Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Favorites: Drama Queen - by Louise Tripp

I admit it. I don't get to the theater nearly enough. When I was on the college newspaper, I'd get free passes but without that luxury – well, excuses, excuses. It's true: though I have lived in Chicago for, off and on, about seven years, I still haven't managed to sample most of the (many) theaters. Nevertheless, I really do love plays. I swear. My younger sibling and I, as kids, used to play “drama class” and enacted parts of Macbeth and Our Town. Which is why those two plays top my list of favorites.

  1. Our Town by Thornton Wilder -The reknowned play set in the small town of Grover's Corners follows ordinary people through their lives, through hope, love and finally, death. It is told, in part, by the Stage Manager. The central focus of the story is a couple, George and Emily, and their lifelong love born of childhood affections, as well as their apprehension toward marriage and adulthood. When Emily dies in childbirth at the end, she walks as a spirit and with the help of the Stage Manager, revisits her 12th birthday – there, she sees all that she missed in the little moments. Finding it unbearable to watch, she begs to be taken back up the hill to her grave – but first, she delivers one of the loveliest speeches ever written about life and its brevity: “Goodbye, Goodbye world. Goodbye Grover's Corners...Mama and Papa. Goodbye to clocks ticking and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths. And sleeping and waking up. Oh're too wonderful for anyone to realize you.”

  2. Macbeth by William Shakespeare – “By the pricking of my thumbs/Something wicked this way comes.” Ah, Macbeth. A tragedy of jealousy and greed, but also a moral tale of conscience and karma. Three witches utter these lines I've quoted here and also predict to Macbeth that he will become a noblemen and eventually, king. When he shares their prediction with his wife, she takes the reigns and decides: why wait? If Macbeth murders the king and blames it on the guards, why, he can become king right away! Time's a'wastin'! But murder proves tricky: one killing leads to more and that leads to surviving loved ones seeking revenge on Macbeth. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth is driven to madness and suicide. Yes, it's not a cheery story. But it's, in my humble opinion, one of Shakespeare's bests.

  3. Angels In America by Tony Kushner – Let me start by saying that everyone in “Angels In America” is fucked up – just a little bit, at least. There's Louis, who walks out on his AIDS-infected boyfriend; there's Joe,  a closeted gay Republican who is stepping out on his agoraphobic wife, Harper with Louis; and there's Joe's boss, the heartless snake, Roy – who is also (very) closeted, also recently diagnosed with AIDS. “Angels” has some of the most witty, delectable dialogue I've seen and I think what makes it a masterpiece is that there are so many things touched upon here – politics, sex, compassion, redemption – and yet, it's all woven together so beautifully.

  4. 'Night, Mother by Marsha Norman – Why, yes, I am sometimes quite morose. And something so full of dark realism as Norman's 1983 drama “'Night Mother” is pretty much right up my alley. Because I can find beauty in anguish, and this play is one of the most anguishing stories I've ever read. It takes place in one night in the home of a woman named Thelma, between her and her grown daughter, Jessie. Jessie informs her mother, in the most matter-of-fact way, that she intends to kill herself that night. What follows is their painful exchange, with Thelma fluctuating between trying to convince her daughter not to end her life with calm logic and with tearful begging. But Jessie has it all planned out – she's put her affairs in better order than most elderly and terminally ill people – and she won't be swayed. As she explains her reasons, they come out crisp and sound – and the play's resolution is a shock to the heart.

  5. Play It Again, Sam: A Romantic Comedy In Three Acts by Woody Allen – Although I am the morose sort, that doesn't mean I don't have a lighter side. My favorite director and comedian is also a playwright, and this is him at his whimsical best (the movie of the same name is based on it, of course). Here, the ghost of Humphrey Bogart visits a down-and-out divorcee named Allan Felix who is attempting to “get back out there” and meet women again. The ghost tries to help him be more suave around the ladies, but he's an awkward mess. When Allan finds himself falling for his friend's wife, he has to face that their relationship isn't meant to be – and, much like Bogart's Casablanca character, he must let her go. Which, of course, sounds like a downer – but Allen weaves in his usual self-effacing humor and surrealist moments into the story, crossing that fine line between comedy and drama.

Plays do something that books don't – something very hard: they rely on the dialogue more than the set-up. If you are simply reading a play instead of seeing it performed, you don't get the actor's interpretations – and so the dialogue must speak for itself. I don't know how playwrights do it so well, but I feel like my own work could gain a lot from my finding out. And that, my friends, is why I enjoy reading plays. 

Louise Tripp grew up in North Carolina. She currently lives in Chicago, where she is revising her first YA novel and working in a public library. You can read her regular blog at

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