. She is the boyish-woman who holds the center of this play-world.

Electricidad seeks to fill the hole left by her father. She is determined to hold vigil over his decaying body until… until what? She believes that her brother Orestes has been killed by assassins sent by their mother, and does not have much of a plan. Early in the play she does, however, announce her complete alliance with her father’s way of life:

They don’t know what I’m capable of when it comes to my love and loyalty to you mi rey.
You are the old ways, Papa.
You are the history and the rason we know how to live.
I want to live the old ways, Papa.
Simple and to the point. […]
Why can’t we live the old ways?
She says I act like a man.
I’m not a girl.
I’m a chola!

In this declaration she renounces her womanhood, but what does this leave her? Can she achieve manhood? Her lack of true action in the rest of the play indicates that she cannot. She has renounced her born gender, occupying an in-between state between boyhood and manhood.
Electricidad is surrounded by women. While she remains vigilant and still, they tread through her yard. Her mother Clemencia speaks to her from the house behind her, trying to goad her daughter into giving up her vigil. Electricidad refuses, reminding herself of the power-grab initiated by her mother through the murder of the male family members, “She thought that if she killed you, all the old cholo ways would end.” Instead of ending the old ways with the death of the father and brother, Clemencia galvanized Electricidad into a male oriented place-holder. Clemencia herself is described by the playwright as chola in “evening-wear.” Her clothes are form-fitting, her make-up is fresh, and she wears spiked heals, all in fem/butch contrast to her daughter in the yard.

There is another daughter who comes to the yard who is more aligned with their mother than the father. This is Ifiginia, who in myth was sacrificed by the father and avenged by the mother. In this telling she has been away, sometimes in jail, but more recently as a member of a convent. Dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl, she finds her sister Electricidad in the yard guarding the body and unwilling to share the grief or compromise her position over the body.

ELECTRICIDAD: I am making plans, Ifi. I am going to take her last breath without raising a finger. Just watch me. I am not going to walk away from this body until her stillborn heart rests in my hands. […] Help me destroy her, my hard chola sister, who always lent a fist in the loyalty to the Casa de Atridas.
IFIGINIA: I am out of jail. But I see that you have just entered yours. Your solitude has made you loca, hermana. Your grief ain’t opa, babosa. Don’t let it boil.
ELECTRICIDAD: My grief is the match that fuels the fire of my revenge.

Ifigenia will not help her sister continue the cycle of familial revenge. Electricidad insults her choice of returning to the nuns, calling them “dykes,” further cementing her disdain for anything female.

Later, Clemencia again attempts to demonstrate the similarities between herself and Electricidad:
CLEMENCIA: […] You and I are survivors.
ELECTRICIDAD: No tengo nada in common with you, monster.
CLEMENCIA: You hate me because porque me ves inside of you. We are more alike than you can ever imagine.
CLEMENCIA: […] Hard chola with no friends to call your own. Your sister always in jail, and your little brother too soft for his own good. Little chola whose only friend was your hard papa. He took the soft skin from you and made you a warrior. And you were stupid enough to thank him for it. But why wouldn’t you? You were in love with him.
CLEMENCIA: That ain’t a new sentimiento. I hate me too sometimes.

Comparisons to her mother, or any of the women in her family, enrage Electricidad. She refuses to acknowledge any similarities with her mother, because doing so would crack the image of her father that she has donned. And yet, for all of this man-centered posturing, Electricidada does not take action. She remains, but she does not act. She is like her soft brother, unable to act because they are both locked in boyhood. Orestes, however, has an option because he is capable of entering manhood. He seizes manhood by taking action: exacting revenge for the murder of his father. At his sister’s bidding, he bleeds the life from their mother. Together the brother and sister create a whole-being capable of committing this terrible act. Separately they would have failed. In the myth Orestes becomes the responsible party and faces trial while Electra’s story ends. Here too, Electricidad is unable to progress alongside her brother. She is forever a boyish-woman, unable to continue alongside her brother into manhood. Will that ever be enough?

When You’re A Jet

The boyish-woman is a liminal figure. As represented by these plays she is a figure trapped by her choice to forgo womanhood. A perpetual boyhood is possible, but ultimately unfulfilling, because the boys in these plays are incapable of significant action.

Returning to Anybodys in West Side Story, the result of her final verbal exchange is telling.  As a tag-a-long to the Jets, she was in a position to save Tony from being captured by the police after the rumble at the end of Act One.  She also manages to infiltrate the rival gang’s territory and overhear Chino’s plan to kill Tony.  After delivering this news to the Jets, they disperse in an attempt to circumvent Chino’s retaliation on Action’s orders.  As the Jets disperse, Anybodys wants her instructions and asks Action, the new leader of the Jets, for an assignment like the other gang members:
ANYBODYS: What about me?
ACTION: You?  You get a hold of the girls and send ‘em out as liason runners so we’ll know who’s found Tony where.
(She starts to run off.)
ACTION: Hey! (She stops.) You done good buddy boy.
ANYBOYS: (She has fallen in love) Thanks, Daddy-o. 
(They both run off.)  

Love.  This qualifier to her final line of dialogue redeems her.  She passes from the liminal, eternal boyhood into the beginnings of womanhood because she has fallen in love with a man.  Unlike Luna who loves women, or Electricidad who loves her father and nobody else, it is possible for Anybodys to discard boyishness and claim a place as a young woman.  While this possibility lingers for Electricidad and Luna, the worlds of their tragedies do not allow their passage into the world of full womanhood.  They are forever boyish-women, trapped by inaction either of their own construction or societal impasses.  They are denied a form to grow into; their potential goes unrealized— at least for now.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I read this book like my life depended on it -- because it does.

Outrageous Fortune, the Life and Times of the New American Play
is a vital snapshot of the current division between the goals of working playwrights and the artistic directors producing new American plays.

The book does not seek to answer the questions it poses about this creative divide: where playwrights see diminishing production opportunities within the perpetual "development" process offered by most theaters while artistic directors claim that playwrights aren't considering the needs of the general audience and no one is writing large plays. Playwrights counter that without mainstage production opportunities they are forced to write "small" for 4 actors or less and a single set contained in a blackbox "experimental" space.

The writers lay their research bare - and it's up to the readers - the people making theater happen - to use this knowledge to make informed change.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


There is a scene in Ariadne on the Island where the two women pluck and disembowel chickens. Because this play has only been heard in a reading or viewed as quasi-staged reading with music stands, the problem posed by the staging of plucking and cleaning of the birds has yet to be solved in theatrical terms. While people like the scene, it never fails to elicit the comment, "Yeah, but, how are you gonna do the chickens?"

I always answer, "Nothing is real in the theater - and chickens are easy."

Of course, "easy" may not be the best word - but something like how to handle chicken plucking is a minor conundrum compared to solving the broader complexities of the play-world... and yet -- How we gonna do the chickens? It turns out - simple!

The plasticity of the play-world in Ariadne holds the key. One of the things that the readers of play enjoy about the world is that it is constructed from barrels of various sizes, nets, boards, ropes, and a few benches. The elements are rearranged throughout the play to define and create the spaces that the characters inhabit. In a world that is constructed of wood, ropes and nets in various configurations, why can't chickens be made from knots of heavy ropes? The ropes would lend themselves to the illusion of dead weight, and small bits of white cloth could be pressed into the knots and braids to be "plucked" as feathers.

Ta-dah! An elegant solution to a sticky problem.

And this solution came about through an intermission convo with a tech-guy during the first public showing of the play at a workshop. Now that solution is included on the front-page of production notes and descriptions. When public workshops of new plays inspire that kind of inquiry and problem solving -- yea workshops!

All out blitz

I am beginning the planning stages for an all-out submission blitz for Ariadne on the Island. After the wonderful week in Portland, and the strong rewrites - I am optimistic about this play's potential. I've been hunkering down with the Dramatists Guild Directory, highlighter and pencil in hand, and making my plan.

I am primarily targeting theaters that want to see samples. I don't like throwing whole scripts at theaters on blind submissions, unless the theater is one of my top 15 targets. Otherwise it costs about $7 to copy and bind a script - plus anywhere from $4 to $6.50 to mail a whole script. I'd rather spend the $1 or so to send 10 pages and a resume. Most theaters are only reading 10 pages of text anyway - regardless of the number you send. I've had much greater success sending inquiries to theaters than whole scripts. If they're interested, they'll ask for the whole thing - and it will be a priority to read. Sending a script blind just puts it in a pile to nowhere more often than not.

I'm up the "F's" in the Directory - guess I'll crack open a Saturday afternoon beer and continue to peruse.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lonely playwright

At a dinnertime talk a few years ago at the O'Neill Theater Center, Romulus Linney spoke to the assembled playwrights. It was casual, all of us sitting in a circle with our plates on our laps. He was sharing a lifetime of wisdom about the career of a playwright, and one of the most remarkable things I recall was him stating, "A playwright in residence at a regional theater is about the loneliest person in America." As I'm sitting typing this in a lovely apartment provided by a regional theater where I eat my meals alone, watching the local news, I know that Mr. Linney was speaking true.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Me in Portland, ME

Arrived late this afternoon in Portland, ME - in time for tomorrow's Little Festival of the Unexpected meet-and-greet at the Portland Stage Company. I have a day and a half before work begins on my play, so tomorrow I'll be checking out a few of the local attractions and do some shopping. I'll also take my camera out and about and post some pix from around town in the days to come.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Little Festival of the Unexpected May 11-15 2010

The schedule of plays for the
Little Festival of the Unexpected
Portland Stage Company
Portland, ME

The Center of Gravity by Gregory Hischak
Wednesday, May 12 @ 7:00
Saturday, May 15 @ 7:30

Ariadne on the Island by Kato McNickle
Thursday, May 13 @ 7:00
Saturday, May 15 @ 3:00

Tigers Be Still by Kim Rosenstock
Tuesday, May 11 @ 7:00
Saturday, May 15 @ 12:00

For more info or to purchase tickets online go here:

or call Mon-Sat : 1pm-7pm : 207-774-0465

Advance Tickets: $10 (plus handling fees)

In Person: Mon-Sat : 1pm-7pm : Pay-what-you Can
Suggested donation $10

All seats are general admission

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi: A Star Wars Cabaret

At last the students of Ledyard High School and I have found a viable topic for an original show: Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi: A Star Wars Cabaret.

Did STAR WARS change life as we know it? The Ledyard High School Drama Club will present a collection of parodies, songs, and personal stories about the iconic film STAR WARS, its influence, and continued relevance to American culture. The performance event titled “Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi” has been created by the students at Ledyard High School with the club director and local playwright Kato McNickle to be performed at Ledyard High School May 6 & 7, 2010 7:30 PM. All proceeds from the performance will benefit the Matt Buriak Scholarship Fund in memory of the LHS junior who died this past fall. For more information visit the Facebook Group STAR WARS STORIES or e-mail StarWarsStories@aol.com
The students of LHS Drama have been collecting first person narratives, essays, and other primary source material to create an original cabaret-mélange inspired by the STAR WARS films. By collecting narratives from diverse sources the students will perform a living documentary cobbled from the words of famous STAR WARS geeks like Kevin Smith, academic philosophers like Joseph Campbell, the actual words of STAR WARS creator George Lucas, and personal narratives collected exclusively for this production through interviews from regular people around the world for whom STAR WARS was a significant event. The evening will also pay homage to STAR WARS inspired works, like Robot Chicken’s Papa Palpatine, Kevin Smith’s dialogue about the contract workers on board the second Death Star from CLERKS, and a song medley borrowed from Moose Butter. Of course there will be a requisite lightsaber battle somewhere.

Friday, February 26, 2010


The Moby Project is a no-go this semester after a less-than-enthusiastic turn-out for actors. While the project is on-hold for now, I have been invited to workshop it at The Dragons Egg, and will be sending it out to other schools looking for a challenging production opportunity.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Currently at work on an adaptation of MOBY DICK for the students of Ledyard High School to perform this spring. Started reading the hefty book just before Christmas - making plenty of notes across many pages. Some of the folks at the Mystic Seaport have been helping with it. Now I'm 3/4 of the way through ACT I - and have a read-thru schedules with my playwright buds next Sunday. Arrrg! Back to work!