Middletown: There’s a lot More in Between

Dear fellow human beings; fellow breathers –

Currently playing at DalekoArts is an off-beat and heartrending play called Middletown by Will Eno. Hard to define in certain terms, I will often describe it to people as “Our Town for the 21st Century”, even though I know that that doesn’t nearly complete the picture.

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While both plays tell their stories though a “slice of life” framework – depicting real people in a real community – showing life as it is now, Middletown delves so much more into the subtle and truly undefinable moments of human interaction. Characters will converse and say nonsensical things, yet understand. Characters will mumble and murmur and mouth whole lines that manage to leave the audience scratching their heads yet nodding at the same time. Some scenes take place in outer space and some scenes take place in a household kitchen. Babies are born and people die. Eno’s point in all this is to show Life through every angle he can, with every literary technique at his disposal.

What you end up watching then is a two act play that manages to charm and knock your emotional socks off by the final blackout.

Even I as the assistant director, who’s probably seen the play about thirty times, never tired from the language and the actors speaking it. Therein lies the mastery of the playwright’s talents. Will Eno is really good at what he does! Despite being a late-bloomer to playwriting, he had run in with literary art in 1996 when he was invited to tune his fiction capabilities at an Edward F. Albee Foundation workshop in Montauk, Long Island. His first commercial success in New York was Thom Pain (based on nothing) in 2005. Citing Samuel Beckett as a huge inspiration, the play is a one-person monologue about trials and tribulations of life. Charles Isherwood, in his New York Times review, says it best:

Mr. Eno’s voice is so assuredly his own, simultaneously delicate and audacious in its measurements of poetry, philosophy and Monty Pythonesque silliness, that he should be allowed to speak for himself, in full.

Thom Pain went on to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (bested by John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt) and another well-known play of his is The Realistic Joneses.

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Actors left to right: Joe Swanson, Sean Byrd, Tom Karki.

As for our production at DalekoArts, director Anne M. Byrd and the team has struck upon Eno’s trademark philosophy and silliness. I’m certainly happy to return to New Prague after a couple stints as an actor (Wait Until Dark and Snowed Inn), and can’t wait for audiences to laugh, cry and scratch their heads this time around.

Tickets and information can be had here.

View the playbill here.

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Mr. Hannam Goes to St. Paul

The life of a theatre artist is certainly one of constant activity and at times can be a little unpredictable. One day you’re sitting in your studio, eager to finally finish the novel you’ve been chipping away at and the next you see a production call needing some stage hands. Hmm… I haven’t done that kind of work since college… hmm, but it is a company I know and directors I respect… hmm… let’s do it!

And that’s just how I got involved with Our House: The Capitol Play Project by Alan Berks and Leah Cooper, from Wonderlust Productions!

Described as such:

When a wild card new Governor is elected, the regular order on the state Capitol campus is thrown into chaos. While a chorus of activists, legislators, lobbyists, civil servants, and tour guides attempt to get their way, an idealistic new employee finds herself at the center of an unexpected controversy. Misunderstandings and mistaken identity lead to a crash course in the realities that both constrain and inspire the men and women who have devoted themselves to public service (inside a building brimming with idealism, cynicism, absurdity, significance, and power, plus more than a few old ghosts who have something to say).

Being a part of the project has not only flexed my tiny and withered production-muscles, but really has been an incredible crash course in Minnesota political history and civics. As a newly-minted citizen of the state, I must admit I have zero idea about any of that stuff. In fact, before this show, I had only been to the capitol building once and that was to seek refuge in the cold after the car I was in broke down!

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For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting, I would urge you to as soon as possible. Completed in 1905, the building just underwent a major restoration and is literally shining in beautiful granite, marble and gold. Once inside the building, you’re treated to vast halls with enough portraits and statues to fill any weekend and then for all you architect nerds out there, the building was designed by Cass Gilbert who also designed the U.S. Supreme Court and the Woolworth Building. It just so happens to be the second largest self-supported marble dome in the entire world, after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Interested yet? Good. Now know that since it does pride itself as being “the people’s house”, visitors are free to come and go as they please throughout the building (save for such rooms as the Senate and House chambers, of course).

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The rotunda of the building. There happens to be a lot of honor paid to Minnesota’s role in the Civil War – photo by Dave Wilson.

When I decided to get involved in The Capitol Play Project, I didn’t really know what to expect. Now I’ve spent so much time in the capitol that I can’t help but be continually inspired by the quotes on the walls or the sheer grandeur of the construction. Not that I necessarily want to enter the political arena, but it does fuel my interest in being a voice for change in my community, either through activism or simply voting and making my representatives aware of my presence. That’s what the State Capitol building stands for and that’s what The Capitol Play Project brings to life so passionately.

We only run one more weekend, but for more info check it out here. 

New Headshots!

This past Christmas I decided to update the old headshots. While my previous ones had served me well for seven years, I decided that I may actually look older now at 26 than I did at 20. (I know, I know, it may be a slight difference – but still!)

Like back then, I went to Orlando Headshots since it was definitely the most convenient for me being back in Florida for the holidays. Scot Lerner runs the business and I couldn’t recommend him more.

But what do you think? Do you think these two can serve me equally well for the next seven years?

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Vincent Hannam Goes to the Dark Side (Guest Blog)

This blog was written and originally posted by my colleague Ting Ting Cheng for Park Square Theatre on the theatre’s own website. You can read it here.

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In Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Vincent Hannam plays the cruel and menacing Curley, the boss’ son at the ranch where migrant workers George and Lennie have just arrived. Upon their first encounter, George immediately sizes him up as a “son-of-a-bitch.” It’s an accurate assessment supported by the older ranch hand Candy’s description:

“. . . . Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s all a time pickin’ scraps with big guys. Kinda like he’s mad at ’em because he ain’t a big guy. You seen little guys like that, ain’t you–always scrappy?”

Curley’s insecurity is also evident in his controlling nature toward his new wife. He treats her like a prized possession to show off as a testimony of his power and masculinity. She’s forbidden to talk to the workers, but she does so behind his back anyway, which simply highlights his lack thereof.

Vincent himself lacks admiration for his character, describing Curley as “a punk and a brat, used to getting his own way” and “a bully.” To play Curley three-dimensionally, though, he needed to find even a shred of sympathy for him. To do so, Vincent built a backstory that explores Curley’s familial relationships. He asked questions, such as: In what way does Curley really care about his wife or his father? Why is his mother never mentioned? Did he grow up without one? How might that have impacted his relationship with his father? Did his father give him the attention that he needed?

Despite being the mean antagonist in Of Mice and Men, Vincent is having a blast on the set. He basically gets to play cowboy, wearing Western boots and a hat and getting into fights.“Hate and love are close emotions,” Vincent said. “Sometimes the only way that some people can express love is through hatred.”

“It’s also a fun change of pace to show that villainous side,” admitted Vincent, who has played plenty of “good” characters throughout his career.

“There’s nothing like being on stage, connecting with someone and doing a scene,” Vincent said of acting, but he is also a multi-talented theatre professional who directs, writes and teaches. Amongst his other skills are the ability to do Chewbacca and Godfather impressions and to whistle (but not simultaneously).

As my fellow Park Square blogger, I know Vincent as a lighthearted, easygoing individual. But I can’t wait to see him unveil his dark side as Curley in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Bring it on!

 

Ting Ting Cheng
Ting Ting Cheng joined Park Square Theatre’s Front of House staff in 2014. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Los Angeles, she became a Minnesotan after graduating from Carleton College with a B.A. in English Literature. She loves live theatre and has a passion for writing.

Of Mice and Kids

Running right now at Park Square Theatre is Of Mice and Men, and it’s a show you can catch on the weekends or if you’re bold enough, every weekday morning with dozens of high schoolers!

Yep, Of Mice and Men plays just about every morning between now and mid-December to students who get to enjoy a field trip to the theatre. If you’re not familiar with Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, you should know that it’s kind of something they’ve earned as a reputation over the years. Steinbeck’s classic has been produced every-other-year in this fashion for at least a decade now. When I tell friends that I’m in it, they say, “Oh, I remember seeing that when I was a kid!” (For the record, I’m 26).

It seems darn near everyone takes the trip to Park Square and enjoys the show! Which I think is amazing, for so many thousands of people to share such an experience in the Twin Cities and throughout the region. I mean, the evening schedule is wonderful but I get such a unique joy from performing my role for teenagers who may never make a habit of watching theatre. I feel that’s a common sentiment among actors, but I really do take a pride in it and that’s thanks to my own field trip to see a play back in middle school.

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The cast of Of Mice and Men. Directed by Annie Enneking.  

I can’t even remember what the production company, but I remember taking a field trip in eighth grade to see a production of The Tell Tale Heart (and The Monkey’s Paw) at the Tupperware Center in my home town of Kissimmee, Florida. It was certainly a touring company of some sort, maybe even a high school production, but I remember superb production quality and the thrill of watching a man slowly lose his mind over the incessant beating of the heart under the floorboards. I wasn’t even an actor then! At that point in my life, theatre as nowhere near the forefront of my mind. It’s only now, looking back, that I can recognize it as a formative experience in my life’s chosen path.

Who knows if these students will think about this show after they get back on the bus, and back to class. I hope they do, not just for the sake of being exposed to the arts, but because the themes in Of Mice and Men are so poignant and relevant. The idea that people can only live for so long in an oppressive society. That sometimes you need action in order to make your life a better place. Surface-wise, there’s not too much hope being offered in this play, but just scratch that surface and you’ll find a wealth of courage and resolution.

This is what I hope to share with these kids.

Return of Frankenstein!

Speaking of work that gets seen by hundreds upon hundreds of people (assuming you’ve read my previous post), my touring stage adaptation of Frankenstein is once again on the road for the Hampstead Stage Company.

Frankenstein2017-1.jpgAs you remember from last year, I was charged to write this play by my bestie Jay Pastucha (Artistic Director) as they were trying to integrate more material for high schools/ young adults. The feedback was really great and with that jolt of confident (and a bigger budget), Jay and I were inspired to revamp the script and add… wait for it… a third character! And what’s more, cast a woman! What an insane concept, right? 

Jokes aside, we found that to tell a one-act version of Frankenstein with two people, for children, was a little restricting in our own creativity. We resolved, therefore, to actually write in the character of Elizabeth, rather than have her represented by hard-to-hear voice overs. To use a monster metaphor, there is just so much more meat on the bones, with characters, intentions and scenes fleshed out to a point that I can comfortably be proud of as a playwright.

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Last year’s Frankenstein. Hampstead Stage Company. Directed by Austen Edwards with Robert Wright III and Patrick Sylvester.

Currently the show is being toured throughout New England and the Midwest, but not just to schools. Hampstead Stage is great in that they are willing to perform for anyone anywhere. Productions that I’m excited about were staged at the Heartwood Regional Theatre Company in Newcastle, Maine and FrankenFest in Indianapolis.

Praise to Jay and managing director, Anna Lynn Robbins, for believing in the show enough to take a risk on improving the show. In a world controlled by bottom lines, it is a beautiful thing to make art for art’s sake on such a scale. So if you’re looking for a short yet explosive adaptation of Frankenstein, let me know! I don’t know if it will hit the road again next year on tour, but it won’t be the last you’ll see of Victor and the Monster (oh, and Liz now too). 

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I’m afraid Elizabeth just can’t catch a break.