Friday, June 15, 2018

Main Street Theater's "Daddy Long-Legs"

I've been horribly remiss; I saw Main Street Theater's delightful production of Daddy Long-Legs a few weeks ago, and meant to post about it immediately, but a whole lotta life got in the way, so I'm only just posting now. And that means there are a few more chances to see it before it closes this Sunday (June 17). And it is so worth seeing!

By way of quick background, this version of Daddy Long-Legs stems from a late-2000s production that was co-premiered by three small theater programs before making London and off-Broadway runs. It's based directly on Jean Webster's 1912 novel of the same name, even retaining the one-sided epistolary format. And this is probably the only two-person musical I've ever seen, but if ever there was a property perfect for a two-person musical, this is it.

The plot is simple: an orphan named Jerusha Abbott receives news that she's to be sent to college by a mysterious benefactor, whose only requirement in return is that Jerusha write to him once a month telling him about her experiences. She is not to expect any reply, and will only know her benefactor by the obvious pseudonym of "Mr. Smith." That name is far too pedestrian for the imaginative Jerusha, however, so she dubs him "Daddy Long-Legs" after having caught a glimpse of his elongated shadow in the orphanage's vestibule. Jerusha's letters, spoken and sung in turns by the two actors, give life to Jerusha's social and academic awakening in the most charming way possible. Since much of the letters' text comes directly from the novel, Jerusha's original voice comes shining through.
[Shanae'a Moore as Jerusha Abbott.
Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography.]

Seeing this play was truly special for me. I read the novel at least twice as a young adult -- I still own my copy -- and even sought out the tangential sequel about Jerusha's best friend at college, Sallie McBride. Matt Harris Andersen made a fine Jervis Pendleton, and Shanae'a Moore's exquisitely pure voice, combined with just the right amount of girlishness, made for a perfect Jerusha. In fact, after having several of the songs run through my head for days after the show, I broke down and listened to the off-Broadway recording, and I have to say that I preferred Ms. Moore's voice to that of Megan McGinnis.

The other thing that made this experience special was the theater itself. Although this production has such a simple story and small cast, Main Street Theater did not skimp at all on the set, with Jervis's beautifully designed and lighted study in the background, and some movable furniture and props representing Jerusha's surroundings at the forefront. And because this cozy theater is only three rows deep (on three sides of the stage), the audience feels immersed. I happened to be sitting in the front row, and once or twice felt compelled to draw my feet in closer because I didn't want Jerusha tripping over them in her skirts!

I highly, highly recommend this production -- click here for ticket information. And if you want to familiarize yourself with the source material, a public domain e-book is freely available in several formats on Project Gutenberg.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

New Short Story at "Page & Spine": The Chia Pet Brigade

My story "The Chia Pet Brigade" appears today in the online magazine Page & Spine. Although almost all of my published short fiction is science fiction or fantasy, this story just barely skims the surface of the genre pond, and even that little bit may be open to interpretation. Feel free to make up your own mind!

Read this story about a special education teacher named Sandy and her student "brigade" here (free link).

[Please disregard the "read more" link at the end of this post.]

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Curious Fictions: A New Home for My Stories

Recently I joined the Curious Fictions platform, where invited authors post previously published short fiction to share with a wider audience. The stated purpose of Curious Fictions is "to help more authors make a living on the work they do." While readers can read for free, they are asked to sign up with payment information in the event they choose to "tip" for a story, or subscribe to a particular author or to featured stories. Authors are never charged, and Curious Fiction keeps only 25% of income, divvying up the rest among authors based on an algorithm involving views, likes, and subscriptions.

Basically, this site is quite the boon for authors. It has the potential to create a small but noticeable passive income stream based on works that were previously published, and considering how low most payments for short fiction are, every little bit helps! The interface also makes it incredibly easy for authors to post stories, and they retain their copyright and the ability to take stories down if they want or need to for any reason.

I definitely would encourage readers and writers to check out Curious Fictions! Authors need to be invited, but can ask for an invitation at the site, or get one from an existing participant (I have a few invites to offer, by the way). I've also been enjoying the site as a reader, and have stumbled upon some truly enjoyable stories I might have missed otherwise. Remember, even though you enter payment information to access the stories, you do not actually need to pay anything unless you choose to do so.

Here's the link to the overall site. I hope you check it out, and enjoy it!

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Main Street Theater: "Natural Shocks" reading / "Daddy Long-Legs" cast read-through

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of two very different experiences at Main Street Theater. On April 20, I was privileged to attend a reading of Natural Shocks, a one-woman play by Lauren Gunderson. This was a serious play with some deft comedic touches, about a woman waiting out an imminent tornado in her basement, and using the time to share details of her life, and ultimately some secrets, with the audience.

Although Houston's familiarity with hurricanes gives us extra incentive to be aware of natural disasters, or "natural shocks," as Gunderson puts it, there was much more than that to this play. Indeed, since the event was billed as "a national campaign of theater activism against gun violence," the audience knew going in that the play would eventually tie into that theme as well, and it fulfilled that expectation in a clever and emotionally powerful way. The event at Main Street Theater was one of more than 100 readings that took place in 45 states (although the only one that occurred in Texas) on April 20, which Ms. Gunderson had deemed a royalty-free performance day for any theater that wanted to participate. But lest one think we were in for a lecture rather than a performance, that was not the case; Main Street Theater's Shannon Emerick imbued the reading with emotion and dramatic flair, to moving effect. In fact, it was downright entertaining, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

Switching gears entirely, on April 22, I returned to attend the first cast read-through (and sing-through) of Main Street Theater's upcoming production of Daddy Long-Legs, a two-person musical based not on the 1955 movie starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron, but instead on the original 1912 epistolary novel by Jean Webster. If you haven't encountered this story before, it's about an orphan named Jerusha Abbott, who is sent by an anonymous benefactor to college. The only conditions are that she must write to her patron at least once a month describing her studies and her life at college, and she must not expect replies to her letters. The play consists of Jerusha and her patron, whom she has nicknamed Daddy Long-Legs because all she has seen of him is the elongated shadow he cast during a visit to the orphanage, alternately writing and reading her letters, with Daddy Long-Legs' own thoughts interspersed throughout the narrative.

I was particularly excited to attend this read-through because I read the novel more than once as a young adult, captivated both by the story and by the amateurish yet appealing line drawings by the author depicting Jerusha's activities, surroundings, and classmates. (The novel, including illustrations, is available free in multiple e-book formats on Project Gutenberg.) And based on the read-through, I can tell that this musical, which is suitable for families without being at all childish, maintains the charm of the original material. I look forward to seeing the production in full bloom in May or June (performance information available here).

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to say what I've said in other posts about Main Street Theater: if you haven't discovered it for yourself yet, you're missing out! This small theater has "range," much in the same way that talented actors do, and the venue allows a rare theater-going intimacy. I'm so glad I found my way there last winter.

[Note: this post was edited on April 30, 2018 to reflect the correct number of readings and states where they occurred.]

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