A little civility goes a long way. I was reminded of this when I opened the Tucson Weekly this week. Bad manners leave a lasting bad taste in the mouth.
Thursday evening I made a point of going to Gavin Kaynor’s four one acts @ Live Theatre Workshop / Etc. because I had just read in the Tucson Weekly the snottiest, snarkiest, most mean spirited review I have ever seen of any theatrical production in Tucson. I would have gone anyway, but after reading that review I figured that 1) I was really likely to find the plays interesting and 2) Gavin & cast might be glad for a friendly face. Other members of the theatre community came to the same conclusion and were in the audience.
Members of the Tucson theatrical community, familiar with Garvin’s work from the many plays he has staged for the Old Pueblo Players festival, will suspect that M. Scott Skinner had some serious personal problems with these plays, and that those problems had more to do with his own mishigash than with the plays. Perhaps he is an NRA gun nut — who knows? (He makes a point of complaining that a gun appears in three of the plays, as if this were unexpected, given the theme of the plays! ) Whatever Skinner’s problems, his review in no way reflects the substance or quality of these plays — nor the performances of the actors.
The title of this production is Iraq in 3/3 time with a coda: A rumination on the effects of violence and war. (Given the title the presence of guns can hardly be a surprise. The critic was warned in advance.) The plays are performed in sequence, with only the briefest interludes of dim light to reposition the two chairs which are the only furniture onstage. The audience is asked to “hold your applause until the end of TRUST THE SKY, the last play of the four.
Each play has a surprise hidden at its core and describing the action takes some wiggling to avoid being a spoiler. The audience should have the opportunity to discover the surprises for itself.
The first play is Audition. A veteran of our most recent military adventures has answered an ad for what he believes is an audition for a play, only to discover that the ad has been posted by a civilian stalker who believes that this veteran had raped his sister and is the cause of her suicide. As the program notes the stalker (my term) “unleashes his own personal demons instead.” The actors are Eric Everts as the veteran and Jared Stokes as the brother bent on revenge. This is the first time I have seen Eric Everts and he is a real find as an actor. He is young, attractive, with good timing and clear articulation and insight into his character — and that of the vengeful brother. Jared Stokes has been developing skills portraying personnae who have something rotten at their core, very appropriate for this character, very convincing.
In the second play, Guess You Know Why I’m Here, Jason Schutte is a veteran haunted by the death of a sergeant he had admired and loved. Jared Stokes is the “marshall” the boy believes has come to arrest him. Jason Schutte “is an aspiring actor who is currently attending the U of A” and has appeared in two other plays recently. He understands his character. Once again Jared Stokes gives a credible performance — as a person whose identity is a surprise to the veteran and the audience.
In the third play, Sniper, Jared Stokes is a psychiatrist to whom a veteran, who killed his own brother in Afghanistan, has been coming for therapy. The brother had joined the other side; renounced Christianity; and become a “high value target” for American troops. His C.O. had insisted the veteran kill his brother. (Along the way we learn about the skills and calculations required to become an outstanding long-distance sniper.) This is the most powerful of all the four plays. Somewhere along the way the English language really got hold of the playwright. Gavin always writes good prose, and there are occasions when he excels himself and this is one of them. ("Every Cain, his Abel ) Eric Everts is up to the challenge. Once again, his timing is excellent. His articulation is so clear (without being mannered) that the audience can hear him clearly even when he is speaking so softly that he is nearly whispering. He shifts mood skillfully. Admirable. I hope that Tucson sees many more performances by Eric Everts in many different plays and with a variety of theatre companies. He fits right into the age range which is most in demand. He is 25-40, tall, attractive, with an expressive face & a marvelous smile (seen, not on stage during these plays, but after the performance when he was talking with a friend). It is my impression from talking with the director that Everts is also a quick study.
The last play, Trust The Sky, concerns "a young woman who considers the loss of her father on 9/11,” which brings us back to beginning for all of these characters. Nicolette Shoffer, is another young actor whom I have missed, who is "currently playing Eliza in Pygmalion.” She creates a quietly affecting portrait of a close and affectionate father-daughter relationship and tells us how the pain of his loss has lingered for her mother and herself. There is no drama - just a quietly deep loss.
When I send out these blogs I try to focus on details which members of the Tucson theatre community would find especially interesting as sophisticated consumers of theatre. You see both achievements and possibilities in productions which may be missed by audience members who do not have your experience. A member of that community, whom I much admire, once commented that I am a "theatre junkie.” I appreciate and agree with that description. I am in good company with you (and with Shakespeare, who so loved theatre). Theatre is so powerful. I believe that theatre is heuristic, (so does Stephen Sondheim); that we learn from theatrical performances even as we enjoy them, whether they are comedies or tragedies. We can see ourselves and our friends — and enemies — and acquaintances - onstage and thus examine our hearts and theirs. The Athenians of the 6th Century B.C. and subsequently knew this when they convened the festivals they called the Dionysia. All too often actors, producers, directors, techs, stage managers and musicians are so tied up in their own work that they miss the productions of others. (Carrie Hill has been trying to change this with too little help from others.)
Sometimes reviewers are so tied up in their own issues, or in their memories of previous performances elsewhere that they have difficulty writing useful reviews. We can all appreciate the challenges of seeing a production, then going home to meet a deadline, to write a review before having absorbed the event fully. (Note — I am including opera, ballet and other theatrical forms.) I propose a remedy for the critics who prefer snark to support — a steady course of reading the reviews written by Bernard Shaw. Shaw was the best English language theatre (and music) critic in modern times. He could be very critical - but he truly wanted productions to succeed. (Of course, he also wanted them to be socially significant when possible. That can’t always be on offering.) He offered encouragement as well a suggesting corrections. We can always see a production differently from the ways others see it. Differences of perception and opinion are beneficial and desirable. Civility is desirable also, in contrast to snark and, as I said at the beginning, a little goes a long way.
You know, you are interesting people, all of you. The richness of the theatre scene in Tucson is one of its strongest virtues, and that is due to you. Thank you for working so hard.
Patricia A. McKnight
p.s. Theatre was used by the Athenians to spread and maintain their culture throughout their empire. Theatre in Medieval Europse was used to reinforce the teachings of the Christian Church. In present day U.S. it has helped change attitudes toward Gay men and toward those afflicted with AIDS. Given a little time we could probably produce quite a list of social attitude changes which have been assisted by theatre.