Tag Archives: 365 plays

197: Trafford Tanzi

19 Jan

Trafford Tanzi is excellent. Written and originally performed in 1980, I’m not surprised to see that it’s had a renaissance and been in production in America as recently as 2010.

Trafford Tanzi

Claire Luckham’s play is a wonderful mix of physical theatre, live music and wrestling. Yes, all the actors need to be able to sing and to wrestle.

Trafford Tanzi is set in a wrestling ring and is almost vaudevillian at times.The audience is encouraged to boo and whistle and cheer and the action of the story is told through wrestling holds and throws.

REFEREE: Ladies and gentlemen, The Trafford Tanzi Story. See Tanzi grow from nappies to netball. Watch her fall in love, discover the harsh realities of the wrestling world, invent that deadly hold the Venus Flytrap. See her use it to destroy her enemies as she climbs to the top of her profession. […] In the red corner, ladies and gentlemen: Trafford Tanzi. There she is, and she’s just toddling. She’s one year old. A baby. (TANZI falls over and goos.) In the blue corner, her opponent for Round One, her mum, a mum in a million.

Tanzi’s mum calls her daughter over and then pushes her over and sings a song about how disappointing it was to have a girl, while ‘head maring’, ‘posting’ and ‘punching’ her daughter.

The play has a wonderfully surreal quality as it plays with stereotypes, juxtaposes parental and schoolyard taunts with the world of professional wrestling and turns verbal slights into physical abuse. When Tanzi’s husband puts her down, it’s literal as well as figurative. When her Dad browbeats her, her head really does get slammed into the floor.

DAD: (Applying pressure to various ‘leg locks’) Get yourself a decent feller. One that’ll want to marry you, not fiddle about with you up them back alleys. Come on. It’s all your Mum and Dad ever wanted.

TANZI: But it would be the same as up them alleys except I’d be married. (She tries to raise her head through this next but Dad keeps slamming it back.) I don’t want to get married. (Slam.) I want me independence. (Slam.) I want a career. (Slam.) I want to be somebody! (Slam.)

DAD: Somebody! A slut, the way you’re going on. A wife is somebody, isn’t she? Are you saying your mother isn’t somebody?

The play is a strongly feminist piece about a woman finding her own strength and courage but I also liked the way it played with the highly theatrical and staged world of professional wrestling. Trafford Tanzi resonates and amuses on lots of levels.

Publisher: Methuen (in Plays by Women: Volume 2)

Cast: 3M, 3F


196: Letters Home

15 Jan

I was a huge Sylvia Plath fan in my late teens through to my late twenties. The visceral passion of her poetry mixed with her tragic story made compelling drama in my mind. I read The Bell Jar and wept, feeling as though she’d stepped into my head. As I grew older and more settled in myself, I lost my obsession with Sylvia and moved on to healthier role models.

Sylvia Plath with her mother and her two children, Devon 1962

Sylvia Plath with her mother and her two children, Devon 1962

Just out of college, I joined with three close friends to write a play about Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Adrienne Rice. We composed it from their poems and it was a homage to women, to poetry and to passion.

So, today’s play brought back lots of memories. Letters Home was written by Rose Leiman Goldemberg from Sylvia Plath’s correspondence with her mother Aurelia Schober Plath (also available as a book with the same title). Goldemberg has relied entirely on the letters and, surprisingly, not used any of Sylvia’s formidable poems.

It makes for a fairly one-sided play. A play about a relationship between a mother and daughter where we hear, almost solely, the daughter’s voice. But the voice we are hearing is the voice she wanted her mother to hear. There are moments of despair as she battles depression, but also plenty of euphoric, girlish excitement at college, boyfriends, clothes and writing.

What is particularly telling about the letters is Sylvia Plath’s constant putting men before herself. She writes about meeting Ted Hughes:

AURELIA: The most shattering thing is that I have fallen terribly in love, which can only lead to great hurt.
SYLVIA: The strongest man in the world, ex-Cambridge, brilliant poet, whose work I loved before I met him, a large, hulking, healthy Adam, half-French, half-Irish,
AURELIA: with a voice like the thunder of God! – a singer, story-teller, lion and world-wanderer, a vagabond who will never stop.

Later, she writes:

SYLVIA: Dearest, dearest Mother,
If only you could see, wherever Ted and I go people seem to love us.
My whole thought is how to please him.
The joy of being a loved and loving woman; that is my song.

When Ted’s book wins a major prize, Sylvia writes: “I am so happy Ted’s book is accepted first! Genius will out!” Followed by, “I can rejoice much more, knowing Ted is ahead of me!” This is a product of the times (the letters were written between Sylvia’s college days in the 1950s and her death in 1963) but also symptomatic of the fault line that runs through their relationship.

I wanted more of the rage that pulses through the poems, like ‘Lesbos’, which finishes with these lines:

Now I am silent, hate
Up to my neck,
Thick, thick.
I do not speak.
I am packing the hard potatoes like good clothes,
I am packing the babies,
I am packing the sick cats.
O vase of acid,
It is love you are full of. You know who you hate.
He is hugging his ball and chain down by the gate
That opens to the sea
Where it drives in, white and black,
Then spews it back.
Every day you fill him with soul-stuff, like a pitcher.
You are so exhausted.
Your voice my ear-ring,
Flapping and sucking, blood-loving bat.
That is that. That is that.
You peer from the door,
Sad hag. “Every woman’s a whore.
I can’t communicate.”

I see your cute decor
Close on you like the fist of a baby
Or an anemone, that sea
Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac.
I am still raw.
I say I may be back.
You know what lies are for.

Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet.

Publisher: Methuen (published in Plays by Women: volume two)

Cast: 2F

195: Hidden

12 Jan

Hidden by Michael Rohd and Laura Eason is another play in the Ethnodrama anthology. This one explores the themes of Anne Frank’s diary to look at how they relate to contemporary US culture. Interviews and research were conducted in much the way that any playwright would when writing a play on a particular subject.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

I find it a little difficult to see what makes Hidden an ethnodrama and wonder if any play that uses interviews with real people as a basis for the play’s development would then be classified ethnodrama …

Perhaps because it was always intended to be a play (as opposed to being academic research that was later turned into a play), I found Hidden one of the strongest plays in Ethnodrama.

The play begins with a monologue from an elderly survivor of the Holocaust. She describes how she was separated from her mother in Auschwitz and sent to a work camp in Germany, peeling potatoes in an SS kitchen for the gigantic German woman who saved her.

Hidden explores the bystander phenomenon physically and through the text. There’s a harrowing account of the murder of all the Jews in a village in Eastern Europe.

JONO: So one day, my father gets me up early in the morning.
RYAN: Now you have to remember, this is Eastern Europe
JONO: He tells me to be quiet, to follow him.
RYAN: the late 1930s
JONO: There’s a gathering of other men, and boys my age. And women. The women are here, too.
JONO: I hear the sound of sleepy footsteps. I see the breath of hundreds of my neighbors making a cloud of mist as they wearily, curiously trudge towards the centre of town.
RYAN: You cannot judge my friend.
JONO: And suddenly, I see my friend, and his family in this crowd. And I realize, this crowd – they are all Jews.
RYAN: You cannot hold him accountable.
JONO: And I – I am standing in a mob of gentiles.
RYAN: He was a boy – barely a young man.
JONO: The men around me, workers. They have guns. The women, stones.

Together, the townsfolk kill their neighbours. Wiping out 60% of their community in a single day.

Scenes like this one are contrasted with contemporary scenes where bigotry, racism and patriotism are shown as they affect us now. A girl describes her terror at driving in the ‘wrong’ neighbourhood and finding the road blocked by a van that’s stopped in the middle of the street.

JENN: And there are these two guys, two black guys, just standing outside it talking really loudly. […] I’m trying not to panic, making sure all the doors are locked, trying to figure out what to do and suddenly, I see a couple other black guys join the first two. So, now it’s a group of like 5 or 6, all talking and laughing.

The guys try to get her to drive past but she’s afraid and when two of them walk towards her car she panics and drives the wrong way down a one-way street to get away. Instead of it being seen as an over-reaction, her classmates and teachers tell her she’s lucky to be alive.

While Hidden is most definitely a ‘message play’ and tells rather than shows its stories, it contains powerful messages and some strong and moving scenes.

Publisher: AltaMira Press (Published in Ethnodrama:an anthology of reality theatre)

Cast: 3M, 3F

193: Rites

5 Jan

I found Rites by Maureen Duffy in an anthology of women’s plays published in 1983. Interestingly, Rites wasn’t written in that year: it was first performed in 1969 when it was directed by Joan Plowright.

Maureen Duffy

Maureen Duffy

One of the best things about Rites is its large, all-female cast. Set in a public toilet, Duffy loosely based the play on Euripides’ The Bacchae. We meet the cleaners, the office girls using the toilets, a pair of elderly women, a mother and son, a homeless woman, and more.

Ada is the cleaning lady in charge and we never see her lift a finger except to do her own makeup. She’s angling for a promotion and regales Meg, who does all the work, with stories of her affairs.

MEG: Was he lovely?
ADA: Who?
MEG: Last night.
ADA: I’ve had better. Not bad. All right for a weeknight. I like to keep it a bit quiet. Wouldn’t do for a Saturday though. No dash. I like a bit of dash of a weekend. Not much staying power either. If they haven’t got dash or staying power there’s not much left except a Thursday. Getting over the hump of the week I call it.

Duffy starts the play with humorous banter between the women as they discuss their men and their prospects and the toilets appear a popular meeting place. But things start to get darker and more sinister when a mother brings her toddling son (a life size doll) into the ladies and Ada demands that she send him out.

ADA: Isn’t he a little old to be still coming down here? Time he found his own way about in the world.
MEG: Madam asked you a question. It’s time he stuck to his own side of the fence.

The cossetted child is picked up by his mother while the rest of the women exclaim over his feminine curls and decide to prove whether he’s really a boy by stripping him. This happens early in the piece and sets the tone for the sort of mob mentality that will later prove fatal.

In 1969 Rites was considered shocking and it still has moments to catch the breath.

ADA: Bastard men! Get a man, she says. I’ll get him right where I want him. He thinks because I’m flat on my back he’s got me but I’ve got him; caught, clenched as if I had my teeth in him. ‘Come in,’ I say all soft and I squeeze him tight, loving as a boa constrictor. And they’re wild for it. They swoon and cry and die in my arms and come back for more. ‘Screw me,’ I whisper and they pound and pant in their pitiful climaxes they think so earth shaking. ‘That was a good one,’ they say and then I make them pay for it.
DOT: It’s only like a sneeze when all’s said and done.

Publisher: Methuen (in Plays by Women: Volume Two)

Cast: 12F

192: Colder

3 Jan

Lachlan Philpott wrote Colder after a close friend (Simon Knight) went missing and didn’t come back. In his play, David is a gay man in his mid thirties who has been missing once before, when he was seven.

Bison and Colder

At that time, David and his mother were atDisneyland, queuing for a ride. Past and present weave together throughout Colder as the action shifts from David’s first disappearance to his second, possibly permanent one.

There’s his mother, Robyn, played at 33, frantic in Disneyland and also at 59, a woman trying to keep things safe by locking them in Tupperware. There’s his best friend Kay, pregnant and alone. There’s his latest lover, Ed, and a parade of one-night stands.

The language is densely poetic, sentences overlap and different characters in different times finish off each other’s thoughts.

ED/ROBYN59: Will all these questions help

ED: I don’t know what was going on all I know is that he has …

KAY: That David isn’t anywhere to be found. We’ve called, we’ve looked we’ve searched and he has gone.

There’s also repetition to reinforce the musical rhythm of the language.

ROBYN59: I stare at her. Blink and wait for things to go back to colour.

ED: I stare at her and wait for him to jump out from behind something and laugh

KAY: Stare at her and wait for the colour that drained to return.

ED: Stare as she fiddles with a pen

ROBYN59: Hear her breath shorten, as the gap between when I asked and when she answers stretches out forever.

Colder is almost a radio play in its lyric description and lack of physical action. David is an enigma, his monologue near the end of the play raising more questions than it answers. Readers and audiences will strive to solve the puzzle because we can’t bear the loose strings, the not knowing. But in the real world most puzzles aren’t resolved. Some people disappear and never come back.

The closest we get to finding out what happened to David at the theme park is this, a few sentences sandwiched in another conversation, easy to miss:

DAVID: If I am away for a little while it won’t matter, while you are losing something in your bag, while you are rummaging for something in your pocket while you are humming something in your mouth while you are grimacing at the sun shielding your eyes and checking the map. Just a few steps.

Did he walk away and hide or was he taken when he left his mother’s side? Like his mother, we never know what happened to David in the theme park and, like everyone who loves him, we never know what happened to him as an adult. His mother’s desperate pledge is just words, weighted only by breath and longing…

ROBYN33: I will rip out my eyes and glue them to your feet to follow you everywhere you could go.

Publisher: Playlab Press (Published with Bison)

Cast: 3F, 3M

191: Mountain Language

2 Jan

Apologies first for the long gap in posting. A holiday from work, blogging and even play-reading was needed. But now it’s 2012 and, hopefully, I’ll get back into the swing of things.

Boat on Lake Cootharaba

Holidays at Lake Cootharaba

Today’s play seemed a quick way to ease myself back, but looks can be deceiving. Harold Pinter’s Mountain Language is dense with symbolism, meaning and emotion but sparse on the word count, which makes it a very quick read but one that needs to be mulled over and considered for a long time after finishing.

Mountain Language is a brutal assault of a play. Pinter specifically wrote it to be set anywhere and applicable everywhere. It is a play comprising four brief vignettes or scenes set around and inside a prison. There is torture and systematic oppression but most of it is implied rather than shown on stage.

The prison guards are part of the ruling class/culture/race and have outlawed the mountain language spoken by the people of the area.

OFFICER: Your language is forbidden. It is dead. No one is allowed to speak your language. Your language no longer exists.

Waiting to find a loved one are an elderly and a young woman. They are the mother and wife of a man held prisoner and the elderly woman’s hand has been bitten by a guard dog.

OFFICER: Who did this? Who bit you?
YOUNG WOMAN: A Dobermann pinscher.
OFFICER: Which one? […] What was his name? […] Every dog has a name. They answer to their name. They are given a name by their parents and that is their name, that is their name! Before they bite, they state their name. It’s a formal procedure. They state their name and then they bite.

The officers’ rules and statements are absurd, but the way they are delivered and received let the reader/audience know they are deadly serious. To ask a question or make a statement is dangerous. To simply exist or speak your own language or even look a particular way is a potential death sentence. Reason and argument no longer exist in this brutal regime.

This is why Mountain Language could be anywhere. It’s a play for every regime that has persecuted the indigenous population, for every fanatic group that sets out to destroy other religions, for occupied countries all over the world.  Those of us who live in countries with freedom of speech and dress and personal rights are fortunate indeed.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 6M, 2F

190: That Face

13 Dec

The hoopla about Polly Stenham’s first play, That Face, tends to focus on her age when she wrote it (she was just 19 when it premiered at the Royal Court) so it was interesting to read it today without the attendant fuss and get a feel simply for the words on the page.

Polly Stenham

Polly Stenham

That Face is a play about a seriously dysfunctional family, codependency and female bullying. At the play’s heart (the spider in the web) is Martha. She’s alcoholic, drug dependent and reliant on her son to get her through the day … and the night. Mia, her daughter, is about to be expelled from school for drugging and torturing a younger girl in a sick initiation rite and Henry, her son, is trying to save Martha from herself and another round of institutionalisation.

It’s bleak material, written with no holds barred and not a trace of sentimentality. The lines are quick, pointed and often funny. The play is well constructed and, although the payoff is obvious from almost the beginning, it still manages to shock in places.

From the opening scene with a young girl tied to a chair while two older girls torture her, That Face sets out to confront and challenge audiences. But because it chooses a dysfunctional family as its main focus, it runs up against the many dark family dramas already out there. Whether Edward Albee, Sam Shepard or Tennessee Williams, the goal posts are set ridiculously high.

That the dysfunctional family in That Face is British, upper class and moneyed is one distinction. That Polly Stenham wrote it while still so young is the major distinction. She is clearly an amazing talent. I hope the accolades and comparisons to playwriting’s greatest don’t freeze her in her tracks before she has a chance to really hit her stride.

Published by Faber and Faber

Cast: 4F, 2M