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Winter Theater Production: "Telling Tales"

Winter Theater Production:

From Director Julian Schlusberg:

As diverse as our world is, laughter is one of the great things that unites us all. The three one-act plays that you are about to see treat us to the comic genius of three very different playwrights, each presenting his own ideas about the things in our everyday lives that tickle our fancy. Their respective stories take place in different time periods and demonstrate very specifc styles of theater, from the fantasy-like, fairy tale world of The Ugly Duckling to the broad, slap- stick commedia dell’arte style of The Flying Doctor to the more contemporary and realistic (yet, ironically, very unrealistic) world of The Actor’s Nightmare

Laughter is good for us! It’s been proven over and over. From relieving stress, to easing pain, to bringing a community together, to just making us feel really good, there is nothing quite like a good laugh. Our three playwrights knew that all too well. Interestingly, at the risk of being too analytical (I cautioned readers of my acting textbook, Lessons for the Stage, not to try to analyze comedy too much; just try to nd that often elusive “comic spirit” and go with it wherever it takes you), there are as many similarities among the three vehicles as there are obvious differences. For example, in all three plays there is an element of disguise—characters pretending to be someone who they aren’t. There are those age-old comic conventions of mistaken identities, physical humor, word humor, and characters whose, shall we say, “elevator doesn’t go to the top floor.” These comic traditions have entertained people since the days of classical Greek theater. Shakespeare’s comedies abound in them, and they exist right up to all forms of present day comic entertainment. 

And yet, isn’t it fascinating that comedies often have quite socially signicant lessons as well? In The Ugly Duckling, the king and queen are obsessed with their daughter’s lack of physical beauty. To them, it absolutely defies the natural order of princesses to be anything less than stunning. They never quite realize, as the theme of the play points out, that true beauty is internal. The Flying Doctor (also known as The Doctor in Spite of Himself) was written at a time when everyone was born into a certain social class and there wasn’t much hope of ever escaping those restrictions. In fact, Molière, the playwright, was born poor and often mocked the rich and powerful as his characters attempted to become upwardly mobile. 

The commedia dell’arte style of his play, extremely popular in Italy and France in the 17th and 18th centuries, is characterized by the use of masks, many props, and was known to feature in its plots certain “stock” characters that appeared over and over again: the foolish old man and the trickster servant, military officers who claimed to be braver than they actually were, and miserly merchants. The roots of the commedia style were based in improvisation, but later took on more formality with scripts that were written especially for it rather than actors donning masks and making up the plot as they went along. The Flying Doctor is a formally written play, but much of it has been developed through improvisation. 

It is said that every actor in the world experiences the nightmare that George Spelvin lives through in Christopher Durang’s play, The Actor’s Nightmare— that feeling of being in a play and not knowing any of the lines, and, in fact, sometimes not even knowing what the play is! But the play’s popularity reaches far beyond the world of the theater. Maybe Durang has tapped into that dreadful universal feeling we all experience of being unprepared, whether it is onstage or off! This wonderful comedy takes us on a riotous journey as it ricochets among several plays-within-the play: from a piece by Noel Coward (perhaps it is Private Lives, but we’re not really sure) to Shakespeare’s Hamlet to a conglomeration of works by the Irish avant-garde playwright Samuel Beckett, and finally to the story of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s drama A Man For All Seasons. While a knowledge of these works would be advantageous in appreciating Beckett’s humor more fully, the audience is still captivated by George’s problems—maybe because we feel like we’ve been in many a similar situation. 

The students involved with the production of the three plays that comprise “Telling Tales” have worked very hard and have enjoyed a unique learning opportunity. Bringing a play to life on the stage—traveling on that wonderful and thrilling journey from written script to full-blown production complete with the use of voice and movement, with scenery and props, with costumes and make-up and hairstyles—is an experience filled with fun and much, much learning. Educational theater teaches us to collaborate and cooperate and to truly listen, to analyze and interpret and to be creative, to trust and be supportive and to make important decisions, to discuss and learn important life lessons, to be inspired and even to dream. 

We hope these plays will bring a smile to your face and maybe even a good, old-fashioned belly laugh! But of greater importance, perhaps they will, as so many comedies do, provide a new understanding, a new perspective, a fresh outlook on life. That is the magic of the theater. Enjoy! 

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