Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Martha Mitchell Play

Last night at the tiny, claustrophia-inducing theater space in the basement of the Drama Bookstore, the International Center for Women Playwrights produced an evening of eight exerpts from plays. The final piece was an exerpt from Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro's MARTHA MITCHELL. A one-woman play about that maligned Watergate victim, wife of the corrupt John Mitchell, Attorney General under Nixon. I have known of this play since its first performances because my friend Geralyn Horton, Boston based as is Rosanna, is a playwright, actress, director, singer, played Martha and has done so in various venues including, most successfully at the Edinburght Fringe Festival to excellent reviews and full houses.

This was my first chance to get a taste of the play and I loved it. It should be a classic. It should tour the country and be produced at colleges and community theatres everywhere. It remains very relevant. Long before Hillary spoke of a a "vast Republican conspiracy" Martha Mitchell was caught in such a web. She was not ladylike about finding herself trapped. The play is made up of monologues and songs of which we got only a brief taste last night.

I've had many discussions on the topic of "does the cream rise?" Here is an instance supporting my belief that, no, the cream sometimes does not rise. The play has been done several places but it should be known like many other one-person bioigraphies are, TRU, for instance, or the Holbrooke Mark Twain, or THE BELLE OF AMHERST. Those are all a bit easier on the stomach of conservative [male] theatre producers. An angry woman, an alcoholic, who proudly admits that when her husband hit her she fought back and "gave as good as I got." And she's still fighting, with the telephone and the press -- this is not "feel good" theatre. This is asking what's rotten in Washington, back in the '70s and now in '07.

My contention is that cream cannot rise if it is uncomfortable -- and many women's subjects remain uncomfortable to society at large. Our entertainment is so homogenized, so controlled by the first readers who reject anything they can't handle, and then by the money-men who reject anything they think they can't sell, that works like MARTHA MITCHELL are not given consideration for major production. For years it's made me sad to go to events like last night's, where playwrights have to put together their presentations -- and these all incomplete, just shavings off the whole -- to be shown mainly to other actors and their friends. Some put together too quickly with inadequate rehearsal, some inadequately acted. This is not communication with the public, it is a sad attempt to believe someone's work can reach others, but it's never more effective than preaching to the choir.

Geralyn said to me when we had a long talk Friday, that she wonders if live drama can exist much longer in the face of 21st century media, especially the internet. I said yes, people will always want to act as people will always want to make music ... but Geralyn might be right. That acting impulse can now happen on videos that are instantly put on the web, or on podcasts. Not an optimistic thought -- for real acting and drama, like good music making, requires discipline and personal commitment and the work of acquiring superior skill that goes beyond innate talent. Will that continue? I sure hope so.

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