Recently, I’ve been getting out to see a lot of theatre, and in particular, I’ve seen several new works. They have all been totally different from each other, but it’s been interesting to consider them all within the category of new work.
The first was Witch Slap at Babes with Blades Theatre Company, a broad, slapstick comedy with an all-female cast, focusing on a group of real witches trying to avoid being found out during the Salem witch trials. The show was totally fun, complete with broomstick fights (i.e. quarterstaff fights) and “magic” special effects. I was particularly impressed with the ambition of the script’s requirements to show the witches’ magic onstage. Doors opened and closed by a wave of a hand from across the room; bottles fell off shelves on command, and characters transformed in plain sight. I would venture to say that not many small theatre companies would develop a new script with such technical challenges, but the Babes totally pulled it off. The show was both fun and funny with some great comedic performances, and the special effects just added to the enjoyment. The show ran in September, and I only wish they had been able to carry the run into October, since it seemed like such a great piece of popcorn theatre for Halloween.
The second new play I saw was Miracles in the Fall at Polarity Ensemble Theatre. You couldn’t find a more different show from Witch Slap if you tried. This one, set in late 1960s Detroit, focused on a troubled Catholic family, and particularly on the grown daughter’s life as a nun and her friendship with a priest. The script was lovely, with remarkable depth of emotion and a story that I haven’t seen told before. More than that, the acting across the board in the four-person cast was excellent. And while it was a completely different kind of show from Witch Slap, I was impressed again with the technical elements, from the simple but effective set that transformed from church to churchyard to family home to hospital room; to the family meal onstage that included real food and a climactic moment of ripping the tablecloth (and everything on it) off the table. Polarity has a great track record for developing excellent new works, and this one definitely delivered.
The third new play I’ve seen recently was Antony and Cleopatra: UNDONE with Skyline Stageworks. This one, again, was completely different from the prior two shows, particularly because it was a new adaptation rather than a totally new work. The play is a “free adaptation” of Shakepeare’s play, which heavily edits the text and reduces the show to four actors. This version of the play puts Antony and Cleo’s relationship front and center, condensing the politics to only the bare essentials for the story. Because I am friends with the playwright (who also played Cleopatra), I know that this show was a true labor of love for her that took many years to bring to fruition. While the other two plays that I saw were conceived and created through development processes within the companies that produced them, this one followed a different path; the script existed first, and then the playwright produced the show herself. As someone who has done a lot of “creating my own work” in my own career, I deeply respect her resolve and dedication to bring her vision to life. The end result was a passionate, clearly told version of the Antony and Cleopatra love story, and I’m interested to see what she’ll do with Skyline Stageworks next.
All in all, this recent binge of new work has given me a lot to think about. What is it about a play that will make it last for the ages? Will any of these three new plays have a life beyond their inaugural productions? And if so, what about them determines their longevity (or lack thereof)? Even when a script has merit, that doesn’t always guarantee its place in the theatre canon. So why do some stories get told and re-told, while others disappear?