Tag Archives: play

Word Vomit: A Rant About Why I Loved “The Unfortunates”

22 Jun

unfortunates4A little over a week ago my family arrived in Ashland, Oregon, to attend my long-awaited graduation from Southern Oregon University. Along with suffering through two and a half hours of dreadful heat and watching hundreds of students trudge across the stage to receive their faux-diplomas, we also had the opportunity of attending two Oregon Shakespeare Festival plays during our weekend together. My father and I have been attending OSF for going on eleven years now. Hell, OSF was one of the leading factors in my choice to attend Southern Oregon, where I graduated with a BA in both Theatre Arts and Creative Writing (and a minor in photography).

That Saturday, after the graduation commencement had ended, we saw A Streetcar Named Desire, which was quite enjoyable. Kate Mulligan brought a new energy to Blanche I’d never seen before, Jeffrey King was a lovably perfect Mitch, and both Danforth Comins and Nell Geisslinger made a great duo as Stanley and Stella. While Streetcar is not my favorite Williams play, I had a great time seeing this rendition. However, while a great production, Streetcar is not the play I want to focus on right now.

The night before graduation my family went and saw a play entitled The Unfortunates. I knew nothing about this show walking in, except that all my friends raved about it and demanded I buy the soundtrack. Since we were running late, I didn’t have a chance to flip open my program and read the plot synopsis before the play began. So, trusting in the magic of OSF to do no wrong, I sat back and let the players take me down a path I had not quite expected.

Ninety minutes later, my family exited the Thomas Theatre. There seemed to be a general consensus: they didn’t like it. The Unfortunates wasn’t what they had thought it would be and were all sorely disappointed by this fact. My godmother quietly remarked that at least the music was catchy and the performers talented, while my brother and godfather barked about how the plot was unfollowable and how nothing had made sense.

This took me by surprise. Had we been watching the same show? The second the lights had come back up after the play had ended, I immediately turned to my father and told him, “That was one of the best things I have ever seen. Ever.” How was my family going on in this way about such an amazing piece of theatre?

After hearing more squabbles from them, I came to the defense of The Unfortunates. “No, there was definitely a coherent plot,” I insisted, as my brother made a face of disagreement. “There was! You just didn’t get it.”

“Okay, well, what was it then?”

I opened my mouth to speak.

I faltered.

What was the plot?

unfortunates5I had gotten that there was something about being in a prison cell and people being shot, and then there was a bar… but was that bar a flashback? An imaginary realm? And everything else, what about all of that?A gambling game? Something about a plague? A strange love story? Some very hungry rooks? A dead king? An armless prostitute? What was the plot? I threw my brother a quick response about the play focusing on the last moments of a prisoner of war’s life, but even then I wasn’t sure I was in the know.

So why was I so taken with this show; this show that I couldn’t summarize for my family, or even myself? Why had I found myself with a large grin on my face, hands clamped on my cheeks, as I witnessed it unfold in front of my eyes inside the Thomas Theatre’s black box? As I thought more and more about it, I came to realize that this wasn’t a show you could explain in a text or a tweet. It was one you’d muse about with friends over coffee, that you could write endlessly about on your blog or in school essays, or that you could simply think about as you sat alone in your room at night before bed. It was a story that would fester in every inch of you and wouldn’t let you go – at least, not right away.

(Warning: it gets spoilery from here on out, so tread cautiously.)

I found reading the playbill’s pieces on The Unfortunates and, eventually, the script helped me grasp the pieces of the plot I was missing. Little things were brought to my attention that I had missed upon seeing the show, and it was easy to see the entire story after I was done reading. Yes, I had been right in what I had told my family, about the prisoner of war aspect. If we were to assign this show a dramatic statement (dear god, the SOU theatre department is going to haunt me the rest of my life, isn’t it?), The Unfortunates is a play about a man finding solace and courage in the power of music – or, rather, the power of his own song – before he is about to die. It turns out, this show is all about the music. It’s about holding fast to music, even when times are brutal. Joe escapes into his fantasy-bar where he’s king, drawing in parallels to his prisoner of war surroundings (such as his deceased friends taking on new personas and his fists – oh this fists, we’ll get to those fists in a bit), and how he finds comfort in the music. How, even when his fantasies take a harsh turn, the music is there to help him find his way and face his deepest fears (I feel like “Guard the Right” is the number one example of this). Plus the tones of the show were constantly shifting, dragging you along with it at every turn. There was the chilling opening as each man was taken away, the fun vaudeville-feel of the bar numbers, the romantic inclinations between Rae and Joe, the creepy feel of the Doctor’s stage presence, and the overwhelming rush of emotion at the play’s end. If anything, I think The Unfortunates is a show that should be viewed on two separate occasions, so the first time you can find yourself lost in the music, and the second time you can lose yourself in both the story and the music.

This leads into the number one reason I believe I was so instantly taken with this show: the music. Now, I’m a huge fan of musicals. Back when the girls in my class were belting ‘N Sync and Britney Spears on the playground, I was off humming Music Man and Les Miserables songs to myself. Showtunes were all I listened to up until the last couple years of high school, and while my taste in music has definitely expanded in the more recent years, I still listen to showtunes quite often. So, going into The Unfortunates knowing it was an original musical, I expected the usual slew of showtunes that appear in contemporary shows.

unfortunates8I was surprised that a number of the songs in the play were that of rap and hip hop, and, what’s more, that I found I loved them. Really, really, really loved them. Nothing personal, I’ve just never felt a connection with that genre of music before. However, The Unfortunates did such an amazing job taking these musical genres and crafting them to fit the story. Not only that, there’s also a beautiful mix of gospel, folk, r&b, and a capella incorporated into the soundtrack of the show. They all blend together, making for a truly gorgeous musical score.

There is not one song in this show that you cannot hum or snap your fingers along to. Upon leaving the black box, I immediately purchased the soundtrack, knowing full well I’d go crazy without this new music in my life. The recorded songs, though a tad different than the final product you view in the show, are wonderful and great to sing along with. My favorite song changes on a day-to-day basis; however, gun to my head, I’d have to say “Quarantine”, “Good to be the King”, “Down and Out”, “I Want You”, and “Tell Me Where It Hurts” are my five favorites. They’re all unbelievably catchy, and it’s almost impossible not to dance or sing along with certain numbers. It’s also fascinating to read about the history of some of the music; where it came from and how it inspired the playwrights.

Not only is the music beautiful, the dialogue is as well. The style in which many of the characters speak is akin to spoken word, in my personal opinion, which is another reason this show resonated deeply with me, as I have definite ties when it comes to spoken word. There are many magnificent pieces of dialogue throughout the play, but my absolute favorite is a speech Big Joe gives during “Tabs Are Always Open for an Addict”:

“I never wanted nothing more than the breath I was breathin’, the moment I breathed it. I never had nothin’ I wouldn’t mind leavin’, includin’ the breathin’. These fists are a fury, this tongue is a torrent of suffering stuffed like a bittersweet cup. I nearly tore my heart out just to feel touch once, but ain’t nothin’ so bitter as want. I want, I want, I want to rip open these fists, grip a life that’s slipping in between these fingers where nothing else gets, blood flow from my fingertips kissin’ my wrists as it drips, warming a heart that only exists for your lips.”

You read that? That’s fucking poetry right there. Beautiful, mesmerizing poetry.

unfortunates1I’ve also come to love thinking about the symbolism in this show, particularly that found in the characters’ hands and arms. The two forefront characters are polar opposites in that sense: one has no hands and one has giant hands. In the opening, we see Joe’s fists raised in defense, which speaks of him in that reality, trying to defend himself from the inevitable. When we’re taken to the world of the fantasy-bar, suddenly his fists are huge. They allude to Joe being a boxer in the opening song, so perhaps that’s why his fists become five times bigger, fighting being what he knows best, or perhaps it’s his subconscious needing to physically protect himself from the reality that awaits him (ie. his execution). Then we have Rae; beautiful, graceful, armless Rae. Why is she armless? This was the number one question my aunt kept pestering me with the rest of the night, and having no idea at the time what the answer was, I finally just told her, “Character device.” Looking back on this show, I realize there was much more at play than just some arbitrary character device. In Joe’s reality, he clutches a picture. From the whistle the enemy soldier gives we know the photo is of a woman. No doubt it’s the woman in the photo that the illusion of Rae is based off of. To me, her lack of arms symbolizes how she is stuck in a world she cannot escape from; she is being whored by her own father and there’s no way to claw her way out. She is helpless and in need of rescue (again, this is Joe’s fantasy, so her character reflects heavily on him and his wants). What’s more, her state of being contrasts Joe’s completely. He can’t unclench his giant hands to hold her, no more than she can wrap her nonexistent arms around him. It’s not until she dies that she can finally be whole again, just as it isn’t until Joe has finally accepted his inescapable death that his fists disappear; the moment they’re both finally freed (ie. no longer having to be a prostitute and Joe’s acceptance of death) is when they can return to normal. Then there’s the whole sequence where the Doctor’s arms stretch out to enfold Rae – goddamn, that moment gave me chills (and was when I finally started crying) – and just that contrast with everything else going on in the play… It just comes together so magically. I don’t know how else to describe it.

unfortunates7Finally, the performers. Ah, the performers. Each one of them was absolutely brilliant. From those opening moments of the play when you’re not quite sure where the characters are or why, you’re able to pick up immediately from the body language and acting of the performers (and, okay, the offstage gunshots help too) that things are not all right. Each actor, and the musicians too for that matter, are just wonderful. They’ve each got powerhouse voices, and each hone their characters’ personalities and physicalities beautifully. Not to mention all four original creators of The Unfortunates are in this play, which, as someone who considers herself both a writer and a performer, is absolutely fantastic. Everyone in the show used their talents to the best of their abilities, and did a kick ass job doing so. Plus there’s a live band on stage throughout the show, and goddamn if they’re not equally as amazing.


So no, The Unfortunates might not be what you expect when you walk into the Thomas Theatre in the next few months. It’s not your classic My Fair Lady or Music Man musical. It doesn’t abide by the expected showtunes and overdone story structure. But you know what it is? It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s exciting, which I feel has been lacking in a lot of new theatre (especially musicals) as of late. We need more musicals like this one, that’s for sure.

I would like more than anything to see this play for a second time (no big surprise, right?), and I’m not entirely sure if I’ll be able to. I take off for New Zealand in exactly a month, and the time before my departure is going to be quite hectic. I’m planning to go down sometime in a couple weeks with a friend who loves the show just as much as I do, so hopefully that will pan out. If not, hey, at least I got the chance to experience The Unfortunates just once, just as everyone else has or should.

… But seriously, if you’re in Ashland and you haven’t seen this play yet, what the fuck are you doing?

Go buy a ticket to it.

Right now.

Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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setting myself up.

6 Jun

Here’s a list of things I’m writing that I’d like to accomplish this summer:

  • Obsessed || screenplay
  • Untitled Beach/Mute Writer/Toussaint Charbonneau piece || screenplay
  • Max Factor || screenplay
  • Questions || screenplay
  • Twins || play
  • Doodles on a Nihilist’s Arm || short story
  • The Girl With the Owl Necklace || short story
  • Twinship || novel
  • Eleven Inches || novel
  • This Year || slam poem
  • Shy || slam poem
  • The Ferris Bueller Method || slam poem

Quite.

Sorry for all these lists as of late. I know they don’t constitute as interesting blog entries. My goal for the summer is to write in this blog once a day and, well, okay, it’s not technically my summer just yet (eight more days!), but I’m kind of trying to get into the swing of things now. The problem is that if I wrote about what’s going on in my life right now it’d be a constant blather about stress of school/finances/moving/finals/etc. I guess writing about moving could be interesting, but I haven’t even begun the moving process just yet, and I seriously doubt people would like recounts of me shoving mugs and scarves into random boxes.

So. Yeah. Here’s a vague list about stuff I’m gonna (hopefully) work on this summer.

Should I share my writing on here throughout the summer? Maybe tidbits of each of them.

Words from Others

10 Mar

I’m feeling a tad lazy today, so here are some of my all time favorite quotes… and by “some” I mean “a lot”. These are all quotes from movies/plays/TV/books/etc. I do have a lot of quotes from people in my life, and maybe I’ll share those someday, but for now I’m just gonna share these ones.

Enjoy!

——-

“[Muppets] are just such a force for good, and I know that’s crazy to hear me talk about it, but I’m in love with them. They remind us of the best version of ourselves. They’re who we wanted to be when we were kids.”
— Jason Segel

“Well this is a place that you, that you all made together so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people. That’s why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone, Jack. You needed all of them and they needed you. To remember. And let go.”
— Christian Shepard, LOST

“I’m a person who relies very heavily on intuition and feeling out the situation, so I’ve never really made a five-year plan or anything like that, if it’s right, it will fall into place and if not, I understand.”
— Emma Stone

“Today I felt completely awake, like my heart was as big as the moon.”
— Ray, Bored to Death

“Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.”
— Hamlet

“Maybe you don’t need the whole world to love you, you know, maybe you just need one person.”
— Kermit, The Muppets

“Yeah, well, I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.”
— Kermit the Frog, The Muppet Movie

“They don’t even know they’re doing the same thing as everyone else, just using a different name. Entertaining themselves. Missing it. Lying. None of them care about pole vaulting or dreams.”
Visioneers

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand […] once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
The Velveteen Rabbit

“The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them – words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie to close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”
— Stephen King

“I want to be Proust or the Marquis de Sade. I would like to be Christ, Mohammad, Buddha, but not have to believe in God.”
— Guido, Nine

“Bottom line is, even if you see them coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So, what are we, helpless? Puppets? Nah. The big moments are gonna come, you can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwords that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.”
— Whistler, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“I live for the day when an actor can walk on stage, stand stock still and have an audience applaud in sheer wonder that – in spite of plague, politics and the foolishness of this age – this thing has managed to stay alive.”
— Shag, Equivocation

“If you’re not scared you’re not taking a chance, and if you’re not taking a chance then what the hell are you doing?”
— Ted, How I Met Your Mother

“I can’t control my destiny. I trust my soul, my only goal is just to be. There’s only now, there’s only here. Give in to love or live in fear. No other path, no other way. No day but today.”
RENT

“Family is more than blood. It’s about trust, about love, about those who embrace you – the real you – unconditionally.”
— Samuel, Heroes

“I mean Hank, the movie was great, but the thirty minutes before the movie started was what I love about being a nerd. Because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. We don’t have to be like, ‘Oh yeah that purse is okay’ or like, ‘Yeah, I like that band’s early stuff.’ Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they are saying is, ‘You like stuff’, which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.”
— John Green

“Just remember, kid, you can quicker get back a million dollars that was stole than a word that you gave away.”
— Arthur Miller

“Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will.”
— Spike, Buffy

“If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy, I can only conclude that I was not made for here.”
— Brooke Fraser

“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us; leaving nothing but a memory of the smell of smoke and a presumption that our eyes once watered.”
— Guildenstern; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

“But the thing is … but what I wanted to say is, you know when you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all “Grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid” and that’s it. Nah. The truth is the world is so much stranger than that, it’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”
— Elliot, Doctor Who

“The Venn Diagram of guys who don’t like smart girls and guys you don’t want to date is a circle.”
— John Green

“Oh mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above?”
— Fleetwood Mac

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
— C.S. Lewis

“The funny thing about writing is that whether you’re doing it well or you’re doing it poorly, it looks the exact same. That is actually one of the main ways that writing is different from ballet dancing.”
— John Green

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
— Mark Twain

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”
— Audrey Hepburn

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
— Hazel Grace, The Fault in Our Stars

“Had my brother really seen me somehow, or was he merely a little boy telling beautiful lies?”
— Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
— John Green, Looking for Alaska

“No, no, no…you’ve got it all wrong… you can’t act death. The fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen – it’s not gasps and blood and falling about – that isn’t what makes it death. It’s just a man failing to reappear, that’s all – now you see him, now you don’t, that’s the only thing that’s real: here one minute and gone the next and never coming back – an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance gathering weight as it goes on, until, finally, it is heavy with death.”
— Guildenstern; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

“Hearts will never be made practical until they can be made unbreakable.”
The Wizard of OZ

“If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it.”
— Andy Rooney

“As long as there were singing frogs and joking bears, Swedish chefs and boomerang fish, the world couldn’t be that bad of a place.”
— Walter, The Muppets

“I will not say ‘do not weep’ for not all tears are an evil.”
— Gandalf, Return of the King

“Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.”
— A.A. Milne