Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thank You,

Read some blog praise for the remount of FGBW here!

Artwork by Jeremy Arambulo.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


"Here it goes, here it goes, here it goes agaaaaaain...."

Ah, those places we missed. Ticopria. Il Nova 7. Dancorprium. Pena 15. Qward. Blark. Flimrack. Milkshake.

It's been a long strange trip putting together a full-on remount for only 6 performances, but the reward is getting to feel that goofy, improbable joy of being ridiculous again. Feeling the energy and love from the audience. It's amazing and addictive and unforgettable. We're not done with the run, but I just wanted to thank everyone who stepped up and made it possible. People who traveled, people who took on more responsibility, people who urged friends to come (and came a second time themselves), people who joined the team, and of course, the people who put up with us while we were working on this beast.

Good hard work, everyone.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 Bird House Review

Here is the review in its entirety. I think this is one of the ones that truly understands what the experience of seeing this play is. Enjoy!

Reviewed for By: Ashley Griffin
Marcus Woollen ©2009 On the Bright Side, Syl (Christina Shipp) and Louisy (Cotton Wright) live happily together in the safety of their treehouse.

There are some evenings at the theater that just make being a critic worthwhile. After wading through many not so great nights, a show will come along like a breath of fresh air and make you feel not like a critic, but like an audience member having a magical evening at the theater. This is why we do what we do.

Marcus Woollen ©2009 Once safe in their tree house, Syl (Christina Shipp) protects Louisy (Cotton Wright) from an onslaught of creatures in Bird House

Is Bird House a perfect show? No. What makes it extraordinary is that I couldn’t care less. Bird House overcomes tremendous challenges, inherent in the very nature of what it’s trying to accomplish, and somehow finds the formula to do what so many shows attempt, and come up short on.

Written by Kate Marks, and directed by Heidi Handelsman, Bird House tells the story of two beings (are they children? Birds? Siblings? Human?), the bright and innocent Louisy, and the sweet, adventurous Syl who live happily together in their tree house, until Syl ventures off to be a hero in the far away war torn Lop Side. Alone for the first time, Louisy falls victim to the whims of tiny creatures at her doorstep. When the two sides collide, impossibilities become real, and both realize the lines between right and wrong are not as clear as they thought.

What makes Bird House so breathtaking is that it manages to create a believable world ruled by dream logic. In our best dreams, the feelings, and emotions stay with us long after we wake. But if we try to explain what exactly happened in our dream, to describe the plot, the characters that appeared, relay the words that were said however real and important they seem to us, their logic becomes nonsensical, and vanishes when we try to describe it. To create such an experience is one of the most difficult tasks imaginable (just look at all the failed attempts to bring Alice in Wonderland to life in as striking detail as it exists in book form,) yet Bird House manages it.

That it does so is truly a testament to the communal effort of all those involved. And I do mean all. Remove one element, and the whole thing would crumble. The beautiful set by Sara C. Walsh is perfect from the moment you enter the theater. Its most striking element is the tree house itself, which looks straight out of an episode of Sesame Street or Johnny and the Sprites. It not only fulfills its function, it at once makes us feel at home, and comforted. Even the tree that holds it in place is structured so as to make the theater’s lighting plot look like the tree’s branches. When the dark Lop Side world encroaches in – well, it does what every creepy fairy tale wood was meant to do – create an encroaching danger, loneliness, and sadness on what was once so safe and comforting. And just as Jim Henson created both the world of Sesame Street and Labyrinth, so these two worlds, though starkly different, are beautifully unified.

Marcus Woollen ©2009 A bird invasion? Syl (Christina Shipp) and Louisy (Cotton Wright) in Bird House

The costumes (including hair design) created by Jessica Pabst are extraordinary. They flowed so seamlessly that I almost don’t know what to say. It’s difficult to analyze them as they were so much an organic part of the world – as was the lighting design, Video/Projection Design, and the beautiful puppets (created by Lighting Designer Rebecca M. K. Makus, Video/Projection Designer Alex Koch (who also designed the sets for the beautiful Irena’s Vow,) and Puppet Designer Andy Toad). The music by Quentin Chiappetta was haunting and lovely.

All four principle actresses were extraordinary. I had the pleasure of seeing, and reviewing the two leads, Cotton Wright (Louisy), and Christina Shipp (Syl) in Much Ado About Nothing, and Belles respectively. Both are wonderful actresses who, as lovely as they were in the previous productions in which I’ve seen them, have only grown, and I was thankful to see them be able to really let loose in roles that truly offered them the chance to go wild in the best possible way. Their honesty, and depth were the heart, and engine of the play and they never let it run down for a minute. Much as in a dream it’s possible to find yourself experiencing events as two people simultaneously, so in Bird House you identify with both Syl and Louisy.

The other two women, and I hesitate to call them supporting, for they had just as important, and almost as large of roles as Ms. Wright and Ms. Shipp were revelations. Special props must go to Kylie Liya Goldstein who played the nine-year-old Myra with the depth of a forty-year-old actress. It’s no surprise that she has serious Broadway credits to her name. Wendy Scharfman likewise played Rita with the joy one would expect from a young child and managed to layer both true heartache, and wise omnipotence into a character whose ultimate role we’re not quite sure of until the end. Ora Fruchter and Anthony Wills Jr. were fantastic as the puppeteers. Special props must go to Mr. Wills who not only handled a set malfunction with such cunning that it should be left in the show as is, but garnered show stopping applause for his puppet Ant’s death.Director Heidi Handelsman did a seamless job of envisioning the impossible (as good as the script is, one feels that the beauty of the show would be lost if simply reading it on the page), and Writer Kate Marks has accomplished what other writers only dream about. I certainly look forward to seeing their work in the future, as well as that of the KNF Theater Company.

Despite some minor elements (two projected characters are often confusing, and it is difficult to understand what they’re saying) Bird House is a magical play. The guest who I brought with me to the theater (who’s ticket was comped) declared that this is a play she would gladly pay to see, and wants to come back with some of her other friends.

I wouldn’t mind seeing it again myself.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bird House: An Impossible New Play by Kate Marks

Kate Marks is a playwright whose vision knows no bounds. I have had the pleasure of seeing her new show Bird House twice now, and each time I was absolutely floored by her verbal dexterity and imagination.

The actors, puppeteers, designers, director and even the producers have given this beautiful play incredible support. The language energizes fearless clown-inspired performances, complete with haunting lullabyes, cowgirl ballads, and marching songs. The look and feel of the two worlds of the play resonate on a level beyond logic and emotion. On the blasted "Lop Side", a war-torn wasteland, an endless dirt floor is punctuated by a lone scorched tree and a blackened dresser, something so domestic and incongruous that immediately you intuit the discomfort and danger of the place. A fierce, malevolent wind periodically blows projected items across the stage. On the Bright Side, the tree house in which the main characters live is comprised of a gorgeous patchwork of found wooden objects that deserves an hour of inspection just to see how many pieces it's made of and where the pieces came from. It is airy and full of comforting things you might see in your own kitchen.

The play is a challenging one in the sense that it demands a lot of the audience. Birds fly out of a character's mouth, an army of ants invade, the wind blows furniture around--this is not a living-room play by any means. It is the story of two people and how they grow together and apart, and how the world changes us. If you like essential human truths like I do, there are plenty of lines that will follow you home that articulate those feelings you've always had but never new what they were. To me, going to the theater and seeing lives played out onstage is one of the most precious outlets we have for self-relection as a people, and Bird House delivers big-time.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Double-Post Wednesday Night!

This is straight from Chris Kelly's Huffington called "God is my Doorman: Mark Sanford for Non-Christians." Enjoy.

Hemingway said that the problem with Henry Miller was that he got laid in the afternoon once and thought he invented it. Governor Mark Sanford got laid in Argentina two weeks ago and the way he continues to go on about it, you'd think he cracked cold fusion. The man won't shut up. If Henry Miller talked about his sex life as much as Governor Mark Sanford talks about his sex life, people would have started thinking he was some kind of perv.

So today Mark Sanford needed to amend the number of times he kissed the Spider Woman in the last year, for those of you keeping score at home. Now it's five, including two overnights in New York, one for general fornication and one more - approved by his wife! - that was supposed to be just to talk about old times. Sort of an adultery exit interview.

The fact that someone as unconscious as Jenny Sanford was in a position of authority at Lazard Frères makes it amazing that there's a banking system at all.

One thing Mark Sanford isn't doing is resigning. Why? Because God Himself wants Mark Sanford to stay on as Governor of South Carolina. Just ask Mark Sanford:

"Immediately after all this unfolded last week I had thought I would resign - as I believe in the military model of leadership and when trust of any form is broken one lays down the sword. A long list of close friends have suggested otherwise - that for God to really work in my life I shouldn't be getting off so lightly."

And if anyone knows about getting off, it's Mark Sanford.

But more importantly, the Almighty insists that Mark Sanford stay in office. South Carolina is his punishment. Like when Job got boils.

And the citizens get to help God help Mark Sanford be a better man. Which I think we can all agree is what public service is all about.

"While it would be personally easier to exit stage left, their point has been that my larger sin was the sin of pride."

That and years and years of adultery. But mostly pride.

Here's what I always thought I kind of missed out on as a Catholic, instead of whatever horseshit Mark Sanford practices: Self-diagnosis. When it came to sin, we didn't get to call our own balls and strikes like that.

"If I walked in with a real spirit of humility then this last legislative term could well be our most productive one - and that outside this term, I would ultimately be a better person and of more service in whatever doors God opened next in life if I stuck around to learn lessons rather than running and hiding down at the farm."

Again, what else can we do for you, Gov. Sanford? I'm glad the taxpayers have this chance to let you improve yourself, but is that enough? Next time you're boning someone in South America, can we hold your dick?

Okay, now clearly Mark Sanford is just a twitching loon who should be locked up before he hurts someone. What's cool is that he isn't even out of office yet, and he's already talking about God opening doors.

Our former favorite disgraced Christian egomaniac, Sarah Palin, waited until the week after the election, when she told Fox News:

"Faith is a very big part of my life. And putting my life in my creator's hands - this is what I always do. I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door. And if there is an open door in '12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door."

The open door to which they refer, of course, is from Revelation:

"I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name." -- Revelation 3:8

American Evangelicals love Revelation, because it doesn't make a lick of sense and then everything explodes. Kind of like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But they love Revelation 3:8 most of all, because it sounds like God's promise that you'll win the lottery.

Evangelical business advice always comes back to Revelation 3:8. God opens doors. Like this one: Your opportunity to buy these timeshares.

God wants you to get rich working from home. The same way he opens the door to
a Palin Administration. Immediately followed by the Apocalypse. Don't say you weren't warned.

I'm not sure Mark Sanford's going to like the door that God opens for him, though. According to Revelations 21:8, adulterers and liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.


Even if you've been to Argentina, and gotten used to the heat, that's still gonna hurt.


An unusually thought-provoking Wednesday night, right? I had this and the Blais essay both emailed to me and thought the world should read them. One for the sheer pride and honor I take in the hometown of my memory and the second for the bat-shit craziness of politicians.

These are the things I'm thinking about when I'm not running lines.

From the Amherst Bulletin, or My Hometown

Professor feels at home in town's 'peaceable kingdom'


Published on June 26, 2009

Sorry, Berkeley, Montreal, Washington, D.C., and Boston: You just lost out, in that order, to Amherst as the top college town in North America, according to Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO of IvyWise and

This is no big revelation to those of us who live here.

I grew up next door to Amherst, in a town called Granby, which reveled in the rhythms of its ordinariness. My friends had horses, we ate homemade rhubarb pie, and most of the town's elders practiced a certain kind of penny-pinching Republicanism.

We scoured spring pools for the first flowering growths after winter. We nailed pails to trees to catch the sap. We really did swing on birch trees. At times we jokingly dismissed Amherst as 32 square miles of wishful thinking surrounded by reality (I checked with the town manager to make sure my surface area was correct), but in truth we basked in its ambient glow. It made us feel part of a larger, more sophisticated world, the world where in the 1950s earnest globe-trotting professors brought back slides from distant places and dutiful faculty wives served punch out of real punch bowls.

We were invigorated by the presence of the students at Amherst College and UMass, the children and grandchildren of presidents and shahs, the children and grandchildren of sales clerks at Filene's and firefighters from Hingham, gathered in the same place, with a common purpose, to build a better future. We lived, happily, on borrowed pride. Emily Dickinson wrote her poetry in a stately house on Main Street a century before I was born, but, even as a child, I was spooked by her telepathy. "There's a formal feeling in the house the morning after death," she wrote. How did she know what it would be like at 5 Center St. in the next town over when my grandmother died so many years after the poet's own death?

As schoolchildren in 1963 when President Kennedy visited Amherst College to dedicate the Frost Library, we were expected to tune in. We were expected to listen when he said: "I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft . . . And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction."

Personal distinction - Kennedy's expression - is one of the bulwarks of this town where, as the T-shirt makes clear, only the "h" is silent. Amherst is a strong taste where even the trash trucks have attitude. Emblazoned on the back of Amherst Trucking: "I recycle, therefore I am."

Amherst is dependably eccentric - where else does the police log report that three bicycles arranged precariously high up in a tree turn out to be an installation by art students, illustrating what principle of composition I am not certain.

In Amherst, the crosswalk signals in the center of town make chirping sounds instead of an ugly buzz. The pepper spray used by the police is alleged to be organic. Street vendors sell soy votives and a weekly farmer's market boasts up to 30 kinds of apples. The new movie theater used to feature vegetable-dyed M&M substitutes and to this day there is a handy dispenser filled with nutritional yeast to shake onto one's popcorn.

Above all, Amherst is a place bound by words and bound by nature.

The first is abstract, the other concrete, but both are willful, unsettling, and mysterious in their power.

"There's an atmosphere in Amherst of wanting to learn about things: not just books, but gardening, history, natural creatures, the landscape, the weather, the arts, politics, whatever keeps people curious and alive," says a friend, the poet Susan Snively. "In any case, I'm glad I don't live in Gravel Switch, Kentucky."

I lived away from the valley for many years, but when it came time to make one of the most profound decisions of my life, to pick a place in which to raise my family, I returned, convinced that this was at heart a peaceable kingdom which honored the land and the mind in equal measure and which valued seasons of all stripes, including the seasons in a person's life.

Amherst resident Madeleine Blais is a journalism professor at UMass-Amherst and author of "Uphill Walkers," a family memoir. She also wrote "In These Girls, Hope Is A Muscle," the story of the 1993 ARHS girls basketball team which won the state championship. The column first appeared in the Boston Globe.