Saturday, October 25, 2008

The April Hour

Sat 25 Oct & Sun 26 Oct, 2008
By Jonathan Smit
Dir Scott Illingworth
With Vanessa Aspillaga*, J. Eric Cook, John Doman*, Haskell King*, Deirdre O'Connell* & Elanna White*.


  1. Toward the end of his play, Jonathan Smit quotes Shelley:

    'The serpent is shut out from paradise.
    The wounded deer must seek the herb no more
    In which its heart cure lies:
    The widowed dove must cease to haunt a bower
    Like that from which its mate with feigned sighs
    Fled in the April Hour.'

    This play, it seems to me, is about the crashing of one's past against the walls of the present; 'the April Hour,' the time when change is subsumed into the march of time, when death becomes life again.
    It is a beautiful idea that has been breathed into a beautiful play.

    Writing about writing, art about art can be painful to watch if its not handled with a modest touch. But Mr. Smit successfully navigates past the Scylla of literary pretension and the Charybdis of showy intellectualism by focusing with an astute, unbiased lens on the emotional, moral, intellectual and sexual complexities that together constitute the tumultuous souls of artists. His characters are carefully cut from the technicolor patchwork of life, clashing passionately against circumstance and each other in a way that asserts 'art imitates life' and not the other way around.

  2. frustrated and disappointed Labyrinth loverOctober 28, 2008 at 1:45 PM

    What a long winded dreary dragging start of a play, I found it nothing more than ego driven character exposition, completely unnecessary to the plot or story line (the audience is not stupid!) we get it over and over, the guy doesn't like or want kids, the guy is literate (we see it, do we have to hear it)
    He's a womanizer that likes to drink (could it be any more obvious from the story and stage directions, do we really have to hear it more from the characters?).

    Why not start the story with the disappearance of the manuscript?
    Ever heard of action, hence actors?

    What is more frustrating than an obviously capable writer taking the audience hostage and belaboring the poor actors and play with egomanical literature quoting dribble?

    Does Mr Smit actually have something to say or just wants to let us know he appreciates a great novel and idolizes and imagines himself the prolific, alcoholic, womanizing talent who recognizes the much much done subject and fear of youth being laden with A.D.D. and excitement over the technological, advancing and alienating age they inherit and inhabit?

    The million dollar question is, is this really what the talented pool of artists called Labyrinth has to offer as a play or work in progress?

  3. I think that the play is beautiful, as is the writing and the conventions used. I enjoyed the irony of these very poetic, very literate, very intellectual, very worldly characters having troubles expressing their thoughts...or was it that they felt the need to censor themselves? I also enjoyed that then sometimes, they allowed themselves, or were so moved by something, that they had these wonderful monologues that eloquently and yet very directly expressed exactly what they wanted to say. Beautiful. That said, these were my concerns.

    Whatever the intent behind the incomplete sentences and clear use of the ellipses and, perhaps, dashes in the script, the convention requires that the actor really explore the thought processes of the really explore the reason(s) WHY the sentence was stopped and what the character was trying to say in the first place. I noticed that if the actor is not clear about the intent behind the stopped sentence, then the line becomes flat, and nonsensical. And the writing tool that the playwright is using becomes painfully obvious. However, when the actor knows what they're saying and why the sentenced is interrupted...when the actor understands the language (as a couple of the actors did), it comes off beautifully.

    I thought the ending was a little neat for my taste. This whole network of people have all been devastated in one way or another and yet they need the nucleus of this "family". I needed to see that they each needed to be there. Apparently, it is something that the creative team (the writer, the director, and the actors) explored in their short rehearsal process, and I would encourage Mr. Smit to go further in his exploration.

    There is a moment in the play when the Doris is caught in the office by Henry and they argue about why she is there in the first place, and why she stole his manuscript. Near the end of the moment, Doris exclaims "It's hot", and she pulls up her sleeves. It is here that Henry asks about the cut marks on her arms, and she pulls her sleeves down, and that's the end of that.

    In a play so filled with beautiful language and art and literature and smarts and all these other...poetic things, I was really disappointed that Mr. Smit could not come up with a better way to reveal Doris' secret. It was so blatant that her line "It's hot" was so that Henry could see her scars that it really pulled me out of the play at a time when I should have been on the edge of my seat.

    So, the play needs a little work, but that's what this whole process is about. I think Mr. Smit has a wonderful piece on his hand and that these minor concerns could certainly be alleviated. Good luck to him.

  4. It is apparent from the beginning moment of The April Hour (with it's two main character's fucking amusingly and passionately) that, despite being a play with a somewhat familiar story, that it will be one that explores this story in an articulate, boldly vulgar, and ultimately unique way.

    Jonathan has taken on the complicated task of creating a melodrama that centers around an unabashedly selfish and abrasive artist. Such an endeavor, which also includes a fair share of baby daddy drama and diatribes about the artistic process, could easily be tedious and painful. But Jonathan, proving he is an author with integrity (and who also does not necessarily share all the opinions of his writer protagonist) manages to not alienate his audience. He has in fact created a compelling, humorous, and touching piece of writing.

    In talk backs, he mentioned concern over the audience feeling that they are supposed to side with Henry's lifestyle and rants about literature, marriage, child rearing. Yet what I found to be the play's greatest strength was in how free I felt to disagree with Henry, even in monologues that had half the audience cheering. It allowed me to respect the character as I would perhaps a brilliant professor whose ideals contradicted some of my own. The brilliance behind henry's rants is that they could have been boring pontification of a vain playwright, but there is a momentum and a truly character based passion that drives them. It also allowed for me to buy the character's transformation, brought about mostly by the introduction of a precocious daughter spawned by Henry's earlier days of sleeping with his admiring students.

    Being a somewhat large play, it has its flaws. I feel that more could be explored with Sondra, Henry's protege'. His relationship with his wife is so compelling and complicated and she a character who is shown to be a true equal to Henry. Because of that, I feel like I need something more to prove to me why Sondra, besides being just a talented writer, is an almost dangerous rival to Sonia, causing her to confess a rare jealousy. I feel that if Sondra is as brilliant as she is described, that she should be shown challenging Henry more than just idolizing him. Otherwise she comes across as somewhat adolescent.

    But the play's great potential made me not concerned about these flaws, as I can see that Jonathan is working towards truly fleshing out each character in this large and literate drama. he also admirably scores a great number of laughs throughout the entire play, which I was grateful for. Plays like this can sometimes start out with moments of humor but become bogged down by their seriousness by the second act. Thankfully Jonathan doesn't take himself too seriously, allowing for this serious play to be consistently entertaining.

  5. I agree with the previous Anonymous that the playwright's Sondra needed to present more of the eccentricities and power of an artist.

    Henry is the only one with lengthy, interesting, and satirical monologues, which means it is too easy to see him as the playwright's alter ego; in addition, it makes the play a little too conventional. The ending as well seemed too pat. Despite these criticisms of the writing, the acting was generally superb and I was on the edge of my seat through most of it.

    Again, it is long overdue for writers to examine the results of the free love outbreak which began perhaps in the 60s (much as it was welcomed and therapeutic for so many and so long), the many children raised without fathers (or in some cases without mothers, or by other relatives and friends) for one reason or another, and the many potential repercussions. Congratulations to Mr. Smit for such an ambitious project.