Saturday, November 8, 2008

Burning, Burning, Burning, Burning

Saturday Nov 8 & Tuesday Nov 11, 2008
By David Bar Katz
Directed by John Gould Rubin
Featuring Brian Avers*, Katie Barrett*, Eric Bogosian*, David Deblinger*, Charles Goforth*, Gillian Jacobs*, Michael Stuhlbarg* & Yul Vázquez*


  1. Although, this is a general note for most of these readings. It is very obvious that you have great talent working with you. I have seen many of these people in full performance and been blown away on several occasions. Many of these writers have taken my breath away in other shows. Many of the directors have been the instruments to make this happen.

    That said, I find it very difficult to listen to your readings. Very infrequently do the actors really speak to each other. I know that you would have to sacrifice pace a bit for this, but I would be willing to sit the extra half-hour to take something away from the evening.

    Also, I know it's early work, but it seems that many of these actors are driven to large shows of emotions they are not feeling so deeply. It is distracting to the play. My bullshit meter goes off. Though I understand and applaud the intent, it steals from an actual ability to listen to what is being said.

    In such situations, it would be easier simply for me to read the play at home and give you an opinion. I can't really give an honest opinion of last night's play, because I could not see through all of this stuff to the play itself.

    So, please take that with salt. Many people at the show last night obviously enjoyed themselves.

  2. re: ...these actors are driven to large shows of emotions they are not feeling so distracting to the play. My bullshit meter goes steals from an actual ability to listen would be easier simply for me to read the play at home...

    you should definitely do that then. why let actors mess up something like a play? you're so right, plays are meant to be read not seen...wait is that right? are you?

  3. For one, the actors have not messed up the play. They have done a wonderful job in trying to fulfill the demands of the script. It is in the effort to present a work quickly that these things are lost. We all tend to worry that people won't 'get it' unless emotions are played to the full hilt. We tend to worry that onlookers will get bored and tune out if a play is slower in pace. We tend to think of a play as being a piece of writing, rather than work of living art, so when an actor comes up off the page to see the real response, we call it indulgent. A staged reading is an odd situation. We go after the essence of a play with only mental circumstances as a field of communication. Take from that what you will.

  4. I attended the reading last night. The first thing I must say is thank you to the playwright, the actors, the company and its sponsors for providing us with such a moving and thought-provoking evening. It is truly an honor to share space with such talented artists in the process of creation.

    A couple of questions/comments ...

    I love the ambiguity of Gideon - charlatan or messiah? more on that later.

    Re: the cat scene. It was impossible for me to keep my composure during Gideon's description of the torture and murder of his wife and child. I personally felt flayed and violated having to sit there and hear it. Yet even as I was experiencing it so viscerally, I wondered at the same time "why is the playwright doing this to me?" I thought it might be a true depiction of something that had actually happened in human history (a nauseating thought, knowing now that it did), and it is right and important to bring such matters to light. I did come away from the experience feeling somehow enlightened, so for that I am grateful. However, it also created in me a craving for an event to balance ... something equally incredible to show the side of the human soul that is worthy and good and larger than itself. That bit was the hardest and worst thing I've ever had to sit through in my life, but there is a beauty in that, too.

    To include something so extremely powerful in the piece, something must be Done with it. Otherwise, you're just reporting the news, which I know you get already, David. When this story became a possible explanation of the Event that had caused Gideon to go off the deep end (underpinning the charlatan theory), I was still with you. But then Rachel levitated.

    Rachel levitating confused me. I couldn't believe you wanted us to believe there was actual "magic." That moment erased the Beautiful Ambiguity. The question was ... answered?!? (the bugs I feel still can be represented on stage convincingly enough so that the audience is not sure if they're real or imagined ... as long as the other characters don't step on them). If Rachel really levitates, it follows that Gideon really is the Messiah, and the whole story about what happened to his wife, well it's for nought but a history lesson. And if he's the Messiah, and this is the Apocalypse, why isn't all of humanity obliterated (rather than having the Others outside the synagogue)?

    I still loved it. Please don't take my questions as critique. Who can pretend they can comprehend all the ins and outs of any great art in one viewing?

    Congratulations to the entire cast (you were each of you wonderful, and I could go on as long again singing your praises), and David most of all. This mere reading (ref the anonymous dude upstairs) was more emotionally, mentally, and spiritually compelling than the vast majority of full-on productions out there.

    Angela Perri
    (red boots in the front row)

    PS - I am an actor, and take exception to the comments of anonymous up there. Of course connection and reaction are cornerstones of our craft. But you seem to forget. This was a READING.

  5. It's a reading that's an important step for the writer to see how it will look off the page and how an audience will respond to their work.

    it's not a favor to the playwright if actors are untruthful, (which is not to say they were, quite often they were wonderful) but I would ask that you not consider a 'reading' a final step in getting a play to an audience. it's also unhelpful if ALL they receive are accolades, deserve them though they might. If you enjoy a play, tell the playwright, but if there's something that stirred in you a desire to speak up, to suggest, submit that too.

    This 'READING' isn't just a reading. It's one part of the process and it's hard to learn how to move forward if this step is seen as its own entity, instead an integral piece of the whole.

  6. "it's also unhelpful if ALL they receive are accolades, deserve them though they might."

    In re: the above, are you suggesting that viewers look under rocks for things to complain about, or "critique"? If all someone has is accolades, then so be it. While I agree and acknowledge that a reading is only one step in the process (and not the FINAL step), it IS the actor's job to bring a play to a full emotional life, no matter WHAT step in the process. If you don't agree with this, or if the actors are "distracting" from you experience, then go read a book.

  7. First of all, I just moved here, and I'm on a contact high from all the theater I'm seeing--about 3 things a week and I wish there were time for more. This play was the most thought-provoking I've seen yet.

    I'm deeply interested in the themes the playwright is exploring, and found it curious when the question was raised as to whether this play might be impossible to produce. At first I thought people were worried the bugs and levitation were problematic--but those are the stuff of which designers' wet dreams are made. Then it dawned on me that there was concern the play might be seen as reducing the Jews to a sort of unthinking, fearful, self-interested stereotype. So I checked in with myself--I am not a Jew, but I worked in a synagogue and feel fairly sensitive to things like this--and just couldn't see that the play was saying these troublesome tendencies are seen only in Jews.

    My take-away from the play was an affirmation of how seductive and dangerous belief can be--a lesson that always bears relevance (and repeating). There’s something so human in wanting to believe, in seeking absolutes and also absolution. Of course, it's a flawed search, often stemming from an eagerness to relinquish personal agency, to be instructed. To be the student is to be a bit more protected, less accountable.

    What keeps this play from being reductive (and possibly offensive) is the rich and varied responses the characters have to this "moral" imperative to immorality. They argue internally, with each other, and with God. They act from very different motivations.

    With the cat story, we understand what propels Gideon and also what he is blind to. There was never a moment of doubt for Gideon, even at the end, and I believe that was his flaw; our strongest-held beliefs should be able to survive questioning. For this, he became a character I could empathize with, and I forgave him at the end for everything that came before.

    Someone commented at the talkback that right in the middle of some of the most violent parts of the play, there was humor. It seemed as though the observation was offered as a criticism, and I'd like to counter that by saying we NEED humor in those places. And it was terrific humor that was very real, that came from deep human needs and worries. When we use humor in the midst of something terrible, we're requiring the audience to look at the terribleness in a new way. If we DON'T have humor, then violence and grief become something precious and unquestionable--a badge to display--and we may as well all stay home and read poorly written novels that fetishize suffering.

    When we laugh at something we fear, we take away some of its power. Humor helps us offend intelligently and with compassion.

    And to speak to the nit-pickings above about the merits of play readings--our collective Suspenders of Disbelief must be worn a little loosely at these things. Rehearsal is minimal, changes come in at the last minute, and the whole point is so we all can serve the play and discover its engine. It's like saying the first date has to be PERFECT for there to be a second. (And that's another play altogether.)

    Thanks for listening. I don't mean to hog the microphone, and I hope some of it's useful. I really dug the play and am looking forward to more readings.

  8. It's funny that people have mentioned the cat story as an important moment because I had the opposite reaction. As a non-religious, non-superstitious person, I was able to buy all of it--the bugs, the levitation, etc. And the only thing that took me out of the play was the story with the cat. I thought, "No way would a cat sit still long enough for that," and "How did they sew it in? Needle and thread? Sewing takes a *really* long time!" So color me surprised to find out that it was based on a true story.

    I think the problem was that I became so desensitized by everything else that had happened and that was described prior to that, that I wasn't able to just take the story at face value anymore.

  9. I really loved this play. I left feeling unsettled and disturbed, which in my opinion is what a play ought to do to the audience. A lot of what happens in the play (or is at least written in the script...I don't know if the bugs and the bed and the words would actually happen onstage or just in the character's head) forces the audience to suspend their disbelief. I believed that the characters truly believed what was coming, but I didn't believe Gideon. The way it was acted, I felt like I knew all along that he was full of sh*t, and I would've liked for that part to be a bit more mysterious. Lea became a bit over the top towards the end...though that may have actually been the audience's fault. A lot of her lines were quite terrifying, yet the audience seemed to find it hilarious. I thought the writing itself was gorgeous and I loved the way the characters described things to each other, particularly the way the wife (I forget her name) speaks to her baby when she's standing in front of the fire. What I found most disturbing about the play is how relevant it felt, even though it takes place in 16th Century Rome. I didn't find the story unbelievable, and that's frightening. Someone made a comment asking why it had to be 'Jewish'. I feel that this particular story is based on that religion, but it doesn't have to be. I think that people of all religions and faiths will believe what they want to believe...I didn't take any issue or offense with the fact that they were Jewish. I would love to see this produced somewhere!

  10. "it's also unhelpful if ALL they receive are accolades, deserve them though they might."

    I have a couple of general comments on the readings and blog, since I noticed that others have made general comments here.

    I wrote a critical response to "Face Cream", although I stressed that the play has promise and my critique largely addressed the problem of workshopping plays to an audience made up of the playwright's friends rather than an audience of strangers who will be better able to respond directly to the work. My post was censored and removed with the claim that it was deeply personally insulting. Another poster who had actually read my comments noted the censorship.

    I am not able to respond on that thread. Responses seem to be blocked. I hope the block is specific to my URL, rather than that discussion. It makes sense if you feel that a poster has made inappropriate comments to block that particular user, but it's another thing entirely if you have shut down discussion about that particular play, for everyone.

    A comment (not mine) about the brilliant "The Mother*@ker with the Hat" is much, much nastier and more personal than anything I wrote in my comment on "Face Cream", and it hasn't been removed. I don't know anyone at LAB and it seemed clear to me at the reading that "Face Cream" was being treated with a different standard than the other five plays I saw at this Barn Series, including "The Motherf*@ker with the Hat." My very point was that protecting a promising playwright from honest responses goes against the purpose of having a reading series like this one.

    It is fair enough to censor targeted personal attacks, but I think it's also fair for you to be consistent about it. In the future, PLEASE post constructive guidelines describing the specific and general content that will cause a post to be censored. I feel sure that I could have made my points about "Face Cream"(which were intended to be constructive and which I thought were quite important) within any particular guidelines that you'd set out.

    With a set of guidelines, either the post condemning Guirgis as a naked emperor would have been removed along with my (less personal, and in my opinion, more constructive, in that I didn't condemn anyone's potential) comments on "Face Cream", or both posts would be intact...OR, at the very least, I would have some sense of why you felt one comment was appropriate and not the other, and I would have a model for posting comments that make important points within acceptable parameters.