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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Read Between the Lines

Dramaturg Sarah McAfee cracks into the romantic literary wonderland of Michael & Edie.

“Franny was staring at the little blotch of sunshine with a special intensity, as if she were considering lying down in it.”
― J.D. SalingerFranny and Zooey


I love the smell of books.  Even more the smell of old books.  And, in particular, the books that I have from my grandmother’s house.  In addition to the vaguely vanilla and marzipan overtones lurks a piney, smoky remnant from where the books lived in the built-in bookshelves over the fireplace.  They remind me of home. 

Some stories are so deeply familiar to us, that scanning the curve of their letters evokes a world so vivid, a journey so encompassing that we can smell the tension of every twist and the release of every revelation.  They are old friends, with whom we reacquaint ourselves over coffee on a rainy afternoon, recalling the pathways and crossroads we traversed with their heroes.

In centering the journeys of Michael and Edie between the shelves of a used bookstore, Rachel Bonds evokes the creaky, dusty familiarity that the old tomes represent.  The location itself becomes a malleable character, a shelf to be rearranged and highlight the best and most interesting volumes.  The bookstore becomes a haven, a blotch of sunlight for these characters to ride out the tempest beyond the door.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Girl Who Lives in a Bathtub

On their path to graduation, all Villanova Theatre second-year students complete an Orals project - the equivalent of a Master's thesis - in a chosen area that they have studied over the past two years. Options range from academic to artistic and have taken on many forms over the years.  Sarah, currently playing Sarah (you can't make this up) in Villanova Theatre's upcoming Michael & Edie, is exploring the challenge of playing a character with a expansive mental and emotional life in a particularly confined space.  Below, Sarah discusses the joys and pain of the Michael & Edie rehearsal process.

SARAH:  As another rehearsal flies by one blustery Tuesday night, our director James Ijames has a sudden outburst:

“Man, everyone in this play is just having the WORST time!”

We all break out laughing, primarily because of the fervor with which he says it, but also because of the truth of this statement. These characters are embroiled in unrequited love, simmering in grief, pursued by fear. In short: they struggle.

Take my character, Sarah, for an example. She lives in a bathtub. I don’t mean that she sometimes lingers a few minutes in the shower, postponing the moment when she has to step out into the cold air. I mean that she has literally taken up residence in the family bathtub, ensconced in unwashed blankets and sporting perpetually unwashed hair. Why, you may ask? That is exactly what I have been figuring out through the process of rehearsing for Michael & Edie.

Sarah is not feeling well. It is not a physical illness per se – her stomach is not upset, and she doesn’t have the sniffles. Her malaise is more of the emotional and psychological variety, which confuses and upsets her. Portraying the symptoms of depression has been a huge challenge, and, I think, an important one. The world of the play is like a magical little snow-globe where the characters chase their dreams, but Sarah feels as though she is on the outside of that snow-globe gazing in, her breath making clouds on the glass.

Playing a person who is dealing with physical and emotional isolation has awakened me to the reality that many people are facing those exact challenges every day. Over the few weeks that we have been working on this production, I have been so thankful for the dramaturgical assistance of Sarah McAfee, who has helped me to immerse myself in the circumstances of mental illness, and, at the same time, to understand that it is Sarah’s obstacle, not her identity. She is so much more than that: she is sarcastic, she is intelligent. She hates lemon meringue pie and loves arts and crafts. She vibrates with need and with hunger and with a certain amount of chaos.

Playwright Rachel Bonds’ wonderful script has been a delight to engage with. Her dialogue is as delicate and specific as the crystals of a snowflake. As every word falls from my mouth, I feel closer to Sarah and her desire to penetrate the glass that separates her from the world. When dealing with a piece that toys with whimsy and magic at every turn, it is jarring to hear the truthful naturalism with which the characters speak. I enjoy being able to tune in to the world of the play through the deliciously modern language, which reads like a beautiful poem peppered with “ums” and “wells” and “ohs.”

Ultimately, my favorite part about this truly enriching rehearsal process has been the intimacy of the show, which has allowed for me as a performer to really examine my relationship with each of my fellow actors. It is the kind of play that demands this examination of a fellow human being. It demands that we feel each other out. Notice each other. Sense each other’s “textures and temperatures.” It asks that we not just make eye contact with each other, but notice each fleck of icy blue hovering within the smoky indigo iris of each eye like a star careening through an endless cosmos. It wants us to drown in that cosmos in the hopes of finding understanding there.


It is a whole universe, floating inside a bathtub.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

MICHAEL & EDIE's Snowy Day Playlist

“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean." - Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Villanova Theatre's upcoming production of Michael & Edie invites audiences to tune in and crank up the volume.  "James [Ijames] will sometimes play a song in rehearsal to underscore a scene," said Sophia Barrett, who plays Edie in the Philadelphia premiere of Rachel Bonds' new play. "It gives us a sense of how musical this world is."


So just for you, our loyal audience, we've put together a playlist full of songs about love, literature, and longing to whet your appetite for this fresh new play!  It's perfect for a snowy evening, curled up under a blanket with a good book and a cup of cocoa!  Enjoy!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Michael & Edie Staff Pick Book Shelf

Villanova Theatre's newest production Michael & Edie (running February 10th-22nd) takes place inside a magical bookstore.  Michael and Edie, both clerks in this literary labyrinth, bury themselves in comforting stacks of the world's greatest authors' greatest books in an effort to escape the messiness and complications of their own lives.  And that's the beauty of books, isn't it?  To lose yourself into vivid worlds built from words and image instead of bricks and mortar.  Below, each character in Rachel Bond's deeply affecting coming-of-age literary love story shares their recommendation for the "Staff Pick" bookshelf!



Michael's pick:  The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara by Frank O'Hara

Michael yearns for intimate connections to others.  When he finds he lacks them, he uses his imagination to create a sense of closeness.  He is drawn, therefore, to O'Hara's deeply personal poetic tone.  This collection, edited by Donald Allen, shared the 1972 National Book Award for Poetry.  Just as Michael speaks his longing musings about Edie aloud, O'Hara was inspired by his daily observations of the world around him.  O'Hara said of his own work: "It may be that poetry makes life's nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail".


TODAY by Frank O'Hara

Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
Your really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they've always talked about

still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers.  They
do have meaning.  They're strong as rocks.

[1950]



Edie's pick:  Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Mysterious and sad Edie finds deep comfort in Franny and Zooey, a book comprised of two separate stories dedicated to the youngest members of the Glass family - which was a frequent focus in Salinger's writings.  When Franny finds herself in the midst of a spiritual and existential breakdown, her older brother, an emotionally toughened genius, reaches out to her, offering brotherly love, understanding, and words of sage advice.




EXCERPT FROM FRANNY AND ZOOEY by J.D. Salinger

"Against my better judgment I feel certain that somewhere very near here - the first house down the road, maybe - there's a good poet dying, but also somewhere very near here somebody's having a hilarious pint of pus taken from her lovely young body, and I can't be running back and forth between grief and high delight."



Ben's pick: The Things they Carried by Tim O'Brien

O'Brien is distinguished from other authors by his ability to merge truth and fiction in this collection of short stories about a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War.  Just as Ben tells a story in order to tell the truth, O'Brien explores the truth of the War by weaving tales inspired by his service in Vietnam, feeling that the realities of of the Vietnam War are best explored in fictional form rather than the presentation of precise facts.




EXCERPT FROM THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien

"Together we understood what terror was: you're not human anymore.  You're a shadow.  You slip out of your own skin, like molting, shedding your own history and your own future, leaving behind everything you ever were or wanted to believe in. You know you're about to die.  And it's not a movie and you aren't a hero and all you can do is whimper and wait."



Sarah's pick: Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Sarah feels deeply connected to Charlie, the main character of Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Like Sarah, Charlie is deeply sensitive, shy, and intelligent beyond his years.  Perks of a Wallflower reflects on themes of teenage reality and nostalgia.  Chbosky wanted to convey respect for teenagers, to "validate and respect and celebrate what [teenagers] are going through everyday", dedicating his novel to "anyone who's felt like an outcast."




EXCERPT FROM PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky

"I don't know if you've ever felt like that.  That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years.  Or just not exist.  Or just not be aware that you do exist.  Or something like that.  I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this.  That's why I'm trying not to think.  I just want it all to stop spinning."



John's pick:  The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad


Owner of the bookstore in which Michael and Edie meet, John seems to be leading a secret life outside of the store.  Is he meeting a lady?  Does he have a family at home waiting for him?  Or maybe, just maybe, is he involved with something more diabolical?  Conrad's classic novel, set in London in 1886, deals largely with the life of Mr. Verloc.  During the day, he runs a shop that sells pornographic materials, contraceptives, and bric-a-brac.  At night . . . well, the title says it all.



EXCERPT FROM THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad

"Mr. Verloc, getting off the sofa with ponderous reluctance, ponderous reluctance, opened the door leading into the kitchen to get more air, and thus disclosed the innocent Stevie, seated very good and quiet at a deal table, drawing circles, circles; innumerable circles, concentric, eccentric; a coruscating whirl of circles that by their tangled multitude of repeated curves, uniformity of form and confusion of intersecting lines suggested a rendering of cosmic chaos, the symbolism of a mad art attempting the inconceivable."



With your tall-tale tastebuds whetted, book your tickets now for Michael & Edie, running February 10th-22nd, by visiting www.villanovatheatre.com or by calling our box office at 610-519-7474.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

BIG LOVE Dance Party Playlist!

As we head into tech weekend for the beautifully lyrical Big Love, we're getting ready to celebrate with some killer music!  Each character has chosen their favorite song, creating a rocking Big Love playlist!  Click on each link to start off your weekend the RIGHT way!

Lydia's Pick: "War (What Is It Good For?)" by Edwin Starr

Lydia, ever the peace-keeper, resonates with Edwin Starr's strong and forceful song that demands peace in place of war.  Leave it to Lydia to bring a social message into the party grooves!

Nikos's Pick - "Got Til It's Gone" by Janet Jackson (feat. Joni Mitchell)

Sentimental Nikos just likes songs that remind him of middle school dance parties.  And any song that samples Joni Mitchell is alright in his book!

Thyona's Pick: "So What" by Pink

Thyona sure doesn't need a man to have a good time!  And just like Pink, her idea of a good time is getting into some trouble - watch out guys!

Constantine's Pick - "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" by The Crystals

Constantine has some - ahem - interesting notions when it comes to relationships, which may harken back to a simpler (and more uncomfortable) time in American pop music, as reflected in this song by the Motown girl group The Crystals.

Olympia's Pick - "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"  by Whitney Houston

Olympia is all about the simple pleasures in life: fashion, beauty products, and of course, flirtatious liaisons with gorgeous men.  Nothing taps into her most profound desires like Whitney Houston's ode to dancing the night away in the arms of someone who loves her.

Oed's Pick - "About A Girl" by Nirvana

Oed is the strong silent type - and maybe just a little bit moodier than his brothers.  So of course he's attracted to the grungy and romantic Nirvana.  Cobain's lyrics just speak to him, man.

Piero's Pick - "My Way" by Frank Sinatra

Classy, independent, charming, forthright - that's Piero.  Really, there's not much separating him from Sinatra - except of course for the mistresses and allegations of domestic abuse.  But hey - a good man is hard to find!

Giuliano's Pick - "Love On Top"  by Beyonce

Romantic Giuliano is Big Love's spokesperson for honoring oneself and being forthright and confident about one's inner desires.  Beyonce's upbeat love song just speaks to his inner fly girl!

Bella's Pick - That's Amore  by Dean Martin

If there are two things that Bella believes in with all her heart, it's love and her homemade pizza.  Lucky for her Dean Martin's classic song has them both!

Eleanor's Pick - "Crazy For You" by Adele

Eleanor's departure from her native England and residency in the free-spirit world of Italy has unleashed her most intense sexual desires - allowing herself to be "carried off in a crowd, that in another minute will all be naked."  So of course Adele's sexiest song taps into her sweet spot ;)

Leo - "Bringing Sexy Back" by Justin Timberlake

Leo's trick to life is bringing unrestrained sexual pleasure back into the conversation - so just like Justin, he is bringing sexy back into the mix!





Find the full Big Love party playlist, with all of the songs listed above as well as lots of others, embedded below!




Big Love runs November 11th-23rd.  Visit the Villanova Theatre website or call the box office at 610-519-7474 for tickets.  Some performances are already SOLD OUT, so act fast!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Patchwork Playmaking: The World of Charles L. Mee


One of the most exciting and enthralling parts of working on a script created by Charles L. Mee is the opportunity to experience text and ideas from a menagerie of authors, critics, theorists, pop culturists, and more. Big Love is one of a collection of Mee's plays, which together he calls The (Re)Making Project.
Click here to check out the remaking project!
In his introduction to the online collection, Mee says:

"I have pillaged the structures and contents of the plays of Euripides and Brecht and stuff out of Soap Opera Digest and the evening news and the internet…There is no such thing as an original play."

Big Love itself is a loose adaptation of Aeschylus’s The Suppliants which is based on The Legend of Io. He also draws ideas and language from over 10 other sources, most taken between the time period of 1950-1999.


Click here to read more!
He also takes direct passages from The Pillow Book by Sei Sh┼Źnagon a Japanese court lady and author, under Empress Teishi (Sadako), during the  Helian period who lived between 996-1017. The Pillow Book is a series of observations and musings from her time as a court lady and her life in Japan. Within Big Love, direct text is taken from the first page of the book, which includes an observation about the loveliest times of year, “In spring, the dawn- in summer, the night- in autumn, the evening- in winter, the early morning”.



Another direct piece of text within Big Love comes from Valarie Solanas who is best known for her attempted murder of Andy Warhol is 1968. Solanas is a radical American feminist writer who famously wrote the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, which stands for, the “Society for Cutting Up Men”. Mee takes language such as “The male is a biological accident…an incomplete female” and places it in Big Love as one of the bride’s arguments against men.

See which characters upon whom Mee bestows excerpts from The Pillow Book and "The S.C.U.M. Manifesto" in Big Love at Villanova Theatre, November 11th-23rd, Tuesday-Saturday at 8PM, Sundays at 2PM.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Politics of Beauty

The 1920s were a time of significant upheaval the world over; World War I disrupted daily life, gender roles, and economics. While some countries adapted more readily to the new social climate, British society worked hard to re-establish Victorianism as a national identity. This meant pushing British women from the workplace back into the home and attempting to control the aesthetics of what a desirable and proper British woman could be.

The major media push shifted from celebrating women doing their duty for the nation by taking on factory jobs to celebrating them for returning to their kitchens to care for their children and menfolk at the end of the war. Take this cocoa ad, for example: between January and March of 1919, the British woman moves from manual laborer to doting wife and mother.

Alongside the mainstream media preference for housebound homemaker, though, a culture surrounding beauty and femininity sprouted up. Makeup became a necessity for the vast majority of women, rather than for just the very wealthy or the prostitute. A slim body became the expectation, and women took a new interest exercise and outdoor activity. Keeping yourself beautiful and polished became a duty rather than an expression of vanity. This shifted expectation was another way of reminding women what their place was: the pretty, feminine, heterosexual ideal.

In this climate, fashion became politicized, most notably in this question: to bob, or not to bob?

Long hair was the standard for much of modern British history. However, the 1920s witnessed the rise of the bob, the now-ubiquitous chin-or-higher length haircut. The introduction of this cut in the early part of the decade caused a flurry of controversy; the bob was immediately associated with flappers, and flappers were associated with the sexually uninhibited. Women’s magazines, which also rose to prominence during this decade, ran constant stories on whether the bob should be attempted, and employers would think twice before hiring a woman with the style. To bob was to mark yourself as a Modern Woman, a positive figure for us and for those who embraced it at the time, but an anti-Victorian troublemaker for a society invested in keeping women home and accounted for.