Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Colorful Language

“I am a person whose entire life with a child to support depends on her tits and this balloon and the capabilities of her physical grace and imaginary inventiveness with which I can appear to express something of interest in the air by the movement and places in the air I put the balloon along with my body, which some other dumb bitch would be unable to imagine or would fall down in the process of attempting.”


This sentence, typical of the verbal acrobatics of David Rabe’s 1984 play Hurlyburly, exemplifies perfectly both the linguistic sophistication of the characters (in this case Bonnie, played in New City Stage Company’s production by the lovely Mary Lee Bednarek) and the communicative shortcomings the language presents to the characters.

Indulge, if you will, an exercise. Grammar—along with her ugly-duckling cousin, Syntax—for all the arcane rules and befuddlements, can help us understand meaning in a profound way, a way few people fully appreciate. Context and Usage articulate Meaning as clearly as Diction.

And so, what are we to make of this apparently overstuffed sentence? And what can it tell us about Bonnie, her relationship with Eddie (NCS Co-Artistic Director Russ Widdall), and Rabe’s play at large?

This complex sentence (yep, it’s just one sentence) features five subordinate clauses (identified here by their verbs):

depends / can appear to express / put / be unable to imagine / would fall down

Reading the sentence, it veers and swerves, is loaded with parentheticals and half-asides; it seems coarse and crass, simultaneously egotistical and self-deprecating, and ultimately pleading for respect and acknowledgement.

But in all the ado, the circuitous clausal complexity, it may be easy to forget the main clause, the only part of the sentence which depends on nothing and stands alone, the only part that is true in and of itself:

BONNIE: “I am a person.”

Kevin Rodden is an Artistic Associate at New City Stage Company. He blogs occasionally (more regularly starting now) for New City Stage. He is currently serving as Assistant Director and Dramaturg for Hurlyburly

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Satire and Parody

There is a fine line between satire and parody. Satire is a mostly intellectual exercise, one that lampoons convention while forwarding a separate agenda, frequently antithetical to that of its target. Parody, on the other hand, is about love, even devotion. Even at its snarkiest, parody tears down only to elevate. Its message is inclusive rather than isolating--We understand and appreciate you; here are some jokes at your expense. 

Put another way, it has been said that sarcasm--pointless and legless satire-- is the lowest form of wit, while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

[We wax parodic every time we say, "Best. News. Ever." Popular culture in the postmodern (post-postmodern? post-post-postmodern?) era, quite naturally, parodies parody.]
George Bernard Shaw wrote satire. Christopher Durang writes parody, or he at least he did with "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge," produced by New City Stage this December on the Mainstage at the Adrienne Theatre. 

In Mrs. Bob..., Durang turns Dickens' classic upside down, taking its mute Mrs. Cratchit and reimagining her along a Durangian spectrum--put-upon, misanthropic, and alcoholic. That such a character invokes both pathos and admiration is a credit to Durang's loving touch, but also to the magnetism and charisma of actress Kittson O'Neill in the New City Stage production. 

What to make of this parodic play with songs--not quite a Musical--in an era of instantaneous ironic distancing? How to square the barbs of the playwright with the his obvious appreciation of his source material? A single oblique reference to "the law firm of Havisham, Happ, and Fagin," invokes elation from Dickens aficionados, but passes over the unaware as so much background noise--they're there for the fart jokes! And all are welcome. 

Kevin Rodden is an Artistic Associate with New City Stage Company, and will appear for the first time with New City Stage with Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge

Friday, May 25, 2012

On Hats



small hat

“Does anybody still wear a hat?”

“Baseball Players”
“They’re caps”

“Football—‘Get a HAT on the ball!’”

“Construction Workers, they wear hats—
“Yeah, Hard Hat Zone!”
“But that’s function not form”
“Yeah, so?

“What about metaphorical hats?”
“Screw you.”
“Metaphorical hats? What does that even mean?”

Russ Widdall dons the director’s hat for the first time with Asymmetric. For five performances over the next few weeks, Russ will also wear his actor’s hat in Sam Shepard’s Savage/Love and Tongues, the exact hat he wore in the 2011 Fringe. That’s an old hat, but it’s certainly not old-hat.

Switching between hats can be perplexing—and exhausting—it turns out.




“You watch the rest of the world from a window while you finish the hat.”

Stephen Sondheim captured the mundane work and the ecstatic thrill of artistic creation in his song “Finishing the Hat” from his Pulitzer Prize-winning work Sunday in the Park with George.

George, a trail-blazing pointillist painter,
tries to determine the risks and
of his work.
A hat seems a
totally boring article,
something mundane and ubiquitous,
to the point of losing

The metaphor is apt; the creation of art,
especially theatre,
is the preservation of realism in
a long-rehearsed and
endlessly-performed work of total fiction.

But to
“make a hat where there never was a hat”
is the ultimate achievement:
To create something
familiar and real,
fleeting and,
, new.

 Hats are pretty intense.

SAVAGE/LOVE and TONGUES opens Saturday May 26. It will run in repertory with ASYMMETRIC for two weeks only. See for ticket information.

Kevin Rodden is a production assistant for New City Stage Company.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Opening Night Rituals

The Actors check their props, do jumping jacks, sit in quiet contemplation.

Board Members unload bags of ice, unfold the legs of tables.

The House Manager mechanically stuffs programs: “Survey, Angels, Open, Close, One. Survey, Angels, Open, Close, Two…”

The Playwright arrived two hours early, and has not been still. I saw him in the theatre, shifting his weight. I saw him in the street, balanced precariously on the curb, inquiring truth of the horizon. I did not see him pass outside from within.

The Director paces, an unfamiliar nervous energy coursing through his veins: ownership, pride, a dash of fear, and a gallon of relief.

“They’re ready,” mumbles he.

People arrive: Faces to names. Bodies and souls flesh out the spaces between online correspondences.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to opening night of New City Stage Company’s world premiere production of Mac Rogers’ ASYMMETRIC!”
The Ancient Greeks debuted new plays as parts of religious ceremonies, and took as their subjects great heroes of mythic origin. 2500 years later, tonight, our players go through their rituals, our audience pours Dionysian libation, and everyone prepares to witness the protectors of our world entangled in a story of love, betrayal, and redemption.

We kneel at the altar of art, and make our sacrifice to the Muse for the realization of that which was always in the mind of its divine creator, and willed itself into existence in a moment of cathartic ecstasy, cultivated in a devised ecosystem of designers and performers, artists all.


Viewed from above, the floor of the reception room writhes like some Bacchanalian beast of tangled arms and disembodied eyes and mouths, laughing and talking. It is hot. Pockets of conversation form and dissolve as artists are congratulated, ticket-holders thanked, hands shaken, bodies hugged. Next door, the assistant stage manager cleans blood off the stage.

“It is accepted,” says the Muse.

ASYMMETRIC runs at the Adrienne Second Stage through June 10. See for ticket information.

Kevin Rodden is a production assistant for New City Stage.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Happy Birthday Opening

This past weekend, New City Stage had the pleasure of celebrating not only its sold-out (!) Opening Night of our world premier production of ASYMMETRIC, but also the double-birthdays of New City Founder and Producing Artistic Director Ginger Dayle, and Co-Artistic Director (and ASYMMETRIC Director) Russ Widdall!

Originally produced as a staged reading at Villanova University months ago, ASYMMETRIC has finally followed the long and winding road to full professional production. Playwright Mac Rogers, having visited rehearsal (see previous post) and submitted rewrites to tone the script without gutting its core, was on hand to enjoy the fruits of his labor, as well as that of Director Russ Widdall and the entire cast, including Kevin Bergen, Ross Beschler, Kim Carson, and Eric Rolland.

The proud parent of a month ago emerged again in Rogers' beaming smile, as compliments from creative team and audience alike poured in. Russ Widdall, who takes the stage himself in the New City remount of SAVAGE/LOVE and TONGUES by Sam Shepard and Joe Chaiken starting next week, was just as pleased with the show's reception. Joining Russ onstage for the Opening Night Curtain Speech, Founder Ginger Dayle reminded the audience of a post-show party and meet-and-greet with the cast and crew.

At around 10:30pm, Ginger surprised Russ with a CIA-themed Opening Night/Birthday Cake.

Not surprisingly, the delicious cake, made by Swiss Haus Bakery on 19th Street, held plenty of secrets, including chocolate shavings around the side, and multi-layered frosting!

Thanks to everyone who came out, and we hope to see you at SAVAGE/LOVE and TONGUES, and into next season!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Spy Movie as Stage Drama

Remember the sensation of your first Bond film. The women, the action, the sharp dialogue sprinkled with spy jargon you only half understood. Before “Bond, James Bond,” became a punch line or an applause line, depending on which Bond you were watching (Timothy Dalton, anyone?). Before you realized that most of the movies hit the same beats and feature similarly drawn villains.

That was the sensation I had when I first watched the Jason Bourne movies. (Mission: Impossible had straddled the divide, and while it remains beholden to its elaborate masks, the most recent film recognized that such a conceit is hardly necessary, and the film is more exciting for its daring.) A new kind of spy emerged, someone good-looking and violent in a modern way, an American way. Bond, we realized, was for a specific time, an Anglo-centric moment of the world before American military power reached its zenith. Bond had gadgets. Bourne had training and weapons.

Of course, if you’ve only seen the newer Daniel Craig Bond movies, you may have no idea what I’m talking about when I describe the Bond of old, whose cartoonishness was part of its appeal. That Bond withered during the Brosnan years, as television and film veered toward the hyperrealism we see today, leaving Bond as an anachronism, a quaint reminder that spies used to drink martinis and don disguises, before Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum had ruined the fun.

Bond parody still exists on television, on the late great Chuck, and the better-than-ever Archer. But no one would confuse 24 with a martinis and costumes party. Jack Bauer might go undercover, but as a heroin-addicted double-agent gathering intelligence. Jason Bourne recons a site, determines an exit strategy, and executes his mission without fanfare. The glamour is gone and the danger is multiplied.

Notice that all of the above references appear on screen, not on stage. Espionage thrillers lend themselves to grand set-pieces, to helicopters flying into trains, to dangerous car chases, to fight scenes creatively edited so every punch feels like a surprise. We are disconnected from the death of anonymous policemen and henchmen alike; they are there for a moment and our hero moves on. We never have to deal with the aftermath, with the impact of the violence.

On stage, we are afforded no such comfort. A violent death must happen slowly, we must deal with the lost humanity. Similarly, locations are suggested rather than explicit. Characters exit a boardroom, the lights go down, they enter a different part of the stage, and they’re in Iceland. The stage requires us to work harder than the screen across all genres, both as performers and as audiences.

This is all to say that Asymmetric, the world premiere espionage thriller by Mac Rogers, is perhaps more daring than we might realize. The play takes its genre to a medium that actively works against it. The play nods to its cinematic forebears in many ways, but it remains trapped in the room with its audience, or rather the audience remains trapped with the play, with its characters. It is paced like a film, exciting, daring, and on a grand scale, but lives on stage.

You get the best of both worlds. The action and scope of a film, tethered to your own humanity on stage.

ASYMMETRIC opens May 19 at the Adrienne Second Stage. This blog will periodically update the development of the play in rehearsal.

Kevin Rodden is a production assistant for New City Stage Company.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Creator as Collaborator

Mac Rogers is feeling overextended this week. Between his company Gideon Productions in New York, about to produce the third play in his Honeycomb Trilogy, SOVEREIGN, and our world premiere production of ASYMMETRIC, Mac Rogers has that most magnificent of problems: a lot of people want to produce his plays.

Of course they do. ASYMMETRIC, a late-Bush-era political drama receiving an update to the Obama era for New City's production, takes us to the secretive Fifth Floor, where a disgraced interrogator has only less than half an hour to elicit a confession from a former colleague accused of treason - a colleague who is close to him in more than one way

The play also marks the genesis of Mac Rogers' recent forays into science fiction, featuring a high-tech weapon whose capabilities should be the stuff of scifi, but in fact feel dangerously familiar; a throwback to 1960's CIA exploding cigars with a nod to 21st-century political realities. New City's production, directed by Russ Widdall and starring Kim Carson, Kevin Bergen, Ross Beschler, and Eric Rolland, began rehearsals last week. To kick off Week 2, we had the extraordinary good fortune to spend a few hours working through the play with its creator.

Mac Rogers has the authorial quality of always seeming to be on the cusp of the perfect sentence. Even in conversation, he measures his diction and phrasing, with the understanding that any utterance is subject to subsequent revision and clarification. In ASYMMETRIC, characters indulge in shop talk, gallows humor, and glorious profanity, always and only in the service of theatrical truth. As Rogers woefully lamented when examining a re-write, "Any time you make a cut for the sake of character integrity, you're cutting a really kick-ass joke." Whether he's paraphrasing William Faulkner or waxing about the inexplicability of Greyhound policy, Rogers has a casual humility incongruous with his recent successes.

During the readthrough, Rogers had the air of a proud parent, perhaps surprised by the skill of a child for whom love has always been unconditional, but admiration and respect now crystallize. He considered questions of chronology with Director Widdall, measured the merits of repetition with the actors, and gracefully excised his darlings when necessary. He was protective of every page, and as one might expect, he was in the right more often than not.

In the long tradition of parents allowing their children to mature and grow, while quietly supporting every step, Mac Rogers prepared to see his characters take shape in these actors.

But, he said during a break, "It's always thrilling with actors this great."

ASYMMETRIC opens May 19 at the Adrienne Second Stage. This blog will periodically update the development of the play in rehearsal.

Kevin Rodden is a production assistant for New City Stage Company.