Working Title: Pint Sized Recommendations…or One Llama to Rule them All

This week Will Leschber discusses Pint Sized Play Festival film pairings with Stuart Bousel, Emma Rose Shelton & Rob Ready.

Reflecting on this year’s upcoming Pint-Sized Play Festival has led me to realize what I miss about being at university. The constant consumption of new things and new ideas is the lure, and, of course, those things are generally missed. But the crux, the essential thing that I pine for, is the structured ascension. You feel as if your path is laid before you and that you are constantly improving and growing as you walk down the road towards knowledge…or maybe the road was just leading to semester’s end. Either way, it’s easy at times in our daily lives, our daily grinds, to feel stagnant and/or circling or floating with less aim than we used to know in the past. There is an absence of hope in aimlessness. But the powerful thing is that we are all moving forward, and the trick is to remind yourself that your constant road can be one that ascends, if you mind the way. Nothing like an annual event to rock us back to reflection…or maybe drinking like we are college kids!

Of all the pints, in all the bars, in all the world…you had to laugh into mine.

Of all the pints, in all the bars, in all the world…you had to laugh into mine.

It is time again for the Pint-Sized Plays. This jovial event comes but once a year and it is glorious. A fruitful fun evening that turns over a handful of laughs in the time it takes to finish a beer. This may not obviously link to an evening of what you may call ascension… but many things can be found in the swirls of a pint glass. The quick cycle of the night is part of the allure. If this play isn’t for you, finish your beer and worry not, for another play is 10 minutes away…and maybe another beer too. 😉 Our constant companion in the years that we’ve seen Theater Pub’s Pint Sized Plays has been the Llama. His pint consumption knows no bottom. His wisdom knows no limits. And his beard is just spectacular.

rob-ready-llama

The three pillars of this year’s Llamalogue who I had the pleasure to speak with are Stuart Bousel, Theater Pub’s Executive Director, Bay Area Ringmaster and playwright of the infamous Llamalogues; Emma Rose Shelton, all-around wonder woman and director of this year’s “Llama VI”; and of course, Rob Ready, Artistic Director of PianoFight and the amazing aforementioned bearded Llama himself.

To get you in the headspace of the Llama (oh God NO…you say…don’t worry, it’ll be OK…this will all wear off in the morning) and the Pint-Sized Plays in general, we have three recommended film pairings to play along with the festival’s themes and schemes.

Lets start with the the Rob-a-Llama recommendation…ready, steady, drink and go!

The Apartment, the 1960 classic directed by Billy Wilder and starring the splendid Jack Lemmon and stunning Shirley Maclaine… To move up the ladder at work, Lemmon lets executives use his apartment for their affairs… hilarity and heartbreak ensue. It’s kind of a similar aesthetic and tone [to our dear Llama]…Lemmon does a ton of over-the-top physical comedy in the role while also coming off as a grounded, fully-fleshed-out person with a big heart. Most of the film is really funny, but there are parts that just tear at your heartstrings. And I think that’s roughly what the Llamalogues aim to do.

The Apartment foreign

Well said, and great recommendation! Now let’s hear what Llamalogue director Emma Rose Shelton has to pair with the indomitable Llama…

Groundhog Day, the 1993 Bill Murray comedy classic… There’s something about Bill Murray’s character coming back each time needing to learn the same lesson and just failing miserably at it. Something about him trying to figure his shit out while being lovably melancholy and self-loathing reminds me of our Llama.

God I love that Punxsutawney Phil. Don't drive angry. Don't drive angry!

God I love that Punxsutawney Phil. Don’t drive angry. Don’t drive angry!

OK, last but not least since this is supposed to be the length of a beer…a slowly nursed beer. Let’s get to Stuart Bousel and close this mother out. Bousel brings to the table a beautiful and less well-known film…but boy is it a treat.

Sally Potter’s Orlando, 1992… Sally Potter, perhaps one of the most underrated filmmakers in the world, is one of my favorite directors, and her film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is, like the source material, many many things. For me, the film is about finding your place in the world, and not just the world, but time itself, coming to terms with the infiniteness of human experience but also the limited scope of any one life, including your own. Or in less fancy speak: it’s about accepting your own mortality, and by doing so, finally beginning to really live. It’s no big secret Theater Pub is coming to an end this year, though Pint-Sized may continue. Will the Llama continue with it? I rather hope so. But I have already decided it won’t be me writing it anymore. So this last Llamalogue is my kiss goodbye to this incredible, rewarding, and demanding period of my life that I’ve loved living through and am also looking forward to having behind me so I can move on to other things. As the angel sings at the end of the film, while Orlando and her daughter watch: I am being born, and I am dying.

orlando-1look-1

That rounds out this pint. I promise the night of Pint Sized Plays at PianoFight is hugely entertaining and there will be more laughs and guffaws than bittersweetness…but like any good night of entertainment the presence of both light and dark will be in attendance…or possibly ascendence.

The season’s change is upon us, as it ever is. Soak it in. It goes fast. This is the last Llamalogue as we have come to know it. Come out, have a beer, a laugh and nod to see the shadow of the Llama pass. You know what they say about a Llama who sees his shadow…or maybe that is something else. This shadow pint is for you, Llama.

pintsized3

Editor’s note: our Pint-Sized Tzarina, Marissa Skudlarek, points out that this is the first year of Pint Sized where we have THREE one-person shows. Says Marissa:

Three of the 11 plays in this year’s Pint-Sized Play Festival are one-person shows. In addition to the return of the drunken llama played by Rob Ready, a beloved character who has appeared in every Pint-Sized Festival since 2010, we’re telling the stories of two women who are on the brink of major life changes. There’s the title character of “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah” by Jake Arky: at the age of 36, Julie has finally earned the right to call herself an adult by the standards of her Jewish faith. And there’s Meredith — or should we call her Olivia? — in Caitlin Kenney’s “Why Go with Olivia?”, a woman who’s preparing to cut ties with her old life and start anew.

Julie, the Llama, Meredith… they’ve all been around the block a few times. They’re adults, thirtysomethings, with histories and backstories and opinions. And yet they don’t always make the right choices, especially when pints of beer are involved. They are brash, opinionated, and very fun characters, but they’re also all seeking meaning and fulfillment in their own ways. I know, that sounds like a lot to ask from a proudly self-proclaimed slut who gets drunk at her own Bat Mitzvah, or a woman whose quest for a new life means turning her back on everything that came before, or a boozy llama who started out in 2010 as an absurdist sight gag. But it also happens to be true.

Don’t Miss Pint Sized Plays VI, playing 8/15, 8/16, 8/22, 8/23, 8/29, 8 PM, only at PianoFight! 

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In For a Penny: Speaking My Language

Charles Lewis III, with thoughts on writing and voice.

August Wilson writing CAPTION: via The Goodman Theatre

August Wilson writing
CAPTION: via The Goodman Theatre

“I have to confess that I’m not a big movie person; I don’t go to a lot of films and I don’t know very much about the history of stage-to-film adaptations. [..] The way I see it, the stage tells the story for the ear, and the screen for the eye.”
– August Wilson, 2002 interview with John C. Tibbets for Hallmark

I recall Tom Hanks appearing on Inside the Actor’s Studio many, many moons ago and giving a pretty good Q&A with the students gathered. When one asked what it’s like to work in so many different mediums, his response was something akin to “Film is a director’s medium, television is a producer’s medium, the stage is the actor’s medium.” As I write this, I’m having a hard time finding a clip of it and am basing that quote on memory, so please forgive me if I’ve misquoted.

Still, I get what that quote is going for, even if I don’t entirely agree: the former two speak of who wields artistic control over their medium, which is not what I’d call the actor’s role in theatre. Perhaps if he added literature, he’d have said the author, but writing a play is very much a form of literature and the preservation of the playwright’s voice is a priority. In film, the author’s voice is secondary (or twenty-secondary) to an appealing visual; in theatre, the voice informs the visuals.

So when I heard that August Wilson’s Fences – a play I revere by an author I admire – was finally getting a film adaptation, my interest was piqued. When I read that it would be directed by, and most likely star, Denzel Washington, my heart raced. (And just in time for Black History Month!) When I read that the screenplay would be written by Tony Kushner… I tilted my head and raised an eyebrow.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Kushner as much as the next theatre aficionado and think he’s written two fine screenplays – Munich and Lincoln – for Steven Spielberg. But those were historical events adapted into Kushner’s own voice, something he does all the time. How is he at adapting the voice of another author, let alone one as linguistically distinct as August Wilson?

Similar to Wilson in the quote above, I had only a passing knowledge plays adapted for film: I knew of many plays adapted by their playwrights for film (Prelude to a Kiss, A Streetcar Named Desire, Tape); playwrights who tried writing original screenplays (Girl 6 by Suzan-Lori Parks, The Object of My Affection by Wendy Wasserstein), and the countless adaptations of Shakespeare, Greek drama, and so on. Yet I didn’t know much about the history of playwrights adapting OTHER playwrights for film (minus the Shakespeare, et al). I just figured that a playwright would be so protective of their work that one living during the film era would be sensitive about a colleague/rival taking their work to an unfamiliar arena.

With this in mind, I decided to research this specific history. I immediately eliminated all films that fell into any of the three categories above and set a rule that the play and playwright HAD TO have existed during the film era, thus creating the possibility for the playwright to have seen it. Just compiling the list was an eye-opening that I couldn’t even complete by the time I wrote this.

It revealed some interesting experiments, some of which I was already aware (Mamet’s adaptation of The Winslow Boy, Harold Pinter’s screenplay for Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth), but many for which I wasn’t (Dorothy Parker writing Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, Hellman’s own adaptation of The Dark Angel). After looking over this still-incomplete list, I asked myself – regardless of the quality of the film itself – how well the playwright’s voice had been preserved, for better or worse. “How does this work as an adaptation?”

In some cases, the stage story (which will often be so long as to necessitate an intermission) was streamlined well for the shorter running time of a film, such as with John Logan’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd and Jay Allen’s screenplay for Cabaret. But there were a few cases in which the adapting playwright/screenwriter missed the point of the original work altogether, such as Tyler Perry’s screen version of For Colored Girls… and Jean-Paul Sartre’s screenplay for The Crucible. Again, regardless of how these films may act on their own merits, they represent what every author fears when they turn their work over to another. Of course, August Wilson is no longer around to express such concerns.

Which brings me to elephant in the room: there’s a natural concern Black people have when a White artist attempts to recreate Black voices or a White artist filters Black voices through their own point-of-view. I’m reminded of that scene from Spike Lee’s Girl 6 (again, an original screenplay by Pulitzer-winner Suzan-Lori Parks) in which hotshot White film director “QT” (played by Quentin Tarantino himself) condescendingly speaks down to the Black actress he’s auditioning. He boasts that he’s creating “the greatest African-American movie ever made… told from my perspective”. Given Tarantino’s history of tone-deaf recreations of specific non-White-male groups (including the early-20s women of Death Proof), it’s a surprisingly meta moment.

I wonder if Parks conceived that scene herself, or at Lee’s suggestion? Norman Jewison frequently recalls the years he attempted to make a film about Malcolm X with a screenplay by David Mamet. When Jewison felt he wasn’t hitting the mark, he asked Lee – then fresh off directing Do the Right Thing – for his opinion. Lee told him rather bluntly that Jewison was “telling the story a White man would tell”. Eventually Jewison dropped off the project and Lee took over.

It doesn’t mean that a White man should never adapt a non-WM male voice (or vice versa), it just means that those who are NOT White males have earned the right to be cautious whenever it does happen. If you hadn’t noticed, we have a bit of a bad history with that sort of thing.

Tony Kushner writing CAPTION: via PBS

Tony Kushner writing
CAPTION: via PBS

I’m very much a fan of Kushner and love that he’s doing this as a collaboration with Denzel Washington. I love that they’re working from Wilson’s own screenplay and believe that “[t]hey want to use everything Wilson has done. They want to use all of his words.”

And yet, as a theatre artist and film-lover (ethnicity aside for a moment), I wonder why an author with such a distinct voice would even bother with an adaptation if it’s only to preserve the original voice? I could only imagine what would happen if he ignored it, but it would still intrigue me as a Kushner experiment. Kushner is a great writer, but in a Tony Kushner way, not an August Wilson way.

When news of the collaboration broke, playwright Lynn Nottage took to her Twitter page to express skepticism similar to my own. She eventually deleted those tweets and wrote “#Replacejudgementwithcuriosity I’m enormously excited [..] Beauty must flourish”. I guess that’s the best any of us can hope for.

Charles Lewis III considers one of his proudest theatre accomplishments to be working with actors who worked with August Wilson.