Tag Archives: playwriting

THEATRE REVIEW: Why Torture Is Wrong and The People Who Love Them

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Thomas LaChiusa
Subversive Theatre Company

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christoper Durang, has a plot that unfolds – at first – quite neatly. A young woman (Felicity, played by Andrea Andolina) wakes up in bed with a man (Zamir, played by Michael Votta) who she doesn’t know. Who, as far as she can tell, she’s married by accident. As the action develops, it begins to take a strange veer away from reality, heading into an absurd – yet frighteningly possible – world.

Feicity is, throughout the first act, constrained by the barely-restrained violence of combating Alpha males Leonard (her father, played by Victor Morales) and her new husband Zamir. Her mother Luella (Christopher Standart) has disassociated from the world, relying on absent-minded discussion of Broadway hits (Wicked, A Chorus Line) and is at odds with her daughter’s desire to tackle problems in the here and now. Namely, the problem of Zamir. He might be a danger. Or a terrorist. He’s already shown some tendencies toward violence – if not physical, yet, the certainly verbal – and while Felicity wants her parents’ help in getting an annulment, she also doesn’t want Zamir hurt. It’s a pretty morally admirable decision, given Zamir’s actions towards her early on. Still, one cheers a little when he and Leonard stand off. The delicious whiff of mutually-assured destruction is in the air.

The play strikes the same cheery, sick satirical chords as something like Torben Betts’ The Unconquered, or (if I’m giving his an even darker comparison) Sarah Kane’s Blasted (if Blasted were played for laughs without any on-stage violence). Some cultural force has warped our male leads, and one almost hopes the dystopia of the outside world is bad enough to justify the chill that runs through Durang’s script when it comes to his character’s brutality. One suspects that world might be reality, while hoping that isn’t the case.

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them is a funhouse-mirror post-9/11 dark comedy. The metaphors for punishment without trial, racial profiling and next-generation “patriots” (the kind who take selfies flanked by flags and guns and government conspiracy theories) and domestic violence are present. It asks us, as viewers: how does a person cope with all that? Can we, as society, stand our ground and demand the ability to effect change (Felicity’s stance, in the first act), or disassociate into a disengaged enjoyment of our Marxian opiate of choice?

Luella, we see, has chosen the latter. While her husband waxes poetic about “Father Knows Best,” exploring the taste of calling his daughter the pet names from the kids in the classic TV show, Luella wears matching floral house dresses and insists on lighthearted conversation about the Theatre and French Toast. While she develops into an ally for Felicity as the play moves on, one can never be sure of when Luella’s small-chat fog may be sliced open by razor lucidity.

As for Leonard, everything we hear about his contact with the government? We hear it from him, or from one of his co-conspirators. In other words, it’s not hard to imagine that his Shadow world is, just like Luella’s also turtles all the way down. It might as well be self-contained. If Luella has floated away, maybe Leonard and his fellow nutjobs aren’t far behind.

If so, then what can be made of the final movement of the script, where Felicity’s compassion for Zamir – a man who has threatened and intimidated her – allows her to finally wrest away control of the situation’s swiftly deteriorating violence? She takes charge and the axis of Durang’s play starts to twist. A voice that’s been speaking to the audience throughout the play – Becky Globus, who also takes on several other roles – smashes through the 4th wall, and Felicity wills a feat of metatextual narrative timetravel. Her drive to change what’s happened drags the whole cast, including a pornographic priest (James Cichocki) and one of Leonard’s whackadoo comrades (Mike Seitz), back to a point before the play even started: the night Felicity and Zamir meet.

Conjured back to their ground zero, Felicity searches for a way in which the best aspects of herself and Zamir can be together – while also setting clear and entirely reasonable boundaries about what she wants as the end result: a world where things turn out differently. She directs the conversation carefully, laying out boundaries and guidelines, until she’s coached both herself and Zamir to what might be their “best aspect”. Zamir wonders if this even leaves him as the same same person, but Felicity’s insistence carries the day. Have they truly time-traveled, and will they now create a better future? Or has Felicity just experienced just had a disassociative snap, her mind creating a false reality to protect her from the world’s harsh truths? Has Felicity just found her delusional opium?

That I’m left with questions like these (and more) is a testament to the quality of Durang’s script, Thomas LaChiusa’s direction, and the cast’s ability to seamlessly integrate the two. Subversive’s production is tight and focused, an achievement for a show gets farther “out there” than normal. It’s easy for a play that toys so much with fantasy and reality (including metatextually) to drift aimlessly, but Why Torture Is Wrong…keeps its feet on the ground. And that makes a huge amount of difference in its ability to hold the audience over the course of two hours, as well in its ability to spark thought afterwards.

While John Kennedy and Michael Lodick’s set doesn’t quite evoke the luxury the script indicates, it’s unclear if that’s because the wealth isn’t translating physically, or if – like Zamir’s insistence on being somehow Irish – it’s yet another place where character’s perceptions and reality diverge.

Why Torture Is Wrong… is at the Subversive Theatre in Buffalo, New York through April 12, 2015, and I hope you make the time to see it.

Tickets were comped for this production.

Also of interest:

Writing Rewards

I’ve been writing for the last two months. Big deal, I hear you say, you’re a writer. Writers write. Which is true, but some writers do other things, too, like eating and sleeping and talking to other human beings, and I haven’t done much of any of that stuff since the end of October. Well, aside from the eating.

IMAG2507The other thing – what makes the last two months really notable – is that I *finished* complete first drafts for two pretty major projects in those two months. Which, for someone who’s still trying to put together a short story collection about robots months later, is really what’s worth celebrating.

If you’d come to me last year and said by January 2014 I’d have finished a novel and a play, I’d…well, let’s just say I’d probably have snapped something at you about best-laid plans before skulking off to a corner and spitting fire in your general direction. (Creatively, the end of 2012 was Not the Best Time Ever, whatever that old blog entry says.) But here I am, and here they are, two stacks of paper staring back at me, only they’re not really staring back at me because they don’t have eyes. Also because they’re in a drawer. Also, so far I’ve only printed one out.

It’s been a little over six weeks since the end of writing the novel, and in two weeks I’m having an editing kick-off with Sare on that one. Until then it’s just me, my blog and the sense of self-satisfaction that comes from having two projects well underway this early into the new year.

Now, you might be thinking, wow, Rachel has really pushed herself. She really deserves a reward. Would you believe I agree with you? And here’s what I’ve decided would be the best reward for all that hard work: getting to meet a band whose music I’ve gotten a lot from in the past couple years.

See, there’s this band I like.

Twenty one pilots have a fast, lyrical, melodic style that caught me up from the first time I heard their singles “Semi-Automatic” and “Car Radio” (thanks, Spotify!). Their song “Heart of Gold” makes me go all mushy when I hear it. They make me think of what might happen if The Streets crashed into an awesome, practically ska-ish pile of indiepop incrediblity. They’ve played New York a couple of times since I started liking them, but a bunch of other people must like them too because their shows keep selling out.

Enter @aboleyn, musical tastemaker – and, very lucky for me, a friend of mine. She spotted their name on a festival bill – then spotted a contest for VIP tickets and meeting the band.

So that’s what I want, internet and faithful blog readers. I really really want my friend to win this contest so she and I can meet twenty one pilots, because I’ve been working really hard the last two months and cannot yet afford Rowling-style cash to hire bands for private performances. And this is where you come in.

The way we win this contest is by having the most people click onto THIS PAGE. Once a day, if you feel so inclined.

That’s it. No registration, no spammy emails.

Just click and move on with your day. If we win, I will come up with some kind of appropriate thank-you, probably involving embarrassing photos of me fangirling at the band.

All you have to do is click. And maybe ask your friends to click, too.

Which you and your friends can do – and I hope, will do – once a day between now and the 12th.

So that’s where things stand as of January 2014, folks. A commissioned play and a first novel, ready to be put through the rewrite wringer…and me, sitting here, hoping really hard that I’ll get to meet these guys:

And one last time in case you missed the link: click HERE once a day to help us win!

Free Reads for Christmas!

Hey all!

I’m knee-deep in writing a science fiction play for a company in the UK, so this is going to be quick, but I hope you have a wonderful holiday and wanted to give you a couple of freebies to get you through the next week or two – particularly those of you with kids home from school and in need of entertainment.

If you’ve got kids, STUCK UP A TREE will be free on Amazon through December 29th.

If you like dystopian stories (and who doesn’t?) and haven’t read my play MOUSEWINGS, the next few days give you a chance for some free reading material, too.

I don’t often ask outright, but since it’s Christmas…if you think anyone in your network (including actors, drama teachers, directors…Steven Spielberg…) might enjoy either play, please pass on this blog or those links. And if, once you’re done, you feel like leaving a review? That’d be ace.

Again, both plays are free for Kindle (and associated devices/apps) through December 29th.

Merry Christmas & happy holidays!




PS – At time of writing, Mousewings and Stuck Up A Tree hold positions 3 and 4 on the Bestsellers list in Amazon’s free Playwriting categoy! (See below for a pic!)

free bestseller three and four mousewings

Getting paid to write.

2013-02-07 20.39.28

In today’s blog, and in light of the issues I’ve read about online and e-published authors have had in getting paid, I wanted to say a few things about writing and getting paid for it.

I hope you’ll excuse me if I meander around a bit. Money for the fruit of my soul is an emotional subject.

I got paid on Thursday for a job I did last fall.

Due to a miscommunication, I never realized they’d requested an invoice.

Within days of raising a question about payment (uh…Monday?)…the money hit my account.

I’ve been wondering what was going on since at least October; I remember having a conversation with a friend who was part of the same project around then. And now I’m kicking myself – why didn’t I just ask the producer at the time, why did I step back and not bring up this question of payment earlier?

I didn’t want to seem pushy or petty. But asking “Hey, what’s up?” at a point sooner than four months after the fact would have saved a lot of time, and that would have been nice. As evidenced by how quickly we figured out what was up once I opened my mouth.

Anyway, I’m meandering.

What I wanted to say was this: it felt SO GOOD to get paid for something I’d written because I *felt* it. The piece I was paid for landed in my lap like a flash of inspiration, and having it produced (even abroad, even when I couldn’t go to see it) gave me the most wonderful, settled feeling in the world.

Getting paid for it today, seeing the money land in my account – that gave me a whole different kind of good feeling.

In our society, money is a potent type of validation. I remember the first time I got paid for writing something. A friend bought a short story I’d written. Later, I felt this kind of validation again when I earned money on my Fringe shows (most notably, “Stuck Up A Tree,” which is now *ahemavailableonKindle*). At the same time, we’re told not to ask about it – to the point where I put off a polite inquiry for four months! How crazy is that?

As a freelancer, a self-owned business, you – much like reporters – are advised to follow (up) the money. Nobody is going to think less of you for asking a question.

And trust me. Getting paid for a passion project? The best feeling ever.

2012 was a weighted year. When I got my 1099s for my self-published work in the mail the other day, the amounts added up to a very small sum. Even smaller, once I sit down, do the math, and send money to the writers, illustrators, designers, co-editors and charities owed for the last quarter or two. Having made a somewhat significant sum a few years ago thanks to commercial freelancing, I appreciate the difference between getting paid to write, and getting paid to write what you love.

But what’s left will still be more more than I made on my creative writing in 2011. Which isn’t a bad trend to be following.

Addendum: I asked for some advice re: photography for this entry, because I stress about things like that, and here’s the best response I got.

Sunday and Monday: Kindle Select Promo Days!

Cover art for PLAYING IT COOL

This Sunday and Monday (September 16th and 17th, 2012) you can download my first Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing it Cool for free on Amazon. (Apologies to those who’ve been patient since Friday night – a glitch in scheduling meant the promo didn’t go live as planned on Saturday).

Playing it Cool (a snappy romantic comedy) was written in 2003, and was my first produced play since 1999’s POST (a surreal tale about gun violence).

If you don’t own a Kindle and want to check out the play,  you can download apps for almost any platform on Amazon’s home page.

And as I said last time:

Playing it Cool is a one-act play about two friends, subtext and communication. It’s a two-hander that takes place in an apartment and a cafe, so might be of interest for those looking for audition scenes to read with a partner.

No big monologues here, I’m afraid, although both my later Fringe plays, Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings (particularly Mousewings) will deliver on that front.

I’m listing Playing it Cool with Kindle Select for at least 90 days, so if you’re a member of Amazon Prime, make sure to put it on your list for a free read.”

Reviews of Playing It Cool:

Playing it Cool may not be the most ambitious play, addressing only a single issue. However, it contains much humour and is very well written. It will be very interesting to see a longer and more intricate play from the very promising Rachel Lynn Brody, at some time soon.”

– Philip Fisher, The British Theatre Guide, regarding the play’s premiere.

If you want to find out about awesome stuff like this ahead of time, subscribe to my Mailchimp mailing list. I won’t send stuff often, and won’t sell your email info, but I can promise at least a few promos ahead of the curve. And who knows what else.

But first, download Playing It Cool.

Plays of Place: Edinburgh Fringe Plays

While living in Edinburgh, Scotland, my favorite month of the year was August. Why? Because of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (currently running in Scotland’s capitol city).

At my first Fringe, I saw at least a hundred plays. Then I lost count.

Three of the plays I saw over the years – Playing it Cool, Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings – remain especially important to me, because they were mine. They were markers of what I accomplished each year I was in Edinburgh, and now when I look at them there are so many memories crushed up between their lines it’s like opening a photo album.

Playing it Cool, a romantic dramedy that takes place in my home town of Buffalo, New York, had its world premiere at the Pend Theatre at the now-defunct Gateway Campus of Queen Margaret University. It’s the earliest of the three plays, and I was astonished to see, while watching videos of the production, how much stronger it played on film than in the tiny pend theater. It taught me the necessity of using space well in theater, and of making physicality a necessary part of your script. This would come in handy on my next Fringe play – which you’ll hear more about in the future – Stuck Up A Tree.

But back to PiC. Through the Buffalo theater community, including playwriting professors, local directors and adjunct faculty, and the support of the head of the University at Buffalo’s theater department, we received funding for two actors and the local director to travel to Scotland and perform Playing It Cool  for a week’s run.

Other than a few attempts at getting the shows picked up, I haven’t done much with these play scripts, and it occurred to me the other day that this is one of the problems with playwrights: our work may be staged, but what happens once the curtains fall down?

Over the next few months, I plan to release the scripts for my three Edinburgh Fringe plays on Amazon; likely through KDP. This will require formatting and artwork, as well as some thought about how I want to package each piece. So it’s going to take me some time. Ultimately, it’s likely a hard copy version containing all three plays may be available. I’m trying not to think about the details too much just yet, and come up with a good over-arcing strategy – advice welcomed.

The three plays are very different – romance, a children’s show, and a post-apocalyptic tale of class conflict & survival – and form an interesting snapshot of my early playwriting career. I’m excited (and a little terrified!) to be sharing them with you – part of why I’m writing this blog, because it makes this more of a promise. Now you can bug me about this, if I drag my feet.


Selecting Not To Select Kindle Select

I re-joined the gym yesterday. I’ve gone twice so far. I feel unbelievably good for having done so. It’s not going to be cheap, so if you feel like supporting my good health habits, start saving your pennies for a copy of Hot Mess, releasing later in March.Speaking of which.
I’ve been involved with a couple of e-publishing projects in the last month or so, and have been trying to get a good idea of exactly what the costs and benefits to the independent author are when using e-distribution; read on for my thoughts on the matter and details of HOT MESS’ release.