Wednesday, May 1, 2013

American Plays and Playwrights

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, May 1, 2013 at 6:30pm in the Library’s Conference Room and we will be discussing books that have been made into movies.  Additional threads of discussion may include tv shows adapted from books, movies adapted from books, who we’d like to see cast in certain roles, etc.  The sky’s the limit!

Our discussion last evening was about American plays and playwrights.  

The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash
At the time of a paralyzing drought in the West we discover a girl whose father and two brothers are worried as much about her becoming an old maid as they are about their dying cattle. For the truth is, she is indeed a plain girl. The brothers try every possible scheme to marry her off, but without success. Nor is there any sign of relief from the dry heat. When suddenly from out of nowhere appears a picaresque character with a mellifluous tongue and the most grandiose notions a man could imagine. He claims to be a rainmaker. And he promises to bring rain, for $100. It's a silly idea, but the rainmaker is so refreshing and ingratiating that the family finally consent. Forthwith they begin banging on big brass drums to rattle the sky; while the rainmaker turns his magic on the girl, and persuades her that she has a very real beauty of her own. And she believes it, just as her father believes the fellow can actually bring rain. And rain does come, and so does love. 

Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays by Steve Martin
Steve Martin is one of America's most treasured actors, having appeared in some of the most popular moves of our time. He is also an accomplished screenwriter who has in the past few years turned his hand to writing plays. The results, collected here, hilariously explore serious questions of love, happiness and the meaning of life; they are rich with equal parts of pain and slapstick humour, torment and wit.

Stories from Jonestown by Leigh Fondakowski
The saga of Jonestown didn’t end on the day in November 1978 when more than nine hundred Americans died in a mass murder-suicide in the Guyanese jungle. While only a handful of people present at the agricultural project survived that day in Jonestown, more than eighty members of Peoples Temple, led by Jim Jones, were elsewhere in Guyana on that day, and thousands more members of the movement still lived in California. 

Emmy-nominated writer Leigh Fondakowski, who is best known for her work on the play and HBO film The Laramie Project, spent three years traveling the United States to interview these survivors, many of whom have never talked publicly about the tragedy. Using more than two hundred hours of interview material, Fondakowski creates intimate portraits of these survivors as they tell their unforgettable stories.

Collectively this is a record of ordinary people, stigmatized as cultists, who after the Jonestown massacre were left to deal with their grief, reassemble their lives, and try to make sense of how a movement born in a gospel of racial and social justice could have gone so horrifically wrong—taking with it the lives of their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters. As these survivors look back, we learn what led them to join the Peoples Temple movement, what life in the church was like, and how the trauma of Jonestown’s end still affects their lives decades later.

What emerges are portrayals both haunting and hopeful—of unimaginable sadness, guilt, and shame but also resilience and redemption. Weaving her own artistic journey of discovery throughout the book in a compelling historical context, Fondakowski delivers, with both empathy and clarity, one of the most gripping, moving, and humanizing accounts of Jonestown ever written.

Doubt by John Patrick Shanley
In this brilliant and powerful drama, Sister Aloysius, a Bronx school principal, takes matters into her own hands when she suspects the young Father Flynn of improper relations with one of the male students.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: The reader mentioned that “Doubt” is on about 58 pages long and yet a full length play AND feature length film have been adapted from it.  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, despite its brevity, was also adapted to a lengthy feature film.

Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring
The play, a clever combination of the farcical and the macabre, centers on two elderly sisters who are famous in their Brooklyn neighborhood for their numerous acts of charity. Unfortunately, however, their charity includes poisoning lonely old men who come to their home looking for lodging. The two women are assisted in their crimes by their mentally challenged nephew who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and who frequently blasts a bugle and yells "charge" as he bounds up the stairs. Matters get complicated when a second nephew, a theater critic, discovers the murders and a third nephew appears after having just escaped from a mental institution. In his adroit mixture of comedy and mayhem, Kesselring satirizes the charitable impulse as he pokes fun at the conventions of the theater.

My Name is Julia by Kathryn Tucker Windham
Kathryn Tucker Windham, who grew up in Thomasville, Alabama, lived in Selma, Alabama.  She told stories in 28 states as well as in Canada and Germany; wrote 26 books in addition to the publication of telling her stories in numerous audiocassettes and compact discs; Recipient of the Helen Keller Literary Award; Recipient of President’s Award for Service to Alabama Libraries; Recipient of the Storytelling Circle of Excellence Award; Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Storytelling Association. 

Some of her best storytelling ventures have been as an actress…especially in the one-woman she wrote, produced, and acted in, My Name Is Julia, about pioneering social reformer Julia Tutwiler, Kathryn Tucker Windham was also an accomplished photographer, renowned historian, popular public television and radio personality. As a contributor to National Public Radio, Kathryn Tucker Windham won national acclaim for her segments for “All Things Considered.”

Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
This is the book that started it all! The basis for the smash hit Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Gregory Maguire's breathtaking New York Times bestseller Wicked views the land of Oz, its inhabitants, its Wizard, and the Emerald City, through a darker and greener (not rosier) lens. Brilliantly inventive, Wicked offers us a radical new evaluation of one of the most feared and hated characters in all of literature: the much maligned Wicked Witch of the West who, as Maguire tells us, wasn’t nearly as Wicked as we imagined.

The Book of Mormon: The Testament of the Broadway Musical by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
The biggest Broadway hit in decades—the brilliant brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez—The Book of Mormon is delighting theatergoers nightly with its outrageous irreverent humor and surprising heart. Cleverly designed in the same fun spirit as the show, this official, full-color illustrated coffee table book takes readers behind the scenes with stories from the cast, creators, and crew. Included are the complete book and lyrics to the smash hit Broadway musical, extensively annotated, plus an original introduction by theater critic and author author Steven Suskin about the creation of the show that Rolling Stone declares "is on its march into legend."

The Book of Mormon Script Book: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
The only official companion book to the Tony Award winner for Best Musical from the creators ofSouth Park and the co-creator of Avenue Q. Features the complete script and song lyrics, with 4-color spot illustrations throughout, an original introduction by the creators, and a foreword by Mark Harris.

The Book of Mormon, which follows a pair of mismatched Mormon boys sent on a mission to a place that's about as far from Salt Lake City as you can get, features book, music, and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone.
Parker and Stone are the four-time Emmy Award–winning creators of Comedy Central's landmark animated series South Park. Tony Award–winner Lopez is co-creator of the long-running hit musical comedy Avenue Q. The Book of Mormon is choreographed by three-time Tony Award–nominee Casey Nicholaw (Monty Python's Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone) and is directed by Nicholaw and Parker.

The book includes • an original foreword by journalist Mark Harris (author of Pictures at a Revolution) • an original introduction by the authors on the genesis of the show • a production history • the complete book and lyrics, with four-color spot illustrations throughout.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (Part 1: Millennium Approaches, Part 2: Perestroika) by Tony Kushner
Set in New York City in the mid-1980s, Act One introduces us to the central characters. Louis Ironson is a Jewish homosexual living with his lover, Prior Walter. When Prior contracts Aids, Louis, unable to cope with the strain, moves out. Meanwhile, closeted Mormon and Republican clerk Joe Pitt, is offered a major promotion by his mentor: Roy Cohn. As the play progresses, Prior finds himself being visited by ghosts and angels. Joe, realizing he might be gay, finds himself struggling to reconcile his religion with his sexuality; Louis deals with his remorse and guilt at abandoning Prior; Joe's mother Hannah moves to New York to look after Joe's wife, Harper; and Roy finds himself in hospital, his only companions being his nurse Belize, an ex-drag queen and good friend of Prior, and the ghost of Communist Ethel Rosenberg.

Elephant’s Graveyard by George Brant
Winner of the 2008 Keene Prize for Literature 
Winner of the 2008 David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award Elephant's Graveyard is the true tale of the tragic collision of a struggling circus and a tiny town in Tennessee, which resulted in the only known lynching of an elephant. Set in September of 1916, the play combines historical fact and legend, exploring the deep-seated American craving for spectacle, violence and revenge. 

Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill
Long Day's Journey into Nightis a drama in four acts written by American playwright Eugene O'Neill in 1941–42 but only published in 1956. The play is widely considered to be his masterwork. O'Neill posthumously received the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work.  The action covers a fateful, heart-rending day from around 8:30 am to midnight, in August 1912 at the seaside Connecticut home of the Tyrones - the semi-autobiographical representations of O'Neill himself, his older brother, and their parents at their home, Monte Cristo Cottage.

One theme of the play is addiction and the resulting dysfunction of the family. All three males are alcoholics and Mary is addicted to morphine. In the play the characters conceal, blame, resent, regret, accuse and deny in an escalating cycle of conflict with occasional desperate and sincere attempts at affection, encouragement and consolation.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a brilliant, but inky dark work about a dysfunctional family.  Margaret Atwood’s short story, Stone Mattress, is just as dark, but also equally powerful. 

That's what we talked about.  What are YOU reading?

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