Category Archives: drama

Speed the Plow

Another David Mamet play seemed a fitting read as I’m currently taking his MasterClass online. I’d seen Speed the Plow performed  at the Remains Theater in 1987, with William Peterson in the lead.

The play is a satire of show business. Charlie Fox brings a movie deal consisting of a hot star and a blockbuster-type script to his long time buddy, Bobby Gould, who’s career is on fire since he’s gotten a promotion. He’s got till 10 am the next morning to get a producer to agree to make it. So he trusts his pal to make the deal, which will earn them boat-loads of money.

They talk about the business and their careers.  They dream of what they’ll do after this life-changing film is released. In the background a temp secretary bungles along with the phone system. Eventually, she comes into the office and winds up having to read a far-fetched novel as a “courtesy read” meaning she’s to write a summary of a book that’s not going to be adapted to film.

After she leaves the office, the men make a bet, a bet that Bobby Gould, whom Karen is working for, will succeed in seducing her. Karen’s not in on this but she agrees to go to Gould’s house to discuss the book she’s to summarize.

Karen finds the book about the end of the world life-changing. Like many 20-something’s She’s swept up by its message. What’s worse, when she goes to Gould’s house she convinces him to make the crazy book into a film and to leave his pal in the dust. The book and play are brisk and, as you’d expect, contain rapid-fire dialog. I enjoyed this book, but can see how some would find problems with Mamet’s portrayal of women. I think he portrays Hollywood quite realistically.

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Posted by on February 11, 2018 in drama, postaweek


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1419418Since I’m taking the MasterClass David Mamet teaches I thought I’d read some of his plays. This week I got his play November (2008) which is about an American president Charles Smith who’s up for re-election with no funds for campaigning. He’s been cut off by his party. He’s getting no help from his speech writer either. He has one person who’s still advising him, Archer.

Archer provides a reality check (if we can call information on the absurdity of how DC works reality) for the President. Smith would like to strong arm his opponents and betrayers as they cut off his funds or call in sick.

A main plotline here is the President’s traditional pardon of a turkey before Thanksgiving. According to the play, the turkey farmers’ association gives the president a stipend, a hefty stipend for the pardon. Now Smith strives to up the amount by threatening to have his speechwriter convince the public that it’s not PC to eat turkey.

The play moves quickly and has a robust humor, colored with profanity, as you’d expect from Mamet. The story is outlandish and now a bit dated because we’ve resolved some of the issues it tackles. I wouldn’t say this is a must read or that the play’s a must see. It does exemplify Mamet’s rules for writing, e.g. don’t bore the audience with exposition and start in medias res.

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Posted by on January 29, 2018 in drama, fiction, postaweek


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Red Velvet


Dion Johnstone as Ira Aldridge, CST

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented an excellent production of Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. The story of the first African American to play Othello on the London state in 1833, the story explores racism. As we know, abolition was a hot issue in the mid-1800s. In England there were protests against the slave trade.

When Ian Keen, who starred as Othello, fell ill the manager of the Covent Garden Theater chose Ira Aldridge, a black actor from America to play Othello. Some in the cast were excited and supportive, but Ian’s son and another actor were strongly opposed.

Aldridge was a fine, thoughtful actor, whose goal was to work in London. He takes his art seriously and gives a passionate performance the first night. However, the critics were shocked to see an actor of African heritage on stage and their reviews were venomous. The manager, Pierre LaPorte is a good friend of Aldridge and he counsels the actor to tone down his performance. Yet we can see that Aldridge can’t rein in his perfectionism. His desire to bring Othello to life as he reads the play leads to disaster. A consummate professional, Aldridge pushes the edges of his performance.

The performances were all pitch perfect and the play was compelling as it showed a chapter of theater history, I wasn’t aware of. The play has been produced in London and New York. If it comes to your hometown, I highly recommend you check it out.

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Posted by on January 22, 2018 in 19th Century, British Lit, British literature, drama, historical drama


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The Book of Will


What a fun play! Written by Lauren Gunderson, The Book of Will at the Northlight Theater till December 17th tells the story of how without the effort of his friends, we wouldn’t have an authentic collection of William Shakespeare’s plays. In 1620 after Will had passed on, his friends were fed up with bad Shakespearean plays. Some were bad versions patched up with garbled versions of the plays made from copyists in the audience who tried to take down everything that was said. Some were just plays written by hacks who tried to copy Shakespeare’s style.

The play begins in a pub near The Globe theater where three of Shakespeare’s friends Richard Burbage, John Heminges, Henry Condell, actors from the King’s Men’s troupe and Condell’s daughter Elizabeth bemoan the horrible fakery that passes for Shakespeare. When Burbage dies suddenly they realize the only chance for passing these masterpiece plays down to posterity is to collect and publish a folio. It’s an expensive undertaking that is complicated by the lack of a full set of originals. A few plays are here, another bunch are with a scrivener, most actors only got their part, not the full play so some had to be carefully put together. No respectable printer wanted to touch the project so Heminges and Condell had to settle for a slimy, greedy cheat.

The play is delightful as it weaves memorable passaged of the Bard’s work throughout the story, which is well paced. The characters include Shakespeare’s wife, daughter and mistress, and Heminges’ and Condell’s wives and and so there is some female influence supporting the impossible project. The Northlight’s set and costumes were perfect. I’m tempted to go again.

What’s great about the Northlight is free parking and every seat has a clear view.

Now I want to visit the Newberry Library and see the First Folio in person.

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Posted by on November 27, 2017 in book lovers, British Lit, British literature, drama, historical drama, postaweek, rare books


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The Jungle

Friday I saw a marvelous play adapted from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Staged by the Oracle Theater, a cast of about a dozen actors brought the meat packing industry and Chicago slums to life. While The Jungle’s most known for exposing the terrors of the food industry, the book and the play both reveal how immigrants were swindled through bad real estate brokers and others trying to make a quick buck.

How on earth would you depict the slaughter of cows in a tiny theater? Or a big one for that matter. The Oracle did this with amazing creativity using large rolls of butcher paper, ink and woodblocks to imprint the cows before the audience. The paper also served as a screen to project the waves of Lake Michigan or a canvas for painting the bars of a prison.

The show offers much more than ingenious stagecraft. Every performer gave a compelling performance which featured lots of singing.

As if a good play isn’t enough, the price is outstanding. The play was free. The Oracle Theater models its finance on public radio where subscribers donate what they can on a monthly basis. If you can’t pay, that’s fine as The Oracle wants everyone to be able to see a good play.

I do hope they succeed and are around for years to come.

Tickets are available at Street parking is readily available.

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Posted by on August 17, 2014 in drama


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The Paradise

Denise at The Paradise

Country girl, Denise Lovette comes to the big city hoping to work for her uncle. His dressmaking business is struggling as the competition from the shining, novel department store The Paradise has captured his old customers. Despite her uncle’s disappointment, Denise takes a job at the only store hiring, The Paradise. Soon she’s in her element, an elegant women’s department headed by Miss Audrey with new colleagues, some friendly and others envious and vengeful. What keeps Denise going is the world of fashion and commerce. She’s a natural marketer. Ideas on boosting sales come to her in torrents.

Moray and Katerine

Moray and Katerine

The Paradise is owned by John Moray, a widower who’s courting Katherine, a wealthy, spoiled banker’s daughter. Moray’s wife died under suspicious circumstances, known only to an equally suspicious character who lurks in the corners of The Paradise noting secrets in his little black book. Moray and Katherine’s rocky relationship is further disrupted by Denise, whose beauty, loyalty, innocence and sales acumen are mighty attractive.

Denise and rival Clara

I highly recommend this series, which you can watch on till December 17th. It’ll tide you over till the January premiere of Downton Abbey‘s 5th season. I’m caught up in the store and the complexities of the era. The series begins in 1875 or so and shows the excitement of new businesses popping up along with new opportunities for women in the work world. It also shows the downside, how dedicated craftsmen must fit to survive. It’s a Darwinian competition draped in silk and lace.

I plan to read Emil Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise as soon as I get back to the states. Evidently, the BBC’s adaptation whitewashes some of the real problems, economic and social, for workers at this time. Since I’m an Upton Sinclair fan, I’ll probably enjoy the darker novel.


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Posted by on December 1, 2013 in classic, drama, Masterpiece Theater


Goethe’s Faust, Part 1

My online book club’s October pick was Faust, Part 1 by Goethe. While I liked the poetry of the play, I found it made me read too fast. The rhythm pulled me swiftly along, and pages would go by, before I realized I hadn’t remembered what had happened.

Faust is the traditional story of a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for success in this life. The bargain soon turns out to be horrid. Faust gets to seduce Margaret (sometimes called Gretchen), but she gets pregnant and since she lives in a society that will exact punishment for that transgression, she drowns the baby. Every favor turns out horrible for Faust.

I read that Goethe was influenced in part by the Book of Job. He takes the bet between Satan and God in a different direction, but it’s quite dramatic. The play ventures into that dark realm that’s I’d say next door to the horror genre, a genre I don’t like at all. So I found the play masterfully written, but I didn’t get into the story and doubt I’d return to it. Still it is worth reading.

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Posted by on November 6, 2012 in classic, drama, World Lit


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