Tag Archives: Stark Raving Theatre

Bombardment, Episode 21: Everything Stops

Splattworks concludes its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson.

Thank you all, over these last couple of weeks, for reading, for your support, and for your gracious comments. It has been a terrific pleasure watching the play’s readership rise and expand far beyond its humble beginnings, and it’s been great fun for me to spend time with the play again. Your comments, observations, etc., are welcome. If you would like to reach me off the blog, my e-mail is splatterson@mindspring.com

[EPISODE 21]

The wind dies down. Lights gradually rise. CARMELITA and PLACID hunch over, hanging on the lines like prisoners shot at the stake. ARETHA and CORNO stand with their backs to the audience.

ARETHA/CORNO: Hello? Hello? Anyone there? Hello?

ARETHA and CORNO face the audience. Their shades are gone, their eye sockets hollow. Blood streams down their faces. They stagger forward, fingers outstretched, becoming caught in the lines.

ARETHA/CORNO: Hello? Can you hear me? Can you help me? I can’t see. Help me, I’m caught. I need help. Please. I’m caught. Please, please, please….

They continue calling “please” as they struggle with the cords. Their calls take on a synchronous, mechanical quality. A chant. An incantation. The sounds of planes begin, steadily rising. Chant and airplanes rise to crescendo. Blackout. Everything stops.

End of play.


Boombardment, Episode 19: Dying Without Your Grace

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 could arrive a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 19]

CARMELITA: You’ll fight the killers and crazies and soldiers with their guns? You’ll fight the mothers defending children? Urchins with bony, grimy fingers? Beggars and blown up men on scooterboards? You’ll fight and fight ’til there’s no one left to fight?

The cords wind around them, sewing them into their armchairs. Lights begin to flash. Wind rises.

PLACID: It’s. . .life. It’s time. The way it goes.
CARMELITA: It’s not the way it goes. You can break it. You can let them in.
PLACID: I know them. They’ll kill me.
CARMELITA: You have to lead them, Placid. You’re like them. Understand them. They’ll sense that. Trust you. They’ll be grateful.
PLACID: It’s been going on so long!
CARMELITA: Time means nothing to a leader. They’ll crown your head with laurels. They’ll give you all you want in a way that you deserve. Out of gratitude. Out of love. Reward them, Placid. And they’ll reward you. Give them not the back of your hand, but your palm.
PLACID: (Looks down at the cords.) It’s too late.
CARMELITA: It’s not too late. Get up. Lead them.

PLACID makes a move but the cords tie him in. Lights flash faster. Wind grows louder.

CARMELITA: Placid? Placid!
PLACID: It’s the law!
CARMELITA: It’s a lie, Placid. It means nothing. You can do it.
PLACID: It’s too hard!
CARMELITA: No, Placid. It’s so easy.
PLACID: They’ll kill us! I’m afraid!
CARMELITA: Don’t say it!
PLACID: It’s too scary! We need them!
CARMELITA: Don’t say that! Don’t let them know!
PLACID: It’s too hard! It’s too scary! We need them back!
ARETHA/CORNO: We don’t want to come back.
CARMELITA: They don’t want to come back.
ARETHA/CORNO: We been wrong too long.
PLACID: You have to come back! They’ll kill us if you don’t!
ARETHA/CORNO: We’ve come. We’ve gone.
CARMELITA: This is wrong, Placid!
PLACID: We’re scared! You have to take care of us!
ARETHA/CORNO: We can’t see the way for you.
PLACID: You have to! We’ll die! We’ll die without you!
ARETHA/CORNO: We have ended.
PLACID: We’ll die without your grace!
ARETHA/CORNO: We want but silence.
PLACID: But they’ll get in! They’ll get your stuff! Your dress and your pipe!
ARETHA: My dress.
PLACID: They’ll carry it off! Cut it up for bandages!
CARMELITA: Placid!
CORNO: My pipe.
PLACID: Your pipe and your shoes! Come look at your shoes!

Lights flash violently. Wind howls.

CORNO: My suit. My tie.
PLACID: It’s yours! See? Come back and take it!
CARMELITA: This is wrong! This is crazy!
PLACID: But you want him.

[To be continued]


Commencing Bombardment

Back in the early Nineties, we had ourselves a perfect little pocket war, known as Operation Desert Shield, the only U.S. war, so far, to sound like a feminine hygiene product. It was a swift, unforgettable thing, with CNN broadcasting live footage of Scud missiles falling on Tel Aviv, our wealthy friends, the Kuwaitis, getting looted by another one of our wealthy friends, one Saddam Hussein. Back during the Cold War, we weren’t always too choosy about who we took up with, and, as often happens, some of our relationships ended badly.

Seriously, it was a terrible war, with real bombs, blood, and bodies, and there was nothing amusing about it. I keenly remember feeling an awful sense of despair, as it became readily apparent the violence was inevitable, with no true certainty how it would turn out. Just as with its sequel, Operation Desert Storm (like most sequels, even more of a bummer), there were legitimate fears the war would set the entirely Middle East ablaze and completely destabilize the world economy. We’d have to wait another decade for that to happen.

History felt like an irresistible wave, a tsunami that rolled over everyone, no matter where they lived and how much money they did or didn’t have. The sense of fear and helplessness haunted me long after we’d tucked everyone back in their boxes, and I dealt with it the way writers do: I picked up the pen. In this case, I wrote a two-act drama called Bombardment.

At that time, I’d become friends with some wickedly clever artists running a new Portland Theatre Company, Stark Raving Theatre, and I asked them if they’d take a look at it. You know, just to see what they thought. They said, sure. And the next thing I knew, we were building a set. That’s the way theatre ought to be done–by the seat of your pants, with absolutely no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

The four-actor play–two men, two women–was directed by the very talented Kyle Evans, and ran for six weeks. It took a typical trajectory for a new play by a then-unknown playwright: a great opening (when everybody’s friends and family showed up), struggling weeknights, but stronger weekends. Reviewers were puzzled, dismissive, or both, but word got around that the play was a wild little beast, and really different from anything else running in town. Weekend audiences began to grow, and we closed strongly.

A year later, I tried to hide myself in a plush theatre seat at the Oregon Book Awards ceremony (Oregon’s top literary prize), absolutely terrified that Bombardment, one of three Finalists, might actually win, and I’d have to say something in front of a bunch of writers much more distinguished than myself.

It didn’t win (it’d be almost 20 years before I’d finally bring the OBA home for Lost Wavelengths), but the Bombardment experience really set the hook: I wanted to keep writing plays. For good or ill (depending on who you ask), I’ve been doing it ever since.

So I’ve always had kind of a soft spot for Bombardment, even though it totally screwed up my life. The play was just so . . . out there. I was so new to playwriting, I didn’t even know how many rules I’d blithely shattered. Bombardment was like letting the horse loose, holding on, and just marveling at its power while trying not to worry about getting killed.

Over the years, as I’ve honed my craft (supposedly), I’d dig the play out of the files, work on it a bit, maybe shop it around to a few theatres, maybe put it back in the folder. I came to accept it just wasn’t the kind of play for bigger theatres–the kind afraid of possibly alienating their subscription base. It was just too jagged, non-linear, brutal, and, frankly, weird. It’s a play for theatrical buccaneers.

And that’s why we’re here.

[To be continued]


Now is The Time to Act

Danger splattworks readers: a long post on a serious subject follows.

In this morning’s Sunday New York Times, the Week in Review section included a chilling article about increasing tensions in Bosnia and Europe’s sleepy non-involvement. The entire article follows below, but it’s an issue I’ve been following for at least the last year, as political and ethnic tensions have risen in that troubled country, leading keen observers to fear a resurrection of the hostilities that marked Europe’s work outbreak of violence since World War II.

In case you’ve forgotten or were too young to remember what happened, after Yugoslavia’s strongman Tito died, ethnic factions–largely Serbian and Croats–where whipped into anger by self-serving ideologues, exploiting centuries-old divisions betweeen Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, the result being a ghastly three-way civil war that claimed over 100,000 lives and was marked by ethnic cleansing (i.e., wholesale murder of ethnic groups), systematic rapes, torture, and other atrocities, and the utter ongoing destruction of Sarajevo, one of the world’s great cities, which suffered a horrible, protracted death at the hands of Serb snipers and mortars as the rest of the world–Europe and the United States included–wrung their hands and dithered. Finally, NATO stepped in with airstrikes at Serb positions, and, in a short time–magic!–the warring factions hammered out an cease-fire arrangement in Dayton, Ohio (since known as the Dayton Peace Accords).

The suffering of Sarajevo and it’s people, who prevailed heroically (and sometimes not-so-heroically) under the most appalling conditions, and the inability of the world’s leaders to act, drove one playwright–me–into an utter fury, resulting in the drama Liberation, which premiered in 1999 at Portland’s Stark Raving Theatre the week NATO bombs began falling on Kosovo, another Balkan flashpoint. The play was celebrated by critics, both in Portland and, especially, in its 2003 production at Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company in Santa Ana (Los Angeles area). It went on to be published by the good folks at Original Works Publishing.

Now, as theatres are looking at their 2011 seasons, I urge them, implore them, to consider Liberation for possible production, not only because I feel passionately about the play–which, of course, I do–but because unless voices speak out to remember the all-too-recent past, we may be condemned to repeat it…which, trust me, is not something we want to do.

Below is the article published in today’s New York Times. You’ll also find links to Original Works Publishing’s Liberation page and Rude Guerilla’s archive page on the play, which includes reviews and production photographs. Also included is a link to Vice President Joe Biden’s office, as Biden has been instumental in fact-finding missions to the Balkans. If you want to contact a politician to express your concerns about the detiorating situation in the Balkans, his office is a good place to start. I’m also creating a Facebook group dedicated to Liberation: a link to that is also included below. Below the New York Times article is a review from the Rude Guerrilla production.

Please also pass this information on to theatre companies you feel may be appropriate homes for this play. I know this all sounds terribly self-serving; in many ways, I’d just as soon count Liberation as a historical piece that serves as warning lesson on the dangers of “looking the other way” in a dangerous world where our lives are interlinked by globalism. But I’m afraid the situation is more serious than that, and we’re again entering a time when the play may again serve as a protest against the inhumanity of war, in a small, very bloody piece of the world.

I know this blog has readers all over the world. I’m stepping outside of my usual, tongue-in-cheek snarkvoice to urge you take this post seriously.

A final note on Liberation: it’s a very tough, uncompromising play–I wrote it to be as strong an indictment of war as I possibly could–and it’s tough going for audiences, akin to the theatrical equivalent of the film The Killing Fields. Producing it takes commitment, passion, and nerve. I hope, however, that both theatre companies and audiences can find the piece deeply rewarding.

Once again, we are being called upon to act.

Thanks very much,

Steve

Original Works Publishing: Liberation

Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company: Liberation

Vice-President Joe Biden

Liberation Facebook Group

—————–

WHILE EUROPE SLEEPS, BOSNIA SEETHES

NEARLY 14 years after peace for Bosnia was hammered out in Ohio, the hills rising up around Sarajevo can still lead a visitor to uncomfortable thoughts about sightlines for snipers.

As I stood there in person on a visit back in May with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the violence of the ’90s didn’t feel so far away. Mr. Biden barnstormed through the Balkans on Air Force 2, also stopping in Serbia and Kosovo, with the goal of trying to draw flagging attention back to the region, delivering his sternest lecture to the Bosnian Parliament, warning against falling back onto “old patterns and ancient animosities.”

Mr. Biden is not alone in his warnings. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, under the headline “The Death of Dayton,” Patrice C. McMahon and Jon Western write that because of ethnic divisions that refuse to heal, widespread corruption and political deadlock, “the country now stands on the brink of collapse” and “unless checked, the current trends toward fragmentation will almost certainly lead to a resumption of violence.”

Whether or not that happens, the peacekeeping force meant to crack down on any outbreaks now has fewer than 2,000 troops. And the American contingent, a promise and a deterrent to those who justifiably doubt the European Union’s resolve if force is needed, has left entirely.

These circumstances might be cause for widespread alarm, if anyone had noticed them in the first place. It didn’t used to be that way. It used to be that you didn’t have to shout to get heard on the subject of Bosnia. The name alone was enough to evoke the rape, torture, burned-out homes and mass graves that marked a three-and-a-half-year war in which roughly 100,000 people were killed, a majority of them Muslims.

But that was a long time ago. For much of the Western world Bosnia is an all-but-forgotten problem, far down the list of priorities after countries like Iraq, Iran and North Korea. As if to drive the point home, the chief architect of the Dayton peace accords in the Clinton administration, Richard C. Holbrooke, now a special envoy in the Obama administration, has his hands full with the war in Afghanistan and the even more complex situation in neighboring, nuclear-armed Pakistan. Mr. Holbrooke has complained in recent years of a “distracted international community.”

If the drift of public attention away from Bosnia is a result of more pressing issues in an age of terrorism and rogue nuclear states, it is also a function of the simple fact that this ethnically divided country finds itself in the middle of a far more united, stable and at times downright boring Europe than in the days of the civil war.

Bosnia could well return to violence, but it has lost a large measure of what might be called its Franz Ferdinand threat. For all of the moral and humanitarian arguments for getting involved in the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia, there was also the severe lesson from Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914, which provided the spark for World War I. That lesson was simple: conflicts start in the Balkans, but they do not necessarily stay there.

The end of the cold war brought elation but also trepidation. In hindsight, the march of countries like Poland, Hungary and Romania from the Warsaw Pact into NATO and the European Union may appear steady and all but predestined, but the paths of those newly freed countries were anything but certain at the time. Bosnia was a starkly destabilizing factor in a far more unstable continent. The fighting that began in the spring of 1992 was not quite three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and less than a year after the attempted coup of August 1991 in Russia, and came hard on the heels of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, the picture has changed again. Now that Europe is no longer the fault line of a divided world, it looks ever more like a retirement community with good food and an excellent cultural calendar. Spies cut from the George Smiley cloth could really come in from the cold, retiring with legions of their countrymen to the Spanish coast, with no more to worry about than the decline of the pound against the euro and the sinking value of their condos.

The European Union has its share of problems, including a rapidly graying population projected to shrink by 50 million people by 2050 and deep troubles in integrating the immigrants — particularly from Muslim countries — it so drastically needs to reverse the demographic slide. And the union’s energy security depends on its often capricious and at times menacing neighbor to the east, Russia.

Russia’s invasion of Georgia last summer served as a stern reminder that things can still get rough outside of the gated community, and certainly made newer members like Poland and Estonia nervous about the sturdiness of the fence.

Renewed fighting in Bosnia may not launch World War III, but it could well spread to other parts of the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. Kosovo declared independence last year, and the United States Embassy in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, burned at the hands of angry rioters. I walked the streets in the aftermath, interviewing Serbs, and found rage, sadness and desperation even among the most pro-Western elements of society.

It was something of a pleasant surprise, then, to return with Mr. Biden this year and find average Serbs on the same streets sounding deeply pragmatic about the visit by an American politician who not only represented the superpower that had bombed them but was personally an early and staunch supporter of Muslims in both Bosnia and Kosovo. While there were holdouts, most said that jobs and freedom to travel trumped old enmities.

With any luck the sentiment will find more traction in neighboring Bosnia too, drowning out the extreme voices and their loose talk of war. Given how far the world’s attention has wandered, supporters of peace in the Balkans will have to hope they find their own path to moderation. Otherwise the crack of snipers’ bullets and the whistle of mortar shells could herald the terrible spectacle of a preventable return to bloodshed.

————
Theatre Y2K: Liberation Review

review
“liberation”
rude guerrilla theater co.
at the empire theater
santa ana, ca
18 april 03
reviewed by mark jonas

Imagine a dazzling, cosmopolitan city — a city of chic stores, good-looking
people, great shopping, hot bars and coffeehouses, where the latest cars,
movies and designer labels are all around.

Now imagine it shelled, and people bleeding in the streets, and going to work amid gunfire, driving past the ruins of places they used to know and love.

The city was Sarajevo; the time was the early 1990s. If you study photos of
Sarajevo during the warfare of that time, you’re struck by how “western,”
even how “American” parts of it look. In the right light, the offices, stores
and avenues could pass for Brooklyn, Boston, Cleveland, or Oakland or Los Angeles…even Orange County, CA.

Orange County is where you’ll find a powerful new play about Sarajevo: Steve Patterson’s “Liberation”, now at Santa Ana’s Empire Theater. It’s brought to you by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company.

Patterson is not Bosnian; he is Oregonian. He is from Portland, where
“Liberation” was produced by Stark Raving Theatre. According to the program biography, he has worked as a reporter, and that has probably given him the ability to “shape” a story and to see and interpret different points of view. Appropriately, his play is set in a newspaper office. It’s an exciting choice, a useful “neutral ground” from which to explore the psychology of warand ethnic conflict.

It’s no ordinary day for the reporters and editors at one of Sarajevo’s major
newspapers. Paper and ink shortages threaten tomorrow’s edition. And
suddenly, so does the arrival of a Serb army deserter, Tuna (Justin L.
Waggle). Tuna wants to come clean on the Serbian army’s atrocities — the
ethnic cleansing, rape and murder of Bosnian Muslims, and Croats. It’s a
scoop for reporter Petar (Kristian Capalik); it’s a path toward asylum for
Tuna and his sister Lana (Jami McCoy).

It is January, and the Serbs have been shelling the city for months — a
campaign that will eventually kill more than 10,500 of Sarajevo’s
half-million citizens, and wound tens of thousands more physically and
psychologically. Trying to hold down the fort of the fifth estate are Zlatko,
the publisher (David Rusiecki), and his secular Muslim wife Vedrana (Deborah Conroy), who edits. Four other staffers continue to work: Milena and Ismail (Luz Violeta Govill, Craig Johnson), and Sasha and Dado (Melita Ann Sagar, Andrew Nienaber).

There are problems enough harboring a deserter from an enemy army, but things get worse. A Serb general parks tanks and troops up the street from the office, and spreads propaganda painting Tuna as a Muslim terrorist holding the paper hostage. When the building is shelled by the army, blood runs and hope escapes.

“Liberation” does not present an audience with poetic transcendence, comic
relief, fantasy sequences or satire. There is simply more of the same awful
situation, and this is one of the play’s strengths. Its characters attempt to
publish a newspaper because there is nothing else to do; they become noble
because the situation demands nothing less.

More than any other quality, “Liberation” conveys the despondency and
resignation of life in wartime; its characters feel deadened by degrees.
Everyone has a story (“we are pincushioned with stories,” Ismail ruefully
notes) of seeing people killed, or shellshocked or maimed. The play’s first
and last lines come with a signature irony — one of the only good weapons
left.

Director Jody J. Reeves has pulled some strong performances from her cast.
(One of her actors, Kristian Capalik, actually spent his childhood in
Sarajevo.) Waggle is clearly a very dedicated and very good young actor,
playing Tuna with notable presence and nuance. As Vedrana, Conroy projects
real dignity and ready compassion. Govill gets to handle the play’s best
prose (an extended recollection of the old Sarajevo) and the play’s most
wrenching scene, which really does make you want to leave your seat and grab
a first aid kit. Reeves could have kept a closer rein on some things. Govill
(playing a Croat) uses what sounds like a thick Russian accent in an
otherwise accent-free production, and Rusiecki has been permitted to turn in
a placid, almost mellow performance that is out of touch with the emergency
of the story. Still, the cast (and script) do collectively resonate.

There’s little happiness in “Liberation”. It’s a heavy, often grueling play.
It’s also a good one.

“Liberation”,
presented by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company
at the Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.
Th-Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 2:30pm thru April 27. $15, $12 for students, teachers & seniors. 714.547.4688.


Liberation, at Last

Original Works Publishing is now taking pre-orders for:…my play about a newspaper office trying to stay open during the siege of Sarajevo. Dark, violent, full of gallows humor, and very well received by the critics over the years. “Liberation” premiered in 1999 at Portland’s Stark Raving Theatre, where it was directed by the fabulous Lisa L. Abbott (who, coincidentally, directs the upcoming “Dead of Winter”…see how I carefully worked that plug in? That’s art, baby.)

You can check out their write-up/order form on Original Works

Or you can check out Original Works MySpace page.

Steve