Another Trip Down Memory Lane Courtesy of the Internet

Last night’s ego-surfing turned into a pilgrimage down Memory Lane. In addition to finding one of my old photos in a new webzine article and finding one of my old videos at The Bleeding Critic, I also found where I had commented on an article about a Tennessee Williams’s one-act play in which I once acted: Portrait of a Madonnna. I played the role of the porter. The article to which the link leads contains the entire text of the play.

It was 1997 and I had not been out of the Navy long. I had returned to my home town of Frankfort, KY for a while. I was an aspiring photographer then. I don’t recall at the moment how it happened but I became involved in a local theatre group as an actor and as the photographer that shot the cast photos.

For a run of about a few weeks, I played in two one-act plays by Tennessee Williams. One was Portrait of a Madonna, as mentioned above. I don’t recall the name of the other, but I played a drunk whose wife drags him to visit some friends during Mardi Gras. If I recall the name, I will update this post accordingly.

Over the last few years, I have endeavored to see as many plays as I can in order to study playwriting, staging, and the art of the theatre in general. Unfortunately, I have not gotten to see many performances in person. However, I have been watching the movie versions of plays as much as I can. I try to watch the films versions that are noted as being close to the original stage production. I now have a small collection of the works of Shakespeare on film. I watch the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” occasionally. I have seen “Equus” starring Richard Burton. I have tried to watch “Waiting for Godot” a few times, but I keep falling asleep. I have the move versions of “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “Cat on A Hot Tin Roof”, and “Night of the Iguana” on DVD. I will get more plays on film, particularly of Tennessee Williams’s plays, as soon as I can.

Tennessee Williams,, 1965
Tennessee Williams,, 1965

I really enjoyed acting and wish I had stayed with it longer or gotten involved with it again at some later point. I had done a lot of public speaking while in the Navy, so I was comfortable on a stage. Memorizing the lines was a bit of a challenge, but being able to interact with the other actors and going through all the practice and blocking and deciding on costumes was really fun. Of course, I enjoyed the applause at curtain.

Acting is not all that far removed from day-to-day life. We all have to think about how we appear to other, what actions we should take in the presence of others, what we should say in front of others. It almost comes naturally in a sense. The benefit of theatre is that you get to practice your lines and prepare your wardrobe to produce the image you want to project to your audience.

If I had the chance now, I would definitely become involved in acting again.

Since 1997, I have been working on a few plays of my own, though only one or two very short ones have been finished. Currently, I have two longer plays in the works and one short one that I have submitted to a competition in New York.

The one that has been submitted is the stage adaptation of my flash fiction story ‘Murder by Plastic”, which was published on in 2015 and which has received some good comments from readers. The contest is looking for plays of about ten minutes in length and which can be stage by 5-6 people or less with a minimal amount of props. I should hear in January whether I am a semi-finalist. there’s not a big financial award if I win, but they will produce the play.

I have an idea for a one-act play of about a half-hour or more. I not yet completed the first draft. It is called “Incommunicado”. It is a about a man who, after a DUI, has been off the bottle for a year, but now that all his court-ordered punishment and probation is over, goes to a small village in the remote mountains of southwest New Mexico, to drink and write. However, he has an internal struggle, because he has grown to like sobriety. His writing is also challenged by meeting a woman, with whom he has a fling over the weekend, despite having a girlfriend in Albuquerque. One inner battle facing him is whether he will stay with his girlfriend or his new lover.

The longest play is three acts, about 1.5 hours, and is about a man and a woman who have been cheating on their spouses for over a year just for the sex and drinking and riotous fun. I call it “Centaurs”. The man and woman have been keeping their identities and backgrounds from each other, because they don’t want any attachments. However, they begin to find themselves attracted to each other when another woman becomes involved.

I have been working on “Centaurs” for about twenty years now. I started it as a short story, but then decided that a play would be a much better fit for the story. Writing it as a play seems a lot more fun than writing it as a short story and challenges me creatively in new and exciting ways.

Anyway, that’s my take on my involvement in the theatre for the moment. Maybe I will write more at a later date. I will, of course, provide updates as my writing and (hopefully) production of these progress.

I want to hear your thoughts. Please provide comments.

Review: “Equus” the Movie (1977)

On Sunday, I watched Equus (1977) starring Richard Burton and Peter Firth. This is a powerful movie.

When I first heard about Equus, I thought it would focus entirely on the character of Alan Strang, an English teenager who blinds six horses and is sent to a mental institution by the courts. However, the movie (I have not seen the play, though I have started reading its script) seems to focus more on the character or Dr. Dysart, the psychiatrist who analyzes Alan Strang to find out his motives for blinding the horses in the stables where he worked.  In short, he was insane, but what made him insane?

I won’t go into a lot of detail about what Dr. Dysart finds or how he finds it, because that is the mystery to be solved.  Watching how both these characters change is fascinating. The movie analyzes both, perhaps giving a bit more emphasis on Dr. Dysart. I think this is because Dr. Dysart represents an educated audience looking into the soul of Alan Strang. What Dysart finds effects him deeply just as I think it effects an audience deeply, because what Dr. Dysart finds makes him examine his own relationship to the world and to God as well as reflecting on his own existence.  At one point, Dr. Dysart begins to so intensely understand Alan’s viewpoint that Ithe tells Mrs. Dysart that he actually envies Alan.

Both the movie and the play were written by Peter Shaffer, who won a Tony award for it and for his following play Amadeus, which was made into a much more successful movie than Equus.

The movie was directed by Sydney Lumet. An interesting difference between the movie and the play is that the movie is staged very realistically in offices, homes, a stable, etc. but the the play’s script has the stage set in a very minimalist, in a sense, abstract fashion. I would love to see a performance of Equus.  The minimalism would keep the audiences mind(s) focused on the characters and their interrelationships and not on the set or on anything that is peripheral or tangential and of no importance to the narrative.

I have to wonder how Peter Shaffer developed the character of Alan Strang. He wrote an exceptional portrayal of a madman and how he became mad. I understand that he based the play on a news article he read about a young Englishman who blinded six horses and then started loo,king into that story. That character is brought to life vividly by Peter Firth. I have to ask myself as well how Peter Firth developed his portrayal of Alan Strang.  The ideas of Shaffer and Firth on this character seemed to mesh wonderfully for an awe-inspiring performance.

It is interesting to note that, in one sense, this movies shows how the change in one man stimulated the change in another man.

I am no actor, but to me the acting in this movie was top-notch. Richard Burton gave a performance that on par with his performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Peter Firth played Alan Strang.

All in all, this is a fascinating movie with strong performances that reach deeply into the characters’ souls and will very likely reach into the souls of the audience as well and cause them to reflect on their own existences just as Dr. Dysart does.