Saturday, December 29, 2018

Reflections on 2018 Reads

New Years is one of my favorite times of year, in no small part because I am a lover of lists. Reading them. Writing them. Reflecting on them. Last year I resolved to read a play a week. I came nowhere close to making that happen in 2018; however, I got closer than I did the year before and the year before that. I read twenty-four plays (setting aside the Shakespeare) in nineteen slender volumes. Young Jean Lee reminded me that there are audacious playwrights out there – bending forms and keeping the experimental fires alive. Neither of her plays were ones I ever imagine directing, but they were both shows I’d want to attend multiple nights in witness. Night is a Room reminded me that I have a long overdue date with Naomi Wallace. She writes exactly the sort of modern play that I want to direct: political, personal, and highly sensual. I read all the Rajiv Joseph plays I could get my hands on in preparation for directing Gruesome Playground Injuries. I dug every single one, but two stood out: The North Pool and Describe the Night. One is a two-hander that builds incredible tension as a vice principal and a student circle around their role in a school tragedy. The play operates on a macro-level taking, the audience through the twists and turns of racial, class, and gender bias while delivering an intimate character study. The other spans seventy years over the course of three acts in a character study that blends history and folktale – a spy tale and a fairy tale – a love story and an anti-fascist protest. Describe the Night is a classic that should endure long beyond this moment for which it feels tailor made. I am going to direct this play someday soon. If someone else in Portland beats me to it, I’ll go to another city for this one I am so in love. Speaking of love, Brilliant Traces ran away with my heart and it only took the barest of arm twists over tacos this fall to decide that the time to direct Brilliant Traces and Gruesome Playground Injuries was now. Three in twenty-four that I am doing now or dying to do soon…not a bad outcome for falling short on a New Year’s resolution.

First Read of Describe the Night at B-52 Cafe in Pittsburgh
Plays and Books Read or Listened to in 2018:

  1. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 🎭🔥
  2. Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare 🎭🔥
  3. Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare 🎭🔥
  4. Airline Highway by Lisa D’Amour 🎭
  5. Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari 🎧
  6. Chekov’s Three Sisters and Woolf’s Orlando by Sarah Ruhl 🎭
  7. Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison 🔥
  8. Hagseed by Margaret Atwood 😊
  9. Sotto Voce by Nilo Cruz  🎭
  10. Drunk Enough to Say I Love You by Caryl Churchill 🎭
  11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  12. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong 🔥🎧
  13. Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming 🎧
  14. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz 🎧
  15. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham 🎧
  16. Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain 😊 🎧
  17. The Shipment and Lear by Young Jean Lee 🎭
  18. Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky 🔥
  19. The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings by James Baldwin 🔥
  20. Untwine by Edwidge Danticat 🔥
  21. How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett 🎧
  22. Night is a Room by Naomi Wallace 🔥🎭
  23. Guards at the Taj and Mr. Wolf by Rajiv Joseph 🔥🎭
  24. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance 🎧
  25. Mary Page Marlowe by Tracy Letts 🎭
  26. Brilliant Traces by Cindy Lou Johnson 🔥🎭
  27. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah 😊🎧
  28. Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
  29. Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil 🎧
  30. Indecent by Paula Vogel 🎭
  31. Faith Healer by Brian Friel 🎭
  32. The Round House by Louise Erdrich 🔥
  33. Good Girl’s Revolt by Lynn Povich
  34. By the Way, Meet Vera Stark by Lynn Nottage 🔥🎭
  35. An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay 🎧
  36. Frozen by Bryony Laverly 🎭
  37. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders 🔥🎧
  38. Describe the Night by Rajiv Joseph 🔥🎭
  39. Three Plays: Gruesome Playground Injuries, Animals out of Paper, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph 🔥🎭
  40. A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick by Kia Corthron 🎭
  41. Yes Please by Amy Poehler 🎧
  42. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen 🔥
  43. Blackwater by Joyce Carol Oates 🔥
  44. The North Pool by Rajiv Joseph 🔥🎭
  45. Sunset Baby by Dominique Morisseau 🎭
  46. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange 🎭
  47. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff 🔥🎧
  48. Hunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxanne Gay 🔥🎧
  49. After Anatevka by Alexandra Silber 🎧
  50. Jingle Bell Pop by John SeaBrook 🎧
  51. Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, The: A Bilingual Edition by Pier Paolo Pasolini 🔥
  52. Motherland Fatherland Homosexuals by Patricia Lockwood 🔥
  53. The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merill Block 🔥
  54. Shakespeare Wrote for Money (Stuff I’ve Been Reading Vol. 3) by Nick Hornby 😊
  55. Becoming by Michelle Obama 😊🎧
  56. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite 🔥😊

On the book front I did pretty well too. Cavedweller has a couple moments that drop kick you as a woman cares for the father of her children from whom she has long been estranged. The dignity of the dying, the grace without forgiveness--it's so poignant and well-crafted. The Round House is a must read as a boy makes his way through the horror and thrill of adolescence as his family recovers from the brutal rape of his mother by an individual who might prove beyond the reaches of the law. Storm at the Door starts slow, but builds to an earned appreciation of our patterns, inheritances, and missing chapters of family history. Broken Glass Park opens with an amazing sentence, and the heroine had my heart from day one. Lincoln in the Bardo was an amazing listen with David Sedaris and Nick Offerman breaking my heart and causing many a chuckle. Trevor Noah's Born a Crime was worthy of the hype and well worth the listen. And on the fun front, Margaret Atwood's Hagseed is amazing and charming despite the corny premise: a disgraced director who's lost his own daughter directs The Tempest in a prison and has an opportunity to exact revenge on his rival. Ridiculous. Yet it works. My Sister, the Serial Killer is suspenseful and relatable to anyone who has ever felt on the hook for a friend or relative's action. Also any girl who thinks of her sister or friend as "the pretty one," this one is for you. Really, there isn't a book or play on this list I would say stay away from.
What was the best play you read this year? Best audio-book? Best book? Send me recommendations and lists. 'Tis the season!