It’s A Suggestion, Not A Review: On Prejudices

Dave Sikula free forms his way into controversy.

I’d been struggling to come up with a topic for this week’s entry, and, frankly, I kept coming up blank.

Some of this was due to having been out of town this last week; some of it was due to dealing with some weird Eustachian tube thing I’ve got (it alternates between plugged-up ears and vertigo; it’s much better now, thank you, but still a nuisance); some of it was due to being in rehearsal.

The result is, this will probably be more free-form and scattered than usual.

So, what’s bugging me? What’s my beef? What’s sticking in my craw?

The first thing that comes to mind is an episode from my recent trip. While driving through the wilds of southern Illinois, I was listening to a podcast featuring an interview with Michael Chiklis. While I’m not particularly a fan of his, I was interested enough to listen to the program. I didn’t watch either “The Commish” or “The Shield” (though I always heard good things about the latter), and my only real exposure to him was through his portrayals of Curly Howard (in a TV biopic of The Three Stooges) and Ben Grimm (in the dismal “Fantastic Four” movies). He’s one of those actors whom I’ve found likeable enough, but who never really made an impression on me.

From the interview (and Wikipedia), I learned he has (surprisingly to me) classical training, having gone to Boston University, but overall, he came off as something of a blowhard and goofball, but in an innocuous way – sort of a “Hey, I’m an LA actor who had a notable TV series” vibe.

I could have left it there, but the interviewer asked him about Shakespeare, and Mr. Chiklis launched into a combination condemnation of Shakespeare and defense of Edward DeVere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, that had steam coming out of my ears. I was literally yelling at and arguing with a two-year-old interview playing on my iPhone

Let me state here my firm status as a Stratfordian. It’s not even a belief. I’ve studied the Shakespeare “authorship” question to a great degree, and there’s not a shred, not a smidgen, not an atom of evidence that anyone but William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote those plays. Not to name call – oh, hell, let me go ahead and name-call: anyone who believes that Oxford, or Bacon, or Marlowe, or Queen Elizabeth – or anyone else – wrote the plays is an ill-informed idiot (though, mind you, I’m not eliminating Shakespeare collaborating with other writers; there’s plenty of evidence for that).

I have no idea why these people so piss me off. It’s not an anti-elitist thing; I’m certainly an elitist in a lot of things. But there’s something about this topic that just pushes my buttons. In a way, it’s kind of how I feel about the Kennedy assassination, although in that case, I’d be willing to listen to conspiracy theories, even if they all fall apart of their own weight. On matters such as these, I side with Occam’s Razor and believe the simplest theory is the right one.

The takeaway from all of this is, if you really want to get my goat, try to bait me on Oxford vs. Shakespeare; I’ll bite every time.

Moving on.

In trying to come up with a topic for today, I asked my long-suffering wife if she had any ideas. She mentioned she’d seen a Facebook post that took a Minneapolis reviewer to task for alleged racism. Personally, I found the review poorly reasoned and written, but far from racist.

My feelings about reviews and reviewers have been expressed here before; basically, I don’t have a lot of use for them. But this case proved interesting to me. The review is of a production of Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid.” While the reviewer (I refuse to call him a critic) seems not to understand Moliere’s dramaturgy and style, he begins by criticizing the director’s “highly questionable choices, one being the use of colorblind casting.” A phrase like that can easily act as a red flag to some readers, but beyond objecting to Asian, Latino, and African American actors playing French characters, he doesn’t go into a lot of detail. It seems he’s mostly puzzled why the director would cast actors of color while the Theatre avoids producing plays by writers of color. (though, admittedly, there is a tone of “people should only do shows wherein they’re cast ethnically appropriately”).

I have to admit that I’m torn on some cross-cultural casting. When I direct, I try to do it and have indeed done so more than once. I do have trouble wrapping my brain around casting family units of different ethnicities – and let me speedily add that it’s not a matter of having a problem with interracial relationships; I’m thinking of, say, a “Glass Menagerie” with an Asian American Amanda and a white Tom and Laura, or a “Long Day’s Journey” with a white James, a Latina Mary, and African Americans as Jamie and Edmond. I fully admit that the “problem” is my own; if I can accept that any actor is pretending to be someone up on that stage in the first place, I should be able to blind myself to differences in race. I mean, I’m able to see beyond something like an Irish American actor playing a Swede or a Canadian, so why not stretch my own limitations?

And let me hasten to add again, that this prejudice really only applies itself mostly to “realistic” plays or productions. If I see a farce or a deconstruction or something epic (such as Peter Brook’s “Mahabharata”) with an interracial family (whose ethnic differences are incidental to the plot), I have no problem with it – nor do I have a “problem” with cross-casting in general. One of the best things I’ve ever seen at ACT was their production of “Tartuffe” with an almost-exclusively African American cast, and I’ve seen a few productions of Chekhov that used multi-racial casts.

I realize that, in bringing this issue up – let alone admitting to my own limitations – I may be opening a can of worms and opening myself to criticism, but I don’t think I’m alone, and I think it’s a topic worth discussing (or I wouldn’t have spent a few hundred words on it) – though I’d hope it would be an open discussion, without either side shutting down the other for misunderstanding.

Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my background, maybe it’s my cultural “training.” Whatever it is, though, I’m ready to be educated and enlightened.

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Introducing The Directors Of Pint Sized IV! (Part One)

Pint Sized Plays IV is back tonight for it’s third performance! This year our excellent line up of writers is supported by an equitably awesome line up of directors, so we thought we’d take a moment to introduce some of them and find out more about who they are, what they’re looking forward to, and how they brought so much magic to this year’s festival.

Tell the world who you are in 100 words or less.

Charles Lewis III: I’m one of those rare “San Francisco natives” you’ve heard about in folk tales. The combustible combination of Melvin van Peebles, Cyclops from X-Men, and a touch of Isadora Duncan for good measure. I love the machine gun-like clatter of my typewriter. I don’t drink coffee, so I’m considered weird… in San Francisco. I still buy all of my albums on CD. Bit of a tech geek. I love celluloid. Shakespeare made me want to act, direct, write, and bequeath “my second-best bed” to an ex after I die.

Meg O’Connor: By night, I am a playwright and improviser who occasionally directs and acts. By day, I am marketing and client-relations extraordinaire for an immigration law firm.

Adam Sussman: East Coast refugee from Boston enjoying the long-haired devil-may-care atmosphere of the Bay. I’m a director, writer, dramaturge and occasional performer who recently left a decade long career in community health/harm reduction to focus on theater. I work with Ragged Wing Ensemble in Oakland and produce work through my company “Parker Street Odditorium.” Like us on the Facebook!

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

Adam Sussman: Devil May Care

How did you get involved with Theater Pub, or if you’re a returning director, why did you come back?

Charles Lewis III: Way back in January 2010 I was in a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop at the Altarena Playhouse. My co-star lovely and talented actress named Xanadu Bruggers. When the production ended she asked all of us in the cast to come see her in an “anti-Valentine’s Day show” taking place at a café in The City. I was hesitant as I had some bad memories of performances in bars and cafés, but I still went to see SF TheaterPub’s second-ever show: A Valentine’s Day Post-Mortem. I went back the next month and that summer I was in their multi-part Sophocles adaptation The Theban Chronicles. That Autumn I was in their Oscar Wilde and HP Lovecraft show and in December I both performed in and co-wrote their first Christmas show. And I’ve been a regular attendee ever since.

Adam Sussman: Stuart (Bousel) asked me, and after reading through the great scripts and being sweet-talked by the puckish Neil Higgins, how could I say no?

Meg O’Connor: I have known the artistic directors since they were dreaming Theater Pub up, and first directed with them for The Theban Chronicles. I have directed in every Pint Sized (and produced the very first). I guess you could say I’m addicted (but I can quit whenever I want).

Meg O'Connor Can't Quit You... Or Can She?

Meg O’Connor Can’t Quit You… Or Can She?

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Meg O’Connor: Reading the scripts for the first time, and getting a sense of the vibe of this year’s festival is my favorite part. And getting to see each script realized is really rewarding.

Adam Sussman: Being able to see the piece come to life form page to stage. Typically this is a cop-out answer, but “Mark +/-” is so complicated that the script is literally in spreadsheet form since there’s so much overlapping dialogue and precision timing. So the metamorphosis from text to performance in this case had an extra element of difficulty and therefore excitement.

Charles Lewis III: No matter how sure you are about a production during rehearsal, there is always a way to be blind-sided by the audience. Being a director for one script (Sang Kim’s The Apotheosis of Grandma Shimkin) and actor in another (Megan Cohen’s The Last Beer in the World), it’s been trippy to hear the audience give a slight chuckle to one thing, but erupt with laughter at another.

What’s been the most troublesome?

Adam Sussman: I wanted a very specific set of gestures that all three Marks shared, but these gestures are only interesting if they are nearly identical rather than merely similar. So there was one rehearsal where I had to play “gesture cop,” calling out even small discrepancies from the agreed upon gestural choreography.

Charles Lewis III: I’ll just say that the recent BART strike made for a… unique experience in travelling to and from rehearsals.

Meg O’Connor: Rob Ready. What a diva.

Would you say putting together a show for Pint Sized is more skin of your teeth or seat of your pants and why?

Charles Lewis III: Apotheosis was definitely the latter. We had a very short turnaround from my coming on as director to the first performance. We only locked down the cast about a week before opening. Given the logistics and technical aspects of the piece – two actors who are seated through most of it, no major lighting cues – you might think it wouldn’t be all that much trouble. But when your first question to a potential actor is “Can you learn eleven pages in a week?” and you have only two rehearsals to get the verbal rhythm down, pick costumes, and more, then you realise it’s crunch time.
I just told myself that we were working with the same timetable as the average SNL episode, except our best writers aren’t talked about in past tense. I’m both pleasantly amazed by what everyone put together in such a short amount of time.

Adam Sussman: Seat of pants. Little time and no resources is always an exciting place to start with a theater piece. Skin of your teeth implies a close call, a bad mindset to begin a process with.

Meg O’Connor: Seat of your pants. Lots of last minute changes, lots of rolling with the punches. I’m lucky my cast were such bad-ass pros.

What’s next for you?

Adam Sussman: I’m directing (and appearing in) a beautiful piece for Fool’s Fury Factory Parts Festival written by Addie Ulrey. In the fall I’ll be directing a site specific ensemble piece written by Anthony Clarvoe for Ragged Wing Ensemble.

Meg O’Connor: I, intentionally, have very little going on until November – which is awesome. Two of my short plays (The Helmet and The Shield) will be featured in the Olympians Festival (http://www.sfolympians.com/) and I’m also getting hitched this November – eek! Also, my improv team, Chinese Ballroom, is included in the SF Improv Fest this year, the evening of Sept. 18th.

Charles Lewis III: Acting-wise, I’m pondering a couple offers and just accepted my first role for 2014. Writing-wise, my own blog (TheThinkingMansIdiot.wordpress.com) is up and running again. I’m also putting together some long-in-development scripts. And I plan on taking part in the 31 Plays in 31 Project this August. Directing-wise, I’ll once again be a writer and director for The SF Olympians Festival. Good stuff comin’ up.

What are you looking forward to in the larger Bay Area theater scene?

Charles Lewis III: “Transition” seems to be the word du jour and I can see why – it seems that everyone is making changes (hopefully for the best). I’m about to make one that’s been coming for some time. I think it’ll be beneficial to my theatre work in the long run and I’m looking towards the future with cautious optimism.

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Charles Lewis III: Epitome of Optimistic

Meg O’Connor: No Man’s Land at Berkley Rep…mainly because I have a lady-boner for Ian McKellen AND Patrick Stewart.

Adam Sussman: So many things. I’m looking forward to seeing the other work at the Factory Parts festival including new pieces by Fool’s Fury, Joan Howard, Rapid Descent and Elizabeth Spreen. My good friend Nathaniel Justiniano is throwing an amazing benefit called “Cure Canada” for his fantastic group, Naked Empire Bouffon Company with a helluva line-up of performers, I’m also hoping he’ll do a homecoming production of his ingenious piece You Killed Hamlet or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play which has been touring Canada this summer. I’m excited to see Rebecca Longworth’s O Best Beloved at the Fringe this year, Bonnie and Clyde at Shotgun and Performing the Diaspora at Counterpulse.

Who in the Bay Area theater scene would you just love a chance to work with next?

Adam Sussman: Shotgun Theater, I’ve been lucky enough to have Artistic Director Patrick Dooley as a mentor through the TBA Atlas Program. I really love the work Shotgun does and how smart they are about building audiences while taking big artistic risks.

Meg O’Connor: I’m pretty excited about PianoFight’s new space and I get the sense that is going to be a fun group and space to work with.

Charles Lewis III: Too many to name. I wouldn’t mind if they answered with my name to the same question (hint, hint). TheaterPub has been a wonderful networking tool for all who attend; point in fact, it’s a contributing factor to my aforementioned transition. No matter what incarnation TheaterPub takes after this, I value the relationships I’ve made here and look forward to continuing them for some time to come.

What’s your favorite thing to order at the Cafe Royale?

Meg O’Connor: You’ll typically find me with a Boont Amber Ale in my hand, but I’ve been having a fling on the side with Hitachino Nest White Ale.

Adam Sussman: Duvel.

Charles Lewis III: Red Stripe. Crispin. Pilsner. Stella, back in the early days. Whatever glass of wine I’ve bought for Cody (Rishell) in the past. In fact, whatever drinks I’ve bought for folks at the Royale. ‘Cause in the end, the drink isn’t nearly as important as raising your glass in a toast with great people.

Don’t miss Pint Sized Plays IV, playing tonight and two more times this month: July 29 and 30, always at 8 PM, only at the Cafe Royale! The show is free and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early because we will be full!