Category Archives: drama

Playwrights West Presents a World Premiere: Claire Willett’s “Dear Galileo”

Dear Galileo thumbnail

On a beautiful August night, come explore the stars with….

Playwrights West—Portland’s professional theatre company composed of nine distinguished local playwrights—in association with CoHo Productions, proudly presents the World Premiere of Dear Galileo, written by Playwrights West’s Claire Willett and directed by Stephanie Mulligan. Dear Galileo opens Saturday, August 8, with a special VIP preview performance on Friday, August 7.

As Claire says, Dear Galileo is “a play about science, religion, fathers and daughters, sex, creationism, and the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope.”

What’s It All About?

Dear Galileo opens with a young girl asking big questions about the universe as she writes letters in her diary to one of history’s greatest scientists, Galileo Galilei. So begins a dialogue that bridges faith and science, wonder and doubt, and present and past, as three very different women in three different eras grapple with the legacies of their famous fathers:

  • In a small town in Texas, creationist author and TV pundit Robert Snow is at a loss when ten-year-old Haley’s newfound passion for science begins to pull her from the Biblical teachings of her upbringing.
  • In Swift Trail Junction, Arizona, home of the Vatican Observatory’s U.S. outpost, pregnant New York sculptor Cassie Willows arrives to find her estranged father, world-renowned astrophysicist Jasper Willows, is missing.
  • And in Renaissance Italy, Celeste Galilei lives under house arrest with her elderly father Galileo—the disgraced astronomer imprisoned for defying the Pope…and facing down the Inquisition by publishing one last book.

As the three stories weave towards convergence, each family’s destiny becomes inextricably bound with the others, linked across time by love, loss, faith, the search for identity, and the mysteries of the stars.

How Do We Get There?

Dear Galileo opens Saturday, August 8, at CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St), and plays Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:30, and Sunday afternoons at 2:00, through August 29. Friday through Sunday tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students/educators/seniors. All tickets on “Thrifty Thursdays” are $15, and Thursday performances include post-show talkbacks, featuring some of Portland’s most innovative theatre artists.

When Do We Really Begin?

Playwrights West invites you to join us on Friday, August 7, for Dear Galileo’s VIP Preview Performance/Gala, where a $40 ticket offers a you-are-there seat to Portland theatre history and includes a post-show talkback, a gracious reception, and some terrific company.

Where Do We Find the Answers?

For more information and tickets, go to Playwrights West or contact CoHo Productions Box Office: 503-220-2646).

You Have More Questions? Keep Reading

Who Are We?

Dear Galileo features actors Nathan Dunkin, Kate Mura, Agatha Olson, Walter Petryk, Chris Porter, Gary Powell, and Nena Salazar. The production team includes Sarah Kindler (Scenic & Properties Designer), JD Sandifer (Lighting Designer), Ashton Grace Hull (Costume Designer), Annalise Albright Woods (Sound Designer), and Nicole Gladwin (Stage Manager).

Who Are The Creators?

Claire Willett is a proud member of Playwrights West and a founding artist of the Fertile Ground Festival. She was a finalist for the 2015 Jerome Fellowship at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis and was the 2011 Oregon Literary Fellow for Drama. Her other works include: Carter Hall (in development with Nashville songwriter Sarah Hart, thanks to a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council); Upon Waking; How the Light Gets In; That Was the River, This Is the Sea (co-written with Gilberto Martin del Campo); The Witch of the Iron Wood (co-written with local composer Evan Lewis); an original adaptation of W.H. Auden’s 1942 poetic oratorio For the Time Being; and The Demons Down Under the Sea, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” produced in October 2014 as part of Shaking the Tree’s production of The Masque of the Red Death (a collection of Poe shorts by the writers of Playwrights West).

Ms. Willett her first novel, The Rewind Files—a time-travel, science fiction adventure about Watergate, has just been released by Retrofit Publishing in Los Angeles. Ms. Willett is also a popular, widely read blogger at: It’s Kind of a Long Story. Like Dear Galileo, her blog is the voice of a fiercely intelligent, compassionate, and spiritually attuned writer, unafraid to take on big ideas.

Stephanie Mulligan is a stage director in both the professional and educational arenas. Her favorite recent shows include The Seven Wonders of Ballyknock, Almost Home, The Outgoing Tide, Jesus Saves, The Guys, Little Women: the Broadway Musical, The Music Man, Nickel and Dimed, The Wizard of Oz, Murder Is My Business, Love’s Labor’s Lost, The Laramie Project, and The Comedy of Errors. Stephanie has worked with (and learned from) such notable American directors as James Edmondson, Penny Metropulos, John Dillon, Aaron Posner, and Nancy Keystone. She has participated in international programming, collaborating with India’s Mahesh Dattani and Lillette Dubey, Vietnam’s Do Doan Chau and Dang Tu Mai, and Australia’s Cate Blanchette, Robyn Nevin, and Andrew Upton. Ms. Mulligan’s work with many fine local companies includes Portland Center Stage, Lakewood Theatre, triangle productions!, Coho Productions, Artists Rep, Broadway Rose, and Portland Civic Theatre Guild.

Playwrights West, a professional theatre company founded in 2009 and composed of nine Portland playwrights known for the high quality of their work, focuses on presenting top-level productions of its members’ plays and supports the development of original work in Portland. The nine member playwrights are: Karin Magaldi, Ellen Margolis, Aleks Merilo, Steve Patterson, Andrea Stolowitz, Andrew Wardenaar, Claire Willett, Patrick Wohlmut, and Matthew B. Zrebski. Drawing upon a growing national movement of playwrights taking the reins for productions of their work, Playwrights West introduces Portland audiences to compelling, innovative theatrical experiences, presenting vital new plays by gifted local authors.

Why Are We Here?

  • In 2011, Dear Galileo was a finalist for the Fox Valley Collider Project, a Chicago-area initiative to support original works of theatre about math and science, and was developed with the support of a 2011 Career Opportunity Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, a 2011 Oregon Literary Fellowship from Literary Arts, and a month-long artists residency at I-Park Artists’ Colony in East Haddam, CT.
  • In 2012, the play was produced as a staged reading in the Fertile Ground Festival by Artists Repertory Theatre, directed by Stephanie Mulligan, where the cast included Chris Porter (who returns in the role of Galileo).
  • In March 2013, Dear Galileo received a staged reading at Pasadena Playhouse in California as part of the Hothouse New Play Development Workshop Series, directed by Literary Manager Courtney Harper, with a cast that featured noted actors Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager) as Jasper Willows and Lawrence Pressman (Doogie Howser M.D., American Pie, Transparent) as Galileo.
  • In Summer 2014, Willamette University in Salem—launching its new on-campus company, Theatre 33, with a summer of readings by Portland playwrights—selected Dear Galileo as their inaugural project.

Has Anything Like This Ever Happened Before?

Dear Galileo marks Playwrights West fourth full production in association with CoHo Productions, a premier supporter of new plays and original work.

Can Any One Person Explain It All?

No. But if you have questions, contact Steve Patterson.

 

 

 

 


The Modular Play: An Act of Faith

19442In 25 years of writing plays, I’ve generally worked from beginning to end. I may have a final scene in mind—sometimes an image that spurs the play’s creation. Sometimes, for tightly plotted stories, I work from an outline. Even so, when actually writing the piece, the process opens with “lights rise” and closes with “end of play.”

About a year ago, an idea came to me arising from images and voices I’d carried around for almost aa decade: American soldiers during World War II basically trying to talk themselves calm the night before a battle.

The time and locale fluctuated. D-Day seemed a natural, but also had been extensively covered, from The Longest Day to Saving Private Ryan. I considered the Anzio or North African landings, but those required explanation—and exposition. More and more, I thought of the lousy winter of ’44 and ’45, when war’s end loomed but hadn’t yet arrived.

Then an actor friend suggested I write a Christmas play, which made me laugh at first. No one would immediately associate my dark, sometimes sardonic plays with presents and cheery lights. Plus, could anything new be said of Christmas? Still, I liked the idea of writing a non-sentimental Christmas play for adults. All too often, between Scrooge, nutcrackers, and elves, the holidays seemed a reason to stay home from the theatre. Not because the existing plays were bad—simply because they were tired.

Then somehow the long-smoldering World War II play latched onto the Christmas Eve, finding the German-besieged town of Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. I’d long been fascinated by the town’s heroic effort to stave off Panzers as ammo, food, and medical supplies ran low.* And another image came to mind: a wounded civilian, a woman, in the midst of men trying not to fall apart. And If the Fates Allow took shape.

Or rather, it took shapes. I didn’t have an ending or a beginning. All I had were voices and a setting. The play stalled. I couldn’t find a way into it. I figured, what the hell, I’d write what I had—little scenes, snapshots, snippets of conversation. I had no idea where it was going. All I could do was rely on faith that I’d written a bunch of plays—too many maybe—and I could write another, hoping a piece would find its form as had happened so many times before.

It didn’t. A nervy process ensued, where, at any time, the play might go sideways. Plays do sometimes. You get into them and find out they have an unfixable flaw or they run dry. But increasingly, I began to feel comfortable with the characters. I could feel them pushing to have their stories told. So I started thinking of scenes—some so brief as to be blackouts—as pieces of a mosaic. I’d just keep writing until I exhausted the time and place, or until the play’s form revealed itself. No matter how it turned out, I was having a great time writing it. I liked hanging out with the characters and you couldn’t beat the circumstance for drama.

Siege plays—where a penultimate event shapes the action—have a form all their own. You just keep moving forward, and they get increasingly tense. The possibility of disaster colors everything, lending weight and urgency to otherwise ordinary conversation. If a character speaks of missing home, the question hang as to whether he’ll ever see it again. Sharing a cigarette carries a sense of communion—a rite to stave off emotional collapse.

Then, as if illuminated in a camera flash, the ending appeared to me, and it completely startled me—as I hope it will the audience, and I found most of the material written previously supported the resolution. Though my conscious mind seemed to float from place to place, my unconscious had been doing its job. I still needed to properly sequence the pieces and build transitions, which essentially meant rewriting the play from beginning to end, but a great deal of the original material survived the rework, and the beginning found itself. It said: start here. I’d just been warming up to that point.

I can’t say it’s the most relaxing way to work, but it wasn’t boring, and the results worked. I think.

Would I used the “modular play” technique again? Maybe. Plays have a way of telling you how they want to be written, and there’s something satisfying in taking your hands off the wheel and letting your instincts do the driving. In a way, it’s what writers do anyhow. Even when you’re carefully laying out a piece using an outline, you have to step back and let the imagination run. We’re never much more than nominally in control of a first draft. The rewrites demand all the writer’s craft and cunning.

Putting pen to paper is always an act of faith—faith in one’s self, in your intuition, and your need for discovery. Whether you leave the diving board with your eyes open or closed, you’re still going to hit the water. And you still have to clear the rocks.

*Despite my efforts to find a fresh World War II event to write about, after completing the play, I discovered that Band of Brothers had explored the same time and place, although they looked at if from a very different angle.

(At noon, January 26, “If the Fates Allow” meets the public as a concert reading at Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre, produced by Playwrights West as part of the Fertile Ground New Works Festival.)


Samples from the Other Side

The Splatterverse now includes excerpts from some of my plays, in case anyone wants to do some casual reading.

Rather than pick the most dramatic points in the works, I thought it more interesting to find moments that caught the flavor or spirit of the play, the characters, or the situation. If nothing else, I hope they’re vaguely entertaining:

 


Why Write for the Stage?

photoFor a change, money is not the answer.

Oh, one can make a buck or two writing plays, and there’s a refreshing point in one’s career where the contracts rise to the four- or five-digit level. And, if you write a hot play that does well at the Humana Festival and becomes a favorite among the regional theatres and you get a write-up in American Theatre magazine and make a dozen other perfect bank shots…you could see a pretty good year or two. Until the next flavor comes along. Winning a Pulitzer helps. Maybe.

But even the folks ostensibly making it usually have to supplant their incomes, often through teaching or, lately, writing for television…which is one reason why the writing quality for non-broadcast programs has increased so…well, dramatically.

What do you have left if you take money out of the picture? Control. And love.

Continue reading


Setting Off Sparks

This really is a post for Portlanders, but, as it’s about a cool, artistically oriented event, other folks with like minds might find it interesting (and you might try it in your burg).
Monday night (May 20th), Playwrights West, a group of professional playwrights (of which I’m a member) based in Portland, is throwing a party. Yes, it’s a fundraiser for a full production of one of our playwright’s works (Licking Batteries by the wonderful Ellen Margolis), but it’s kind of turned into a celebration–a celebration of the joy of creating new work.
Dubbed Sparks, the evening features short pieces–either standalone short works or excerpts from longer works–from eight remarkable writers (and one bozo…me). It’s what we have to offer…our words, and some terrific actors have signed on to breathe those words to into being. And since we’re all getting together, there’ll be food and drink and a silent auction and good vibes: what could best be described as a party.
Here’s the fascinating thing to me, though. All of us in Playwrights West share a common purpose: to stage the new works of our members and to raise awaeness of the power and delight inherent in presenting premieres (and we’re just lucky to have access to some killer scripts). All of us are professionals who have had our works staged in many forms and venues, and, frankly, we all can write. (Present company excepted…or at least tolerated.)
But, man, what a lot of different voices. All really original, and all coming at the work from different angles, bringing unique voices and sensibilities into play.
So what the folks who attend Sparks will be able to experience is a terrific mosaic of ideas, images, power, and, well, light from these eight writers (and the bozo). In one place, at one time (and only at this one time under the same tent). The works range from new projects, still in progress, to new works about to be born as fully realized productions, such as an excerpt from Andrea Stolowitz’s Ithaka, which is about to open at Artists Repretory Theatre (where it won a commission), and, of course, Ellen’s Licking Batteries–the play we’re fully staging in August. And, if you drop by, you get to embrace these works–to celebrate their originality and diversity–with like-minded people…those who love new theatre. (You know who you are.)
Really, Sparks is a way to say: yes, new work counts. It keeps theatre alive, vibrant, surprising, ever changing. It’s vital. It matters. And we can do it really, really well, right here in Portland. Oh yes, we can.
So drive, walk, take the streetcar, and come on down to CoHo Theatre on Monday night. Have some food and drink and laughs. Maybe try out a cool new outfit. And take what promises to be an unforgettable ride with eight splendid, absolutely kick-ass writers (and one bozo).
Details follow. See you there….
Steve
—————
Sparks: A Benefit Performance

By the writers of Playwrights West
Directed by Playwrights West Company Member Andrew Wardenaar
Date: Monday, May 20th
Time: Cocktail Hour & Silent Auction at 6 pm. Performance at 7 pm. Postshow reception at 8:30 pm.
Venue: CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St)
Cost: $40; tickets online or at door (cash/check only) subject to availability. Seating is limited.
Purchase Tickets from: sparks.brownpapertickets.com
Playwrights West, a professional theatre company composed of nine acclaimed local playwrights, announces Sparks, its first-ever gala benefit performance. This performance will feature short excerpts of works by all nine member playwrights, culminating in a world premiere excerpt of Playwrights West’s upcoming 2013 season performance, Licking Batteries by Ellen Margolis. In addition to the performance, the evening will feature delicious food and wine and a silent auction.
Featuring excerpts from: Eating in the Dark by Debbie Lamedman; Consider the Ant by Karin Magaldi; Licking Batteries by Ellen Margolis; Bus Stop by Steve Patterson; Ithaka by Andrea Stolowitz (opening May 28th at Artists Repertory Theatre); Jeepers by Andrew Wardenaar; Where There Is Darkness, Light by Claire Willett; The Chain and the Gear by Patrick Wohlmut; and Forky by Matthew B. Zrebski.

Bombardment, Episode 15: Phosphorescent Love Lines

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments may occur a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 15]

CARMELITA’s handling of the pipe becomes a caress.

CARMELITA: Corno. What a name. Cornpone. Cornball. Quick with a joke. Oh yeah. That time in her bed. Some joke. Guess he treated me decent. Decent as she did. She could be nice. On occasion. Course, she needed me. She had everything she wanted, everything she thought she needed. She ended up more alone than she’d ever been. Blindsided by the unanticipated: she didn’t need a maid. She needed a friend. Oh, but Corno. He couldn’t let that go. What if, finding a companion, she didn’t need him? What if she found other ways to be? Found the conduct she revered was as arbitrary and capricious as that she disdained. Why the very foundations of this house might tremble! So Corno just. . .rearranged the players. Put you over there, me over here. Did what he did best. What we all loved him for. He “took care” of things. Problem was, we loved him best when he “took care” of someone else.

CARMELITA begins rubbing pipe against her face, her neck.

CARMELITA: The way she looked at him in those days, Placid. You should have seen her. Her eyes, alive. Had to see him. All of him. He knew it. He had the thing. The magic. He knew and wasn’t afraid to show he knew. Not like ones who never knew, or ones who kept it inside. He shone. In a way that said we all could shine. As long as he shone brightest. I still smell him. His library, his den. His smell through the carpets, books. This pipe smells of him. Not his tobacco. Him. I imagine his hand against the bowl. The way his hand loved the things he held. The way love glowed trailed from his fingertips. Phosphorescent love lines drawn upon all he touched. Upon my skin. When he touched me.

CARMELITA slips the pipe down her neck. Lower. She slowly sinks behind PLACID’S armchair.

[To be continued]


Bombardment, Episode 9: Oozing and Open

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments may occur a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 9]

ARETHA: You what?
CARMELITA: You were so unhappy! So weary! To help, to ease your suffering, I…put them in your brandy, Aretha.
ARETHA: Do not speak my name!

Slaps CARMELITA hard.

CARMELITA: As you wish. Ma’am.
ARETHA: My question. You are here. In my bed. Now. Barely dressed. Explain this.
CARMELITA: Yes. After the…in the. . .night. You try to sleep, your eyes closed. Your head side-to-side. Your breath fitful. All you can do is call Corno. Mr. Corno. Come home. Finally, sleep descends, easing round the castle. Servants sigh. Dab their eyes. Prepare their own beds. Then the cook says, the phone! If the phone rings! So we run to your room, and your head is thrown back, your mouth is open, your skin is blue! Behind your eyelids, your eyes flicked back and forth! Panicked. Searching. Dreaming. She’s dreaming, says the cook! She’s dreaming of Mr. Corno! She’s chasing him in her dreams! Chasing after love! Quiet her, Carmelita. Quiet her before her heart bursts. How do I do this? What do I do? The servants, they grab me. They pull from me my uniform. Force me into bed. Beside you. I say this is wrong! I am soiled! But you are cold! Frozen cold! The touch–my touch–does something. Warms you. Calms you. Quiets you. Your breath turns to fuchsia. Your spirit to green. Stars return. Here. At this intersection of dream and desire. Your sweat blending with mine. Our tears. Our breath. For a moment…peace.
ARETHA: I see. How very creative of you. But I know. Why you’re here. Who you wait for. You exploit my confidence, poison me with your drink and medicines, and your perfect tales of selflessness. Then have the gall to wait, an orchid, oozing and open, for him. Blooming beside my rapidly cooling corpse.
CARMELITA: No, ma’am. I would never–
ARETHA: You already have. Remove your oily stench from my bed. And conceal your hideousness. At once.

CARMELITA rises.

CARMELITA: As you command, ma’am.

[To be continued]


Where DO you get your ideas?

First, in February I’m producing “Dead of Winter: Three Ghost Stories for the Stage”—we have auditions for the men’s roles this weekend—and I’m currently rereading “Oregon Ghosts” (seems we have a lot of them), so ghosts have been much on my mind of late.

Second, I love dreams. Here you put in a tough day doing…whatever it is you do, lay down your head, welcome oblivion…and suddenly it’s psychedelic cabaret, the nightly David Lynch film. (Because, let’s be honest, David Lynch films are movies about dreams being movies.)

Third, last night I’m dreaming that my house has a little ghost problem. I’m talking about it to a sympathetic friend, and, while we’re talking, doors and cupboards are opening and closing by themselves. Only they’re doing so in just a way that, well, it could be the wind. My friend is trying to get me to take this seriously, while I’m like, well, the wind thing. Denial lives strong in dreams. The door to the room eases shut in that subtle wind way, and my friend points. The antique glass doorknob is slowly turning back and forth. I open the door. No one there.

Meanwhile, much else is going on in the dream: we just got two puppies…and a horse. And all my friends are saying, man, that spider on your porch. Have you seen that thing? You should use that in one of your plays. (My real friends seldom say things like that.) But have you see that spider on the—?

All right! I go out on the porch to check out this spider, and instead there are two little old ladies out there. Sitting side by side. Each has a tiny puppy on their lap, and they’re petting them in synchronous motion. Maltese puppies. And these two ladies have these Maltesesque bowl haircuts of silver and small, round, gnomelike faces. They’re smiling at me, and the puppies are staring at me, cocking their heads, and the two ladies seem to be enwrapped in a gold, summery light, utterly gorgeous until I notice that the ladies are also faintly criss-crossed with spider webs. And I slowly look up to see, above them, a common gold and black garden spider, your typical two-inch Argiope …but this one’s about the size of a dinner plate.

And then, gentle reader, the alarm clock wakes me.


Thinking About "Bombardment"

In 1991, at the start of the first Gulf war and in a terrible fury, I sat down and began work on “Bombardment.” I wanted to write something that would examine the divide-and-conquer “cultural war” politics going on at the time, where the powerful and wealthy played upon the predjudices of the poor to frighten them into acting against their own interests, as well as the real war in the Middle East, which I could barely beleive was truly happening. At the same time, I also wanted to capture the feeling of history rolling irresistably over all of us, no matter what our status was.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to write some beat-them-over-the-head message play; I was much more interested in how these things made me feel and, in turn, made the characters feel. So I ended up placing these half-archetypical/half-realistic, wounded, suffering people in this sort of dreamscape, where a battle ensued between masters and servants, played out both in terms of power through status and sexual domination.

In terms of action, the play goes like this….

Corno, a sort of wounded king/strongman, has been cast from his home by Arethea, his queen/wife, because he has been caught being sexually indiscreet with Arethea’s maidservant, Carmelita. As Corno plots to recover his position, Althea seduces Placid, Corno’s hit man/fixer, to plan to murder Corno. By the end of the first act, one learns that Carmelita and Placid have planned a double-cross all along and murder Corno and Althea, assuming their power.

In the second Act, Carmelita’s personality begins to disintigrate as power begins to paralyze her, and when she tries to break Placid from the cycle of power, betrayal, and fall, Placid’s paranoia takes over, and in fear, he implores the ghosts of Corno and Althea to return to resume their power and protect him. The play ends with Corno, Arethea, Carmelita, and Placid physically entangled in a web in which none of them can break free.

As The Clash wrote: anger can be power. Bombardment went on to be nominated as a Finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

So why does the play haunt me now? Are we back to where we were? Do we have to set the Middle East aflame every time a Bush gets in office? Santayana famously said those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, but it seems all of us, in thrall to those who cannot remember the past or refuse to heed its lessons, are doomed to see these savage kabuki dramas endlessly repeated.

At the time, I wondered if the ending of Bombardment was too pessimistic. Now I’m afraid I got it exactly right.

Paul Tibbets died today. He was 92. He was the commander of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was reported he had no regrets and slept well at night.