Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Tale of Two Plays

It's taken me a week to decide whether to post this or not. Not that it's particularly controversial, but because I was seriously doubting my own opinion. Theatreworks at UCCS just finished their season with two plays about the Middle East done in repertoire. They are meant as a means to better understand cultures that are quite literally foreign to most of us. Both plays received rave reviews locally and from the Denver Post arts critic. I agree with one, but not the other.

Nine Parts of Desire is a one-woman play featuring Karen Slack as nine Iraqi women. She moves from one position on the stage to another seamlessly, changing character as she goes. With the help of a black piece of cloth used as everything from a shawl to a head scarf to a skirt, Slack also physically transforms from a preteen girl to an elder woman to a fat Bedouin divorcee to a hip London intellectual to a twenty-something Iraqi-American. Over the course of the play, the tension and pathos build until the actress and the audience are emotionally drained. This was a moving, visceral experience. Bits of it still come back to me a week later.

Dar al-Harb, the other play, keeps coming back to, but not in a good way. It is based on the true event of Egyptian Sayyid Qutb. He came to Greeley, Colorado, in 1949 to attend what was then a teaching college. He left a short time later so hating America that he is now known as the father of Islamic radicalism. Murry Ross, Artistic Director of Theatreworks, wrote this play as a way to explain what may have happened. At least that's the story in the program.

Let me say that I like plays that combine a lot of things. Last year's Wonderland, a reimagining of the Alice story, was great. And Something's Rotten had three actors trying to do Hamlet with a narcoleptic lead. Since they were short on cast, Teddy Ruxpin played Polonius--brilliant. But this felt more like Ross couldn't decide what kind of play he wanted to write so he threw in a bit of everything. There is a video screen behind the action that shows 1949 pop culture pictures, often in concert with radio ads or popular music. One of the musical numbers I enjoyed was Qutb and a co-ed lipsyncing to Baby It's Cold Outside.

There are moments when Ross touches on things that may have upset Qutb and caused his low opinion of America. Churches that promote fraternization between young people through socials and dances, co-eds in revealing clothing, a culture of consumerism in the post-war boom, students making fun of his differences. But then he mixes it up with a jinn whose name is John Lee Hooker, a woman who pretends to be Muslim and wears a burka in an attempt to seduce Qutb, and three clerics who act as a sort of Greek chorus. I'm not Muslim, but I was offended at several points.

Their hearts may have been in the right place, but the outcome of their intentions was definitely mixed. Maybe next time one of their own decides to pen a screenplay, they'll send it through a critiquing process before producing it.

Monday, March 31, 2008

March Recap

The only one of my goals that I actually finished was the vacation in Phoenix, which was a good one to finish. My last post pretty much sums up the rest of the month of March. It bit.

So, what will make April different? I will. Not that I have any more control over the things that crop up that you never saw coming. But I do have control over what I plan for myself and how I react to those pesky pop-up issues. I have a couple blocks of time that I'm protecting rather jealously. And a third that I may be able to reclaim. We'll just have to see how things progress this month.

Another difference? I've eliminated page counts from the goals. They just say "work on." When I set word and page counts, I tend to feel that if I sit down to write I HAVE to write a lot in order to get to the count. If finishing is the goal, then I have to write even more. If I only have to work on it, then a paragraph is gold. I still feel like revisions work better with more time, but I'm going to try to be flexible about that one, too.

April has always been my month. There has been some dread of it the past few years because of conference. I don't have that hanging over me this year and I don't want to hang anything else in its place. Let's see if lightening up helps.