MCC Theater

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The Final Ingredient: Adding the Audience

MCC Theater Founding Playwrights’ Coalition Member Brooke Berman writes about how she was able to hear her play ABSOLUTION read in front an audience at our recent PlayLabs series.

Director Trip Cullman and Playwright Brooke Berman rehearsing Brooke’s new play ABSOLUTION.

I first heard ABSOLUTION at an MCC round-table reading in October of last year, a week before the Hurricane. It was the most amazing thing because at the time, I didn’t even live in New York. I’d been living in LA and had come to the city to tour preschools for my son. While there, I thought, I should hear the new play.  MCC operates as a kind of family.  As a core member of their Playwrights Coalition, I could ask for a table-read. And get it!  The play was in its infancy, barely a first draft, I’d never even heard it out loud. But Stephen Willems, MCC’s Literary Manager, graciously invited me “home” and called up a few actors, and there we were. At the end of that reading, I looked at Stephen’s face and Trip Cullman’s face, and we all realized what the play could be. I talked to Trip. I talked to Stephen. I weathered the hurricane. And then, I went home and rewrote. 

Actors taking notes from Cullman and Berman during the PlayLabs rehearsal.

Last week’s PlayLab was the second time I heard the play out loud. This time, 11 months later, the play was crafted and rewritten and honed. I no longer commuted from the West Coast – I have moved back to New York. But the family was still a family. And it’s that experience that makes MCC a unique place in New York City.  When they say “artistic home” they really mean it. 

Berman speaks with audience members at the post-show reception at the Lortel.

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"Reasons to…read LaBute!"

Members of our Youth Company read Reasons to Be Pretty before going to see Reasons to Be Happy.
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Thoughts on the REASONS plays (and the possible third?) from Kimberly Andry of Queens, YC member of two years.

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When reading the first installment, Reasons To Be Pretty, I found that Steph had more of a backbone. She was way more confrontational when it came to the bickering with Greg. In the second play, we see a side to Steph that we hadn’t seen before- we see her soft side. We see a side to her where she’s vulnerable and in love. I appreciated the dynamic between the two as well as the continuation of character development. It wasn’t like Labute decided, “Hey, here’s the characters. Let’s keep them that way!”. I enjoyed seeing Steph through different eyes.

We see more of Greg’s indecisiveness in Reasons to be Happy. We see that he struggles to find a balance within himself that will eventually lead to “happy”. I believe that there’s a little bit of Greg in everyone. Although he has his moments where the audience wants to assist him in his decision making, he’s extremely relateable.

Carly definitely had a more starring role in the second play. In the first play, I only saw her as Kent’s wife. She had less significance to the play, at least to me. The second play allowed us to see her as the independent, strong mother/woman that she truly is. I hated that the first play ended in a cliff hanger with the situation between Carly and Kent, and I loved being able to see what had happened when I saw the second play.

Kent was an extremely enjoyable character in the first play. I hated him in the second play. I feel as though his wit had died down a bit which took away from his light-hearted character.

In the third installment, I would hope to see the characters form a bond rather than bicker and fight between themselves. I believe that Carly and Greg would never work. I think Greg and Steph will end up together, but not before Steph attempts to date Kent (we have to try EVERY pair). If the third installment ends in a cliff hanger, I’ll be very disappointed. The investment the audience has made with these characters has to be honored. I hope LaBute doesn’t let us down.

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Pretty Happy People in the Real World

Whitney Schaffer, LCSW, New York City psychotherapist, was our recent Talk Back guest for Reasons to be Happy.

After reading both Reasons to be Pretty  and Reasons to Be Happy, Schaffer shares her findings on the four characters we have come to love…or, love to hate?

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In Neil Labute’s Reasons to be Happy, the main characters grapple with a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction as they painfully try to make their way towards happiness. Although each character is ostensibly on his or her own journey, one common thread for them all is their attraction to the protagonist, Greg. Therefore, for the purposes of this post, I’d like to highlight Greg’s misguided search for happiness and the damage he causes to the people in his orbit.

Although at first glance we may find Greg to be the tepid, non-threatening, nice guy next door, he is actually a man consumed and driven by his own professional ambition. Lacking in native empathy, Greg doesn’t seem to understand what it means to invest in relationships. Instead, he lives in an Odyssean fantasy, disconnected from the people around him, with only the façade of true connection.

He doesn’t realize that his suffering is in large part due to his inability to connect in a meaningful way to others.

Greg is interested in others only in as much as they supply him the admiration and validation  that he craves. We can assume that this is why he continues to lead them on, allowing each one to believe whatever fantasy they have about their relationship to him. He labels his approach “non-confrontational”, but he is actually behaving in a way that I would call a ‘good boy’ narcissist. He lacks empathy for other people’s subjectivity, but he also desperately wants to be the good and special one. Therefore, he avoids defining his experience in a way that might alienate the people who supply him validation. He doesn’t seem to understand that his passivity is in fact hurting the people in his life.

 Both Steph and Carly doggedly look to find their happiness through an intimate relationship with Greg. The women subjugate their needs and wants on many levels in an effort to attach themselves to him. Perhaps they do this in the hopes that he will offer them a way out of their average lives. Maybe it is easier for these women to live vicariously through Greg’s ownership of his ambition than it is for them to wrestle with the conflict of their own desires. The women may also be drawn to Greg because he willingly becomes a vessel for their fantasies. Carly says that she finds him “safe” because he doesn’t lust after her or treat her like an object. What she fails to realize is that his desire is not directed toward her, which is why she doesn’t experience him as predatory. In reality, he’s safe because he’s not treating her as anything. He doesn’t have any true regard or investment in her as a person.

The one character that has some understanding of the extent to which Greg is disconnected from other people is Kent. He sees the way Greg is self-involved, self-indulgent and lacking in empathy. Although Kent doesn’t have the book smarts to articulate himself eloquently, he does seem to have a sense of clarity around Greg’s underlying selfish nature.

There is something deeply moving and sad about the three characters that orbit around Greg. They perpetually look for meaning and connection with a man who has neither the capacity nor the interest in forging intimate relationships. On some level it would stand to reason that all three have a sense of Greg’s limitations, and yet on another level they continue to hope that Greg will surprise them and behave differently. Meanwhile, Greg has little understanding of the pain his behavior is causing the people around him, or how this alienation from others contributes to his unhappiness.

In the end, I am not confident that these characters have learned enough about themselves to create lasting change. They seem reactionary, not thoughtful, and I don’t know that they will necessarily do things differently in the future. If not, then it stands to reason that these characters will continue on an unsuccessful quest for happiness for a very long time.

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MCC Theater’s Youth Company - more reasons to be happy!

This past Monday was a very special evening as we hosted a Benefit performance of UnCensored. UnCensored features original and thought-provoking work by the MCC Youth Company, a free program for students from all five boroughs. MCC Theater patrons, funders, and Youth Company alumni came together to watch our students take center stage. Not only did they take the stage, they owned it! At curtain call, the audience immediately leapt to their feet with excitement and admiration for these young artists who had the courage to tackle bold topics. The performance was followed by a reception where all attendees were able to meet the students and celebrate their creativity and courage. A very special thank you to our Board Members: Lois Weinroth, Susan Raanan, Gail Furman; and Patrons: Karen Baynard and Amy Weltman for your support of this evening.

~Erica Schwartz
Director of Development

There’s still time to catch a performance! Click here for remaining performance times. http://www.mcctheater.org/youthcompany/uncensored13/index.html

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Miscast 2013 was a huge success this past Monday!  Here’s a snippet of Jonathan Groff and Jeremy Jordan performing an homage to SMASH!!

We’ll be posting more videos from the show, be sure to check back for more Miscast goodness!

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An interview with MCC Playwrights’ Coalition member, Cusi Cram—
You’ve worked with MCC in the past – and are a member of our writers’ group. How has that been meaningful?
Cusi - The Playwrights’ Coalition has been a great place for me to develop work. Over the years, I’ve partaken of all the programs it offers and many of my plays have been greatly improved directly because of readings or workshops the Coalition provided. It also is a wonderful place for me to meet other uber talented playwrights. One of the paths that lead me to Labyrinth was meeting Stephen Adly Guirgis through the Coalition. We both really responded to each other’s work. 
Can you tell us about Radiance, the show you have going up at Labyrinth right now?  What’s it about?  Where did the idea come from?
Cusi - I would say that the macro theme of the play is shame. The play looks at shame from a variety of angles and through several of the character’s eyes. I suppose the inciting question for me in writing this play was how do you live with the horrible things you inevitably do in life? And are some things that cannot be recovered from? And why? The play revolves around historical events that took place during World War II, so I am also interested how we as Americans deny or avoid historical shame. Those are the big, sweeping questions but it’s also a kind of subtle love story. A man walks into a bar, meets a lady with a story and it turns out he has a story that trumps all others. I was inspired to write the play by listening to a segment on the radio program, This American Life. It was an episode about very awkward episodes of the popular 50’s show, "This is Your Life". I couldn’t quite believe what a terrible episode idea this one show was. I am being deliberately cagey as there are some surprises in the play. 
What do you find to be the most important part about going into production as a writer?  How does it differ from working towards a reading of a new play?  What do you look for?
Cusi - Every play is different. Some of them have been through a ton of readings and development, others are less understood and are still a puzzle. I think being open and present in the rehearsal room is really important. I think listening to suggestions is key but also knowing that is what they are, suggestions. You are the one who gets to decide what is right for your play. You are the expert. I tend to do a lot of rewriting before rehearsal begins, I hone in on the play. I have a phrase “getting the play in fighting form”. A reading is so different than a production. Usually, I go into a reading with one or two big questions. The questions are infinite in a production.
What do you find to be lingering challenges of going into production?  What excites you about it?
Cusi - I love rehearsal. If I could be in rehearsal all the time, I would be in heaven. I find giving the play to an audience (and critics) hard. I’ve never been good at transitions. After I get used to the idea of opening the whole thing up, I love it when I can move audiences in some way. Laughter. Tears. Rage. Hopefully not to sleeping. With this play in particular, I”m excited to share this little known slice of American history. It’s an interesting prism to look through at larger questions in American history
What’s next for you?  
Cusi - I’m working on a commission of a new play that is set in an International school in Rome. I’m also writing a pilot. I’m angling to direct something short on film. I hope to spend some time in Greece in the Spring. 
[Click here to check out the interview that Labyrinth Theater Company did with Don’t Go Gentle playwright, Stephen Belber.]
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Click here and use code MCC25 for $25 discount tickets to preview performances of Radiance, November 1 through November 15! 

An interview with MCC Playwrights’ Coalition member, Cusi Cram

You’ve worked with MCC in the past – and are a member of our writers’ group. How has that been meaningful?

Cusi - The Playwrights’ Coalition has been a great place for me to develop work. Over the years, I’ve partaken of all the programs it offers and many of my plays have been greatly improved directly because of readings or workshops the Coalition provided. It also is a wonderful place for me to meet other uber talented playwrights. One of the paths that lead me to Labyrinth was meeting Stephen Adly Guirgis through the Coalition. We both really responded to each other’s work. 

Can you tell us about Radiance, the show you have going up at Labyrinth right now?  What’s it about?  Where did the idea come from?

Cusi - I would say that the macro theme of the play is shame. The play looks at shame from a variety of angles and through several of the character’s eyes. I suppose the inciting question for me in writing this play was how do you live with the horrible things you inevitably do in life? And are some things that cannot be recovered from? And why? The play revolves around historical events that took place during World War II, so I am also interested how we as Americans deny or avoid historical shame. Those are the big, sweeping questions but it’s also a kind of subtle love story. A man walks into a bar, meets a lady with a story and it turns out he has a story that trumps all others. I was inspired to write the play by listening to a segment on the radio program, This American Life. It was an episode about very awkward episodes of the popular 50’s show, "This is Your Life". I couldn’t quite believe what a terrible episode idea this one show was. I am being deliberately cagey as there are some surprises in the play. 

What do you find to be the most important part about going into production as a writer?  How does it differ from working towards a reading of a new play?  What do you look for?

Cusi - Every play is different. Some of them have been through a ton of readings and development, others are less understood and are still a puzzle. I think being open and present in the rehearsal room is really important. I think listening to suggestions is key but also knowing that is what they are, suggestions. You are the one who gets to decide what is right for your play. You are the expert. I tend to do a lot of rewriting before rehearsal begins, I hone in on the play. I have a phrase “getting the play in fighting form”. A reading is so different than a production. Usually, I go into a reading with one or two big questions. The questions are infinite in a production.

What do you find to be lingering challenges of going into production?  What excites you about it?

Cusi - I love rehearsal. If I could be in rehearsal all the time, I would be in heaven. I find giving the play to an audience (and critics) hard. I’ve never been good at transitions. After I get used to the idea of opening the whole thing up, I love it when I can move audiences in some way. Laughter. Tears. Rage. Hopefully not to sleeping. With this play in particular, I”m excited to share this little known slice of American history. It’s an interesting prism to look through at larger questions in American history

What’s next for you?  

Cusi - I’m working on a commission of a new play that is set in an International school in Rome. I’m also writing a pilot. I’m angling to direct something short on film. I hope to spend some time in Greece in the Spring. 

[Click here to check out the interview that Labyrinth Theater Company did with Don’t Go Gentle playwright, Stephen Belber.]

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Click here and use code MCC25 for $25 discount tickets to preview performances of Radiance, November 1 through November 15! 

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"An efficient and thoughtful drama about the wide gulf between justice and forgiveness…" Time Out New York's David Cote reviews Don’t Go Gentle for NY1.

Click here for more video, including excerpted scenes, Q+A’s with the artists, and more… 

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Posted by Caprice Royal, Therapist/Clinical Social Work, who participated in our Talkback discussion on Oct 2—
There is a theory in addiction counseling that states that those who have long-term addiction often incur a stunting in their emotional development and that this disruption basically stops at whatever age/stage the chemical becomes the focus. This is due to the fact that instead of learning from one’s decisions and mistakes during the years a person was using, that person has spent that time blocking out his reality and his emotions. A person finds it easier to literally stop wanting to learn or advance themselves on any level other than the one they are already on. So a 38 year-old man like Ben, in the play, who started using drugs at age 17, may act much like a rebellious teen despite his true age even after he has become sober, unless he works on this issue. He may float around living on friend’s couches, never have any money for long, have a long string of short-term jobs, and have troubled romantic relationships, just like our character.  I thought this was amazingly portrayed in the argument Ben had with Rasheed in Don’t Go Gentle. I felt like I was seeing two teens verbally sparring instead of an adult and a teen. This made sense since the subject was very emotional for Ben and he was experiencing it on that developmental level.[PICTURED: David Wilson Barnes as Ben and Maxx Brawer as Rasheed in Don’t Go Gentle. Photos by Joan Marcus.]

Posted by Caprice Royal, Therapist/Clinical Social Work, who participated in our Talkback discussion on Oct 2—

There is a theory in addiction counseling that states that those who have long-term addiction often incur a stunting in their emotional development and that this disruption basically stops at whatever age/stage the chemical becomes the focus. This is due to the fact that instead of learning from ones decisions and mistakes during the years a person was using, that person has spent that time blocking out his reality and his emotions. A person finds it easier to literally stop wanting to learn or advance themselves on any level other than the one they are already on. So a 38 year-old man like Ben, in the play, who started using drugs at age 17, may act much like a rebellious teen despite his true age even after he has become sober, unless he works on this issue. He may float around living on friends couches, never have any money for long, have a long string of short-term jobs, and have troubled romantic relationships, just like our character.  I thought this was amazingly portrayed in the argument Ben had with Rasheed in Don’t Go Gentle. I felt like I was seeing two teens verbally sparring instead of an adult and a teen. This made sense since the subject was very emotional for Ben and he was experiencing it on that developmental level.

[PICTURED: David Wilson Barnes as Ben and Maxx Brawer as Rasheed in Don’t Go Gentle. Photos by Joan Marcus.]

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Posted by Don’t Go Gentle actor Angela Lewis—I just did a show called Milk Like Sugar, in which Tonya Pinkins played my mom “Myrna”. At the end of the play, my character, “Annie”, gets pregnant. Now, in Don’t Go Gentle, my son “Rasheed” is being played by Tonya Pinkins’ real life son Maxx Brawer! I like to think of my character, “Tanya”, as “Annie” all grown up, with Myrna being Rashid’s grandmother! Unwind that in your brain!!! [Tonya Pinkins, Maxx Brawer, and Angela Lewis, walking the red carpet at Don’t Go Gentle. Click here to see more opening night photos.]
Posted by Don’t Go Gentle actor Angela Lewis

I just did a show called Milk Like Sugar, in which Tonya Pinkins played my mom “Myrna”. At the end of the play, my character, “Annie”, gets pregnant. Now, in Don’t Go Gentle, my son “Rasheed” is being played by Tonya Pinkins’ real life son Maxx Brawer! I like to think of my character, “Tanya”, as “Annie” all grown up, with Myrna being Rashid’s grandmother! Unwind that in your brain!!!

 

[Tonya Pinkins, Maxx Brawer, and Angela Lewis, walking the red carpet at Don’t Go Gentle. Click here to see more opening night photos.]

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Posted by Kimberly Grigsby (Music Director, Coraline) and Jonathan Groff (Actor, The Submission)

“This moment was captured at the Little Owl after seeing MCC’s superb production of Don’t Go Gentle at the Lortel. Incredible acting, terrific writing, beautiful direction… we discussed the play for hours. Go see it.”