All Over the Map
It's the Housewives! in Sherman Oaks, Yellowjackets in Berkeley, Romeo and Juliet in Washington D.C., and Poetic License in Long Branch, NJ.
"I started writing songs with my husband Laurence [former lead guitarist of the seminal rock band Wings] right after we got married in 1982," she says. "And then I became inspired by celebrating the mundane things a housewife does, when I had my kids. I eventually built up a catalog of songs and I'd perform them with other women in clubs -- Florence Henderson's daughter Barbara was part of one of the groups. And the response we always got was that they were really good rock 'n' roll songs, not just some silly parody."
Last year, however, Juber got the idea of developing a book around the songs, about a trio of PTA mothers who eventually become as big as the Beatles. She found the perfect collaborator in Ellen Guylas, who she met at her local gym. "We sweated together for a year before we discovered we were both writers. And she can type, which I can't. So we worked in a room together, and I hovered over her shoulder while she typed, and we came up with this really organic plot and characters. It was so natural."
Working with her husband has been equally pleasurable, she says. "We bring out the best in each other. And we both go off into creative jags whenever and wherever; in the Jacuzzi, walking the dogs, or in bed at 3am," she says. "He once mentioned he felt a little outnumbered by all the women on this project (including director Kelly Ann Ford and choreographer Kay Cole), but he's over it. And we've hired some guys too, so there's enough testosterone to balance the show out. I never wanted it to get too pink."
-- Brian Scott Lipton************
The subject of a 1994 Frontline documentary titled School Colors, Berkeley High School is known as a place where racial tensions heat the atmosphere, sometimes to a boiling point. So it's hardly surprising that one of its more celebrated alumni, playwright Itamar Moses, chose it as the setting of his new work, Yellowjackets, now at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. "The single most courageous thing about this play is that Itamar is taking racism -- the most volatile taboo subject in our culture -- and outing it," says Tony Taccone, the show's director and the theater's artistic director.
"We had had our eye on Itamar for awhile and when we approached him, the first thing out of his mouth was -- I want to write a piece about Berkeley High," recalls Taccone. In the play, the school's newspaper, The Jacket, publishes a racially insensitive story, resulting in a conflict that affects teachers and students alike. Taccone thinks that the play will challenge local audiences. "It's a portrait of a place that people have a strong opinion about because they live in it, and think they know it. So, it should be interesting to see what kind of controversy it sparks."
Moses -- who will also be represented on many regional stages this year by such works as The Four of Us and Back Back Back -- has added an extra twist to the fabric of the play by double-casting all the characters as both students and faculty at the school. "He's written an adult play for younger actors, and finding people who can do this is not easy," says Taccone.
-- Tristan Fuge************
When William Shakespeare first produced his plays, they were performed exclusively by male actors. Yet, for various reasons, many theatergoers cringe at that particular notion today. "When I first told my mom I was thinking about doing this she said, 'oh, please don't!'" recalls David Muse, director of the new all-male production of Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. "Thankfully, the convention that only men can be actors is no longer part of our vocabulary; to us, it is something strange. In a way, I think that sense of unfamiliarity is the thing that makes this so exciting."
Working on this production has allowed Muse to see things in the play that he had not noticed before. "There's a moment when Juliet calls Romeo 'husband,' then she calls him 'lover,' and in the end she calls him 'friend.' In Shakespearean adjectives, the last in the list is always the most important," he says. "There's something about the friendship between those two characters that when it's played by two young men, it's not just about the romance and love; there's this sort of camaraderie that is almost like a 'buddyness' that just comes out naturally."
Along with all of the female characters being played by male actors -- many in multiple roles -- the play is performed in a non-naturalistic set suggestive of an Italian crypt/wine cellar. "We are doing a production that lays bare the artifice and theatricality of this event," says Muse. "We have some tricks up our sleeve that let us be imaginative as the audience is being asked to make this leap with us. For this play to work, it has to not just be interesting and new and fresh. By the time you reach the end, it needs to rip your heart out."
-- Zachary Stewart************
"How much of one's writing is just a filtering of your own influences as opposed to something from you?" asks Jack Canfora. It's a central question within his new play at New Jersey Repertory Theatre, Poetic License, which involves an acclaimed poet, his ambitious wife, their college-age daughter, and her new boyfriend. Over the course of the play, secrets are revealed that complicate the family dynamic. "I'm interested in the notion of ownership, and how you can lay claim to the people in your lives," says Canfora.
In the play, John owes much of his success to his wife, Diane, who has aggressively shepherded his career. "She gets things done," says the playwright. "She says at one point something to the effect of 'If you think all it takes to be a great writer is to be a great writer, you're sadly mistaken.' She handles things, both in his career and in terms of the emotional dynamics of the family."
While the play delves into serious dramatic territory, Canfora says that there's plenty of humor, as well. "You have great trauma in people's lives, and a lot of unhappiness. And to me, what's funnier than that?" he quips. "People find a myriad of ways to cope with their impending crises, which often take the form of wit, or something humorous, as a kind of futile but gallant defense against the walls giving in around them."
-- Dan Bacalzo