All Over the Map
Suzan-Lori Parks' 365 Days/365 Plays launches nationwide. Plus: The Twelve Days of Cochina in San Francisco and The Price in West Palm Beach.
The works that make up the cycle range from a few paragraphs to several pages in length. Some consist entirely of stage directions. The project tested Parks' endurance in many ways. "There were days when I would write a play called Empty because I was empty," she states. "There's probably a play in there called This is Shit. But what was fun was that you feel those feelings and you write anyway. The commitment to my craft, my art, and my love of writing plays got a whole lot deeper."
Once the plays were finished, the question became how to stage them. "There were a couple theaters that wanted to do them in a really traditional way," says Parks, "but traditional modes of production were not jiving with the spirit of the project." She and Metzgar met with hundreds of interested theater companies, holding "open forums" in various cities to drum up interest and exchange ideas. The plan is to have 52 different companies in each of the participating cities present one week's worth of plays, although the model varies slightly from city to city. According to Metzgar, "We're really encouraging people to do the things they've always wanted to do but haven't had the opportunity." A particular company might present a work in translation, as a staged reading, or as a site-specific event. In Seattle, for example, plays in the cycle are being performed at a skating rink.
Launch week begins on Monday, November 13 at The Public Theater in New York, where plays will be performed by Reg Cathey, Rob Campbell, Didi O'Connell, Rachel Holmes, Joan MacIntosh, and others. Both Parks and Metzgar will be in attendance. On Tuesday, the duo will travel to Yale for the first university show. On Wednesday, they'll be in L.A. for the shows' debut at Centre Theatre Group. Thursday will find them in San Francisco, Friday in Austin, Saturday in San Antonio, and they'll end their seven-day marathon in Denver on Sunday.
While the rest of the upcoming year will be slightly less manic, Parks and Metzgar plan to do plenty of traveling to meet as many of the participating groups as possible. They will also encourage even more artists to join in the fun by checking out the published edition of the play cycle that TCG just put out, and by visiting the festival's national website at www.365days365plays.com. "The window of opportunity is still open," says Parks. "Get on board, children, get on board!"
While the holiday season is always filled with family-friendly theater offerings, there are still a few shows for adults who want something more naughty than nice. In San Francisco, the acclaimed performance artist Marga Gomez is bringing an updated version of her 2001 Christmas show The Twelve Days of Cochina back to Theatre Rhinoceros. "It's kind of in the vein of South Park," Gomez remarks, "just as nasty as it can be and still have the holiday spirit."
The show, which combines elements of A Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, tells the story of Cochina (which translates from the Spanish as "filthy pig"), a woman living in Hoville, who gets dumped by her girlfriend on Christmas Eve. "All the hos in Hoville love to have sex, and they love to have the most sex on Christmas Eve" says Gomez. "Cochina goes mad and winds up becoming an abstinence activist for the religious right." The ghost of Cochina's Latina maiden aunt, who was sexually repressive when she was still alive, returns to tell her niece not to repent and to take her on a journey to Christmases past, present, and future.
Along with the risqué comedy, Gomez delivers some pointed political satire. Cochina's Christmas present visit is to President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas; the First Family is represented by puppets that the performance artist has created out of "large flaps of pubic hair." She pokes fun not only at the Bushes, but also at Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice. "Being queer, I experience the anti-sex message of the religious right -- the abstinence message, the message that sex should only take place in the missionary position between a man and a woman in marriage," says Gomez. "I think homophobia is partly about sexual repression and the fear of sexual activity."
"The play is still relevant because it's all about the American dream, truth versus illusion, and the paralyzing effect that fear has on people," says William Hayes, director of the production that's now on stage in Florida at Palm Beach Dramaworks. "Two brothers face each other after having been separated for 15 years. We all have situations in our lives where we're estranged from others."
Hayes, the company's producing artistic director, is very pleased with the cast he's put together for the show, including local favorites Patti Gardner (who won a Carbonell Award for her performance in the Palm Beach Dramaworks' production of Lips Together, Teeth Apart), Dan Leonard, and Peter Haig. The key role of Victor is being played by Mark Ulrich, an actor from Chicago. "It's a difficult part because the character has to have an Everyman quality," says Hayes. "In some ways, he's quite similar to Willy Loman."
Miller was deservedly famous for exploring the dark side of the American Dream, and Hayes applauds him for doing so at a time when so much of popular culture took the opposite tack: "In the 1950s, we had things like Leave it to Beaver defining what American life was supposed to be. It was such a money-driven society; you had to have the house with the picket fence, two cars, and so on. TV shows and movies like that put a lot of pressure on people. But Miller deals with the common man in common settings, facing common dilemmas. That's why his plays are timeless."