day 94

Crazy Betty by Charlotte Higgins

tw/cw for play: oblique mentions of sexual assault, sexual assault in the workplace, guns onstage, threat of sexual violence and threat of violence towards women

Synopsis: (from NPX) CRAZY BETTY is the darkly comedic adventure of two women trying to beat a system run by a bunch of local male dimwits. All Betty wants from her dollar store job is a decent shift and insurance to get a hip replacement. Annie, fresh out of prison, can’t get a job any place but the local strip club. Bound together by the death of someone they loved, the two women try to outrun their past but find it’s been lying in wait all along.

Cast: 2 F (60s and 20s), 3 M (20s, 40s, 60s)

Key Words/Themes: Rural America, lead elder character, subjugation of women, economic distress

My Thoughts: Higgins skillfully builds the world of the play and her characters through subtle, slow reveals of information. There’s no “information dump”; we find out about relationship history, economic situation, and character’s emotions through tiny little tells. The two richest characters are Betty and Annie, who share an unconventional bond. Betty clearly sees Annie as a younger version of herself, and though she doesn’t seem to like Annie very much, she goes out of her way to help her. For her part, Annie clearly cares for Betty even though she’s intimidated by her. The two support one another through some of the most trying circumstances I’ve seen in theater lately.

This play deals with virtually every issue facing rural Americans today: drug abuse, glorification of guns/lack of gun safety, sexual assault, teenage pregnancy, bible-thumping, lack of healthcare, and economic distress. However, Crazy Betty doesn’t go overboard or in an after-school special direction with these issues. They’re presented as simple facts of life, and not cried about, just dealt with. By the time Betty gets sent to prison, I was relieved on her behalf – at least in prison she gets healthcare, has supervision in her old age, and has air conditioning.

Where I Found It: NPX

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day 93

The Garbologists by Lindsay Joelle

Synopsis: When veteran sanitation worker Danny gets a new partner on his route, he’s not sure what to do with her. Marlowe is grieving the loss of her son. Over the course of their route hauling New York City’s garbage, the two bond, fight, and make up, and find that though they are patently different, they have common ground between them.

Cast: 1 white man, 1 black woman

Key Words/Themes: family, labor, grief, friendship

My Thoughts: Joelle treats these characters with a deft hand. Their grief is revealed by degrees. The depth of feeling in each of them, and the depth of their relationship, was refreshing and breathtaking. For me, this was a play about kindness and vulnerability, both of which are so difficult to provide but such a joy to receive. Marlowe and Danny, in their own gruff way, offer such tenderness to each other; it really touched me.

I also love that this play is about sanitation workers (or garbage people), and that Joelle gives a lot of room for the physicality required of this job. This play would be a delight to see on stage, and a delight for actors to dig their teeth into.

Where I Found It: NPX and the Kilroy’s list

day 92

Crazy Betty by Charlotte Higgins

Synopsis: (From NPX) CRAZY BETTY is the darkly comedic adventure of two women trying to beat a system run by a bunch of local male dimwits. All Betty wants from her dollar store job is a decent shift and insurance to get a hip replacement. Annie, fresh out of prison, can’t get a job any place but the local strip club. Bound together by the death of someone they loved, the two women try to outrun their past but find it’s been lying in wait all along.

Cast: 2 W (60s and 20s), 3 M (60s, 20s, 40s)

Key Words/Themes: rural America, women’s issues, economic desperation, older woman, bonding

My Thoughts: Higgins skillfully builds the world of the play and her characters through subtle, slow reveals of information. There’s no “information dump”; we find out about relationship history, economic situation, and character’s emotions through tiny little tells. The two richest characters are Betty and Annie, who share an unconventional bond. Betty clearly sees Annie as a younger version of herself, and though she doesn’t seem to like Annie very much, she goes out of her way to help her. For her part, Annie clearly cares for Betty even though she’s intimidated by her. The two support one another through some of the most trying circumstances I’ve seen in theater lately.

Where I Found It: NPX

day 91

Man & Wife by Emma Goldman-Sherman

Synopsis: A wedding cake topper couple comes to life. Over the journey of being married, Ron and Missy grapple with some usual and unusual conundrums: what to do when your kids don’t present as their assigned gender identity, how to keep your own identity within your marriage, what to do about aging, what to do when your parents move in with you, and what to do when your spouse didn’t vote for the person you thought they should. In this play spanning twenty-five years, we watch Ron and Missy change, fight, grow, and find some sort of peace in their partnership.

Cast: 1 M, 1 F, playing white christian midwesterners at a variety of ages from late 20s to early 60s

Key Words/Themes: marriage, identity, lgbtq+, worldview

My Thoughts: This is a really deft two-hander that doesn’t glorify or vilify marriage. Rather, it takes an abstract, critical eye to the patriarchal and religious standards inherent in a marriage, especially a marriage in the Midwest. I would definitely say I rooted for Missy more over the course of the play – she’s a kickass mom, sister, and political activist, who isn’t quite sure her life is going the way she wants it to – but that is obviously partially because of my own bias. Ron is also a character who fees trapped by what society expects of him as the man in the relationship.

I love the curveball that both of Ron and Missy’s kids (Sport and Sweetie) are trans. I always want to see more trans characters onstage. However, I thought Goldman-Sherman’s choice to keep Sport and Sweetie offstage was a good one, and permissible because there is never a question of these kids facing abuse or neglect because of their gender identities. Because the kids stay offstage, we get to see the logistical concerns at play when raising a trans kid, and the steps Ron and Missy have to take to protect their progeny from hate in middle America. I think the conversations they have could really touch a more conservative audience and open some minds.

If you’re looking for a good scene, this play is full of them. If you’re looking for a good two-hander, look no more. Man & Wife is here for all of your needs.

Where I Found It: NPX

day 90

miku, and the gods. by Julia Izumi

Synopsis: (from NPX) Miku wants to be a god. Ephraim wants to be an Olympian. Grandma wants to remember. And Shara wants people to just include him in the conversation, you know? miku, and the gods is an epic and small adventure that braids together friendship, death, memory, time, rhythm and power beyond what one could ever desire.

Cast: 2 F Japanese-American (plays 12 and 70s respectively), 1 teenage Latinx M, 1 Sumerian M, 1 any age/gender/ethnicity, and misc gods

Key Words/Themes: memory, death, gods, power, youth

My Thoughts: I’ve read Izumi for this blog before (check out day 38), and normally I try not to cover the same person twice, but Izumi is a rising star and this play totally deserves an entry. So here are my thoughts:

One of the things I enjoyed about this play (and there are so many things to enjoy) was how much paying attention to Izumi’s hints paid off. There are recurring motifs and phrases in miku that, if you pay attention, return in a more significant way later on – many writers will pick one or two things, but practically everything Izumi puts on the page has significance. This gave me a very rich experience, and caused me to lean in to this play. I felt rewarded and surprised as the play spooled out.

Izumi doesn’t use these easter eggs to distract from the beating heart of miku. Rather, these motifs layer on to deep emotion – grief, fear, loss. All her characters are honestly trying to help one another through these debilitating emotions. This is something that is very refreshing to me, especially in today’s world.

This is a play that cries out to be staged – just reading the first three pages can show you that. I look forward to this play’s first production.

Where I Found It: NPX

day 89

In The Green by Grace McLean

Synopsis: (from the LCT3 website)

Commissioned by LCT3, IN THE GREEN tells the origin story of one of Medieval history’s most powerful and creative women: Hildegard von Bingen. Before she became a healer, a composer, an exorcist, and finally a saint, she was a little girl locked in a cell with her mentor, Jutta. 

This new musical by Grace McLean is the tale of two women and the journey that leads one to embrace death, and the other to celebrate the beauty and blemishes of a fully lived life.

Cast: 5 women (any race, any ability/disability)

Key Words/Themes: trauma, feminism, healing, impact

My Thoughts: From the moment the lights dimmed in the theater for In the Green, I was transfixed. McLean has written a musical that felt at once alien and thrilling. Each aspect of the story and production was carefully considered – for example, Jutta, a woman who strives for control, uses guttural sounds and edgy melodies and a loop machine to introduce the audience to her philosophy. She creates music using only her own body (for the most part), reinforcing her own self-reliance. On the other hand, Hildegard, who has been ‘broken’ by an early childhood trauma, is played by three women wielding puppets. The lighting was stark and commanding, the costumes simple but rich. I could not predict a single part of this musical and was enthralled the whole time.

What I took from In The Green was that when something is off-putting, uncomfortable, or obscure, you must dive into the darkness to find out why you feel that way. Without careful, rigorous reflection and analysis, you can easily sink into a kind of half-life, where you are not free of the trauma that you’re repressing. This message can be extrapolated to world politics, but for most of the musical, it is individualized to Hildegaard and Jutta.

I am sure this musical will have a further life, and I sincerely hope a cast recording is on the horizon. Keep it on your radar – it’s a wonderful foray into a fresh and exciting type of musical theater.

Where I Found It: Final performance at LCT3, the musical’s commissioning body.

day 88

Bike America by Mike Lew

Synopsis: Self-proclaimed fuckup Penny decides last-minute to join a cross-country bike trip for cancer. She joins a motley group of more prepared bikers: group leader Ryan, lesbian couple Rorie and Annabel (who are getting married in every state it’s legal), and wholesome Tim Billy. However, Penny cannot find a home for herself in any of the cities they visit or within the group. As her ex-boyfriend Todd scooters after her and the Man With The Van (a person who helps with the trip, not a murderer) leads the group onward, Penny is faced with an abrupt roadblock.

Cast: 1 black man, 1 black woman, 1 Latinx or Asian woman, 3 M any ethnicity, 1 F any ethnicity (in short, 3F, 4M)

Key Words/Themes: self-discovery, bildungsroman, journey, road trip, belonging

My Thoughts: The way Mike Lew writes dialogue feels like coming home. Bike America is full of defensive sarcasm, frustration, and attempts to genuinely connect – in short, it feels like hanging out with your first friend group in college.

I appreciate the play’s relatively short scenes, because they reflect Penny’s mind – fragmented, centered around herself, and just looking for the next landmark to come up. It’s a quick read and goes full tilt until it abruptly stops. Penny isn’t necessarily a villain in her self-centeredness (or at least I had a lot of sympathy for her situation), but the abrupt ending of the play highlights how much more full Penny’s life could have been if she had been a little more vulnerable, not hiding behind the safety of self-labeling as a ‘fuckup’. We’re all obsessed with finding meaning and purpose for our lives, but for me Bike America reminded me to reach for experiences that make me uncomfortable and to pull my own head out of my ass and pay attention to the world around me – just in case there’s a truck coming up on my back.

Where I Found It: Printed by Sam French