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One summer while in college, Ken Urban had an epiphany. I had a job, which lasted exactly one day, Urban informed me, where I hauled vats of chemicals around an abandoned manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania . That was the day I decided to get a Ph.D in English and become a playwright. Since his illustrious beginnings, Urban has built a reputation both as an academic and an artist.
Lloyd Richards was a name to me, a great name for certain, but although his presence felt personal to me, I had never met the man or even seen him. I knew, of course, that he had directed A Raisin In The Sun, and that was enough to canonize him.
In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Viola, disguised as a male page, pleads with her mistress Lady Olivia, who has fallen in love with her: “I swear that I am not that I play.” In the mythical kingdom of Illyria, nothing is what it seems, and its people are not who they appear to be.
In the course of the past decade or so, theater has reached a sort of watershed moment. There may be more multivalent, creative theater being created today than in any other time in U.S. history. Whereas theatrical movements of the recent past have privileged spectacle over text or collage over narrative, or have involved a reassertion of traditional forms, much contemporary work exists comfortably in multiple theatrical traditions, or in no tradition at all.
Mac Wellman is one of the reasons Im a playwright. His play A Murder of Crows was the first thing we read (after Fornes) in my undergraduate playwriting class lead by then-grad student Nilo Cruz. The fact that plays could be like thisa weird girl conjuring up the weather with words that made your mouth waterjust made me want to write them.
This September, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, an organization which funds exchanges between the U.S. and Eastern and Central Europe, is helping WaxFactory, a New York-based multimedia theater company and PreGlej, a play development program based in Ljubljana, Slovenia join forces to pull off an international exchange called REDEYE: A New York-Ljubljana Translation Think Tank.
Caridad Svich stands on a confluence of brutality and poetry with her play Iphigenia Crash Land Falls On The Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart(a rave fable). A montage of sensory experience takes place on the play’s set (an aircraft hangar, battered and serrated); it begins with a projected image of Iphigenia on fire, her pink Chanel outfit melting, her skin aflame, while a techno version of Gluck’s opera Iphigenia in Aulis plays in the background.
The image of Lloyd Richards preceded the man himself. Years before I met the famous director, his name was spoken the way one would speak of some sort of noble ghost. Through other people’s words and gestures, I started to get a picture of the man. Although I never had the chance to work with Mr. Richards, his very presence gave me several things to strive for as an artist and person.
Among theater practitioners, there may be few cities as bifurcated as New York. To many, there is “uptown” and there is “downtown”, and the line at 14th Street can be as contentious as the Mason-Dixon. Of course, the downtown/uptown divide in the theater community is not only, or even mostly, geographical.