Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JULY 31, 2009
Summer isn’t all frothy confections and cotton candy. So, how about taking a walk on the dramatic dark side? Take the plunge, into the depths of human emotion. It’s good for the soul. And you might come out feeling psychologically healthy, light and even enlightened.
The new play, “ Dickinson ,” will introduce you to one of the most influential – and enigmatic — of American poets. Emily Dickinson, who died in 1886, left behind more than a thousand poems, unique and innovative works that only added to the mystery that enshrouds her. Local playwright William Roetzheim, who’s written a series of ‘Five Poet Plays,’ is more than willing to conjecture about the reclusive artist. His thesis is that Dickinson was a victim of incest, and a lover of women. None of this can be verified, since the poet rarely ventured out of her family’s Amherst , Massachusetts home; few people ever saw her. And before her death, she instructed her sister to burn all her correspondences. Scholars have spent a century trying to unravel her eccentric life and death-obsessed poems.
Roetzheim inserts himself into the action, in the person of a contemporary playwright trying, unsuccessfully, to write a drama about Emily Dickinson, the centerpiece of his five plays about poets. During a drunken, discouraged night, she appears to him, and though he doesn’t get his myriad questions answered during their interactions, he posits a few provocative explanations for her introversion, agoraphobia , lapsed education, sexual identity issues and conflicted feelings about her father. Fascinating stuff, though you, like the fictional playwright, will come away with a profound sense of uncertainty and ambiguity, and hopefully, a desire to read the poems with more attention and care.
Fresh from the Planet Connections Theatre Festival in New York , Lynx Performance Theatre transfers its intense production to the tiny North Park Vaudeville Theatre. Rhianna Basore heads the compelling cast, fiercely and skillfully capturing all the mystery and volatility of the gifted but disturbed poet.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, there’s Lisa, the central character in Rebecca Gilman’s ironically named, Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, “The Glory of Living.” At 15, Lisa only knows a trailer-trash existence. Her mother noisily plies her trade behind a flimsy curtain. One of her johns brings a friend, and Clint is the first person who’s ever paid any attention to Lisa. He’s also, unfortunately, a pedophile and a sociopath, but she leaves with him and marries him, and has a pair of twins he rarely lets her see. Meanwhile, he leads her down a path of moral depravity. After they’re imprisoned, we get a glimpse of Lisa’s motivations, and see how this poor, pitiful girl has been stunted in her emotional growth. It’s a disturbing story, excellently enacted by InnerMission Productions, under the taut direction of Carla Nell.
These two small theater companies don’t shy away from troubling and unsettling work. Geared for mature audiences, their current productions are for those who don’t mind being discomfited and disquieted… who can tolerate a little depth and darkness, even on the sunniest of days.
“ Dickinson ” runs through August 7 at North Park Vaudeville Theatre.
“The Glory of Living” continues through August 14 at 8Teen Center in North Park .
©2009 PAT LAUNER