Sunday, July 15, 2018

Main Street Theater's "Buyer & Cellar"

Main Street Theater continues to put on a wide range of intriguing shows; the latest, which opened yesterday, is Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins. In this one-man, one-set, one-act play, a struggling actor named Alex (Doug Atkins) accepts a job maintaining a small faux shopping mall in the basement of (one of) Barbra Streisand's house(s). There he weaves by night and day, a magic web with colors gay .... whoops, sorry, that's Tennyson, not Tolins. There Alex waits, dusting antique dolls and maintaining a frozen yogurt machine in the hopes that the elusive Barbra, his only potential customer, will visit. When she finally does, the two form an unlikely connection, but does Barbra consider Alex a friend, or is he simply an employee whom she uses to alleviate a loneliness to which she barely admit?

This is an odd play. It's ably narrated by Atkins, who reminds the audience at the beginning that the story is fiction and then tells it like it's real. The setting, at least, is based in reality; Streisand's book My Passion for Design, published in 2010, gives a photographic tour of her estate, including the basement "street" with Bee's Doll Shop, an antique clothes shop, a gift shop, and more. Alex relates his encounters with the diva, his own thoughts and insecurities, and his exchanges with his boyfriend Barry, who grows impatient with Alex's tolerance of Barbra's selfish idiosyncrasies.

To be completely honest, I struggled a bit with this play -- not with Atkins' performance or MST's production, but with the play itself. It's laugh-out-loud funny in several places, and its point that successful people are often very lonely and insecure is well taken, but somehow I didn't find it quite funny or quite touching enough to justify itself. I couldn't help wondering: why write a play about this? What is here, other than the novelty of the set-up, that is funnier or more profound than what can be seen in other comedies with similar themes?

It took me a little while to figure out what I was looking for in this piece, but then I recognized that what I wanted was the same funny/moving experience I got from watching the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And then I recognized that that was somewhat arrogant of me -- at least, I think arrogant is the word I'm looking for. Buyer and Cellar and Priscilla are not about the same thing, so demanding that one be like the other is unfair.

In the end, I'm glad I saw this. It made me think, not just about its own content but about the creation of art, and the act of deciding what art can or should be based upon. I once wrote a fantasy short story about squirrels, for instance, and one friend's reaction was "you're really going to waste magic on squirrels?" Hell, yes! I love squirrels. And judging from the reception that Buyer & Cellar received for its 2013 New York debut, and the number of places it's since been performed around the country, clearly a lot of theater goers find what they're looking for in this play.

Playing July 14 through August 12, 2018; tickets here.

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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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