Without a doubt 2013-14 was the quickest year in living memory. If it wasn't for my monthly Connotation Press obligation I might never sit down and actually read something. So, thank you Ken, for making that happen. And big heavy ups to Jacquelyn Reingold for yet another slew of hand picked fabulous playwrights to delight in. Enough with the thanks, time to get busy praising playwrights.
Daniel Reitz's play Turnabout is a sad-funny play about people that I felt I truly knew. His voice is authentic and the characters' moral conundrums still resonate with me almost a year later. Because while I felt I knew these characters, their 'true life' dilemmas continue to haunt. I look forward to more plays by Daniel Reitz, unless he's been snapped up by Television...
Suzanne Bradbeer is one of those super smart knockout writers who deliver fiery, complex female characters making tricky life choices in Naked Influence. Another play about how we find out what we are made of by getting into serious trouble... and the dubious options left when all you have are the rules you come up with to survive. I'm seeing a theme here. And I like it.
String Theory was a lovely and entertaining change of pace. Written by Michael Barakiva, Amy Holtcamp and Sarah Braustein, it is a play that dives into Greek Myth and drama but with a completely modern bikini and maybe even an underwater camera. You will laugh, you will be moved and you will be grateful that you get to explore all those gorgeous old stories of yore. And you will get a little TV reality show fix while you are at it.
David Todd provided yet another completely modern angle on a well read and beloved classic. Joy in Repetition A Hauntological Romeo and Juliet was not as challenging a read as the title might suggest. David's play was a submission to Connotation Press and a thrilling find for me. It is not experimental just for the sake of shaking things up. His play sheds new and bright light on the understories of Romeo and Juliet. And for once we see what Shakespeare's teen lovers might really talk like in modern times. Heartbreaking and hilarious.
Laura Maria Censabella's play Carla Cooks The War brings us back to real people with complex moral centers and even more complicated dilemmas. This play resonates on many levels- mothers and daughters and the power struggle inherent in that bond- yet it dives deeper into the heroic stories we like to tell about ourselves as opposed to the witness of those events- our children, who usually have different perspectives on the same event. No one is truly a villain and no one is a hero, except in memory. And in war.
Paul Mullin was another submission to Connotation Press. His play Gossamer Grudges is a really fun experimental play with a surreal plot and playfully perverse characters. Imagine a company where you can store your grudges in order to release them- or are you just antiquing them for all time? It's a thoughtful and clever read with hilarious characters that put me in mind of a slightly futuristic and theatrical Arrested Development.
Cell by Cassandra Medley is heartbreak in word form. It's painful to accept the cruel and inhumane actions of our government at immigration detention facilities and once you read Cell, you will not be able to forget or forgive. Especially now with the humanitarian crisis of South American children amassing at our borders, this play sheds a stark light on people and situations many of us are too lucky or busy or scared to see.
Merri Biehler and I have a strange historical connection. Long, long ago, before the creators of Facebook were born, we were actors in a long form improv show, Tony N' Tina's Wedding, which in turn made many a writer out of many a performer. I've long held that actors are born story tellers, and Real Girls Can't Win is further proof of that. A funny play that will tear the heart out of anyone who has daughters, Merri has deftly given voice to the moral dilemmas of young girls today who tend to commemorate and possibly destroy their entire young lives thanks to the ubiquity of social media. But it's funny. And uplifting.
The year ended with another gut punch play- Deep Trees by Andrea Ciannavei. Searing, poetic, hilarious and devastating and not necessarily in that order, Andrea has an uncanny ear for how children think and speak, especially children trapped by parents who are unable or unwilling to care of them, and so forge their own moral universe in order to survive. A tough but deeply rewarding read.
Thanks Ken for holding my feet to the fire, for yet another year!
Drama Editor Kathleen Dennehy is a NYU Tisch School of the Arts graduate who studied with John Guare, David Mamet, Anne Bogart. She is an essayist/performer: Sit N' Spin, Book Soup, Hatch, Tongue and Groove and her essays have been published in Fresh Yarn, Note to Self and Weston Magazine. Kathleen is the Creative Director of Naked Angels' Tuesdays@9 LA - a cold reading workshop for writers and she created the creative writing program at Hillsides, a school for foster and at-risk children. Under contract to re-write a screenplay for Rachel Davidson, at Laura Ziskin, Sony Studios, Kathleen is a writer/editor/consultant and the curator of MNWG- a long running writers group in Los Angeles.