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Summer 2015 – Winter 2016:

It’s been a while. My Facebook business page and just plain writing work have taken all my time in the past few months. But a NY Producer/fan recently reminded me that the two sites should work in tandem. “Attention must be paid,” Mr. Miller might say. So here’s a catch-up, after which I’ll be back here on a regular basis. The past several months have been good to the playwright me, but I’ll just hit a couple of the highlights. The successful production of A Question of Words in Oregon led to a call from “The Barn” in Sea Ranch. They heard good things from a local resident who attended, and so wanted to read the script. They loved it and are now going to produce it this September. Two years ago, the Studio@620 in Florida produced that same play (A Question…) and then came back for more, resulting in a production of Life is Mostly Straws earlier this year, which opened to an SRO crowd and great reviews (example below). A revision of my popular one-act, Thank Emily, led to a version entitled, Tell Me What You See. It just won a competition in Vancouver, Canada, where it will run for five nights in June. The Truth Quotient, the science-oriented play that was produced in New York a couple of years ago won the American Actors UK prize, resulting in a rehearsed, public reading at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden a few months back. Quietus won an annual competition in LA, and so had a performance at a prominent Hollywood theater last summer. My teenage play, Not Waving, won the Growing Stage Theater’s annual competition and had two public readings in New Jersey, one of which I attended. My latest play, An Hour Upon the Stage, is now scheduled for a workshop in Manhattan in July, using the great producer/director team at Resonance Ensemble (they produced The Truth Quotient). Maybe You Die Happy and A Fish Story won prizes too, but this is enough catching up.

My primary resolution for this year is to find an agent. There are too many good theaters to which I cannot submit work unless it’s accompanied by the introduction of a licensed agent. It’s time to broaden my reach. If any of you out there have a name or contact, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll be knocking on cyber doors.

Here’s the review mentioned above, from CL Tampa Bay:

Theater Review: Life is Mostly Straws

Cathy Salustri
MARCH 2, 2016
Theater Review: Life is Mostly Straws

Literary masturbation.

No, wait, that’s not right. It isn’t masturbation if you do it with a group, is it? In that case, Life is Mostly Straws serves more as an exhibitionist verbal orgy, and that’s OK. More than OK, really: It seems every other off-center show we feature this week deals with pratfalls and Jack-Tripper-esque scenarios. By contrast, Life is Mostly Straws relies on the power of words to convey its message.

While I expect nothing less from the Studio@620 (I’ve yet to leave their events unimpressed, but I keep trying), Bob Devin Jones direction of Richard Manley’s well-crafted script satisfies nevertheless.

Manley divides this play into two acts. In the first, we meet all four characters: brothers David and Noah (played by Chris Jackson and Christopher Rutherford, respectively) and their respective partners Joanna and Sydney (Georgia Mallory Guy and Kylin Brady.) Of the two brothers, David has chosen a financially secure path while Noah has pursued a career with words in academia. Joanna, David’s wife, has a secret, David must deal with a colleague’s suicide, Noah hides a professional disappointment, and newcomer Sydney must navigate this WASP-y-as-hell family as they do this all before and after dinner in Act One.

The bulk of the action takes place in David’s home office, the focal point of Bob Devin Jones’s set design. Let’s talk briefly about that: The Studio is not a proper theater and is far too small to get away with “it looks good from 50 feet” mentality employed by set designers in larger houses. The set and dressing, therefore, radiate wealth and power (at least, in part) because cheap furniture painted for the theater wouldn’t look as good at 10 feet, which is roughly the distance between the ottoman onstage and the front row.

The important thing, though, is that the set works, which allows us to immerse ourselves in what happens on it. And what happens is we witness the raw power of language and how it can delight — and destroy. If Act One sets a sunny stage with witty repartee reminiscent of a (somewhat dark) Neil Simon play, Act Two sends us down a cruel hallway paved with verbal abuse and emotional destruction.

Some parts are predictable — it’s clear, for instance, Manley wants us to assume Noah is fucking David’s wife when he clearly isn’t — while others — namely, David’s propensity for emotional abuse — come as a shock. It shouldn’t; both men spend the first act showing us conversation as sport and driving home how David plays to win.

The publicity for this play beats us over the head with the hardships endured by the brothers as children and how well-adjusted they seem at the play’s outset. While David alludes to that childhood, we know it more from the advertisements about the play than the play itself. Onstage we see only two brothers tied to each other and, as the play progresses, fighting to stay tied and, finally and only on Noah’s part, separate.

Life is Mostly Straws’ heart beats with language and its power. Because of that, it must have been tempting for the actors to fall in love with the words and nothing else; fortunately for us, they don’t. Audiences share an intimate space with this foursome, and the players forces the audience to share their emotions. I certainly did. There’s not much to say about the actors, incidentally, because Jones cast well and each performer did their jobs well. When you go to see Straws, you won’t think about Jackson’s technique (precisely honed to be a lovable bastard) or Rutherford’s subtext of lovable geek (hopefully intentional.) The women, although minor roles in comparison to those of the brothers, help tell the story well. That’s not to say the production doesn’t have its shortcomings; it does (and more on that in a moment), but the way the words work appealed greatly to me, because the actors delivered them with skill and precision.

Now, about those shortcomings: In short, the changes this production makes to Manley’s words don’t work, namely the end. Since I think this is a show that deserves a few hours of your time, I won’t ruin it for you by telling you what they changed, but the ending is not performed as written, and the one The Studio uses is far more predictable than the one Manley wrote, which, after a vibrant, well-acted show, comes as a letdown and feels like a betrayal.

Beyond that, there’s not a lot about this production that won’t appeal to fans of verbal performances. It’s cerebral, but not so much so that everyone can’t enjoy it. It’s witty, but it’s not a comedy. It’s tragic, too, but it’s not a tragedy.

Simply put, it’s worth seeing. Those are all the words I have; I’ll leave the rest to Manley.

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