Letters to Holly

Tuesday, February 17

Three-Day Weekend

The LA Theatre Works is a nationally touring company that does staged readings of plays. Because it stems from LA, big-name actors are often involved. Last year we saw a drama on the Pentagon Papers. This year they are touring in The Tennessee Monkey Trial. Both shows rely heavily if not exclusively on trial transcripts.

You might remember last summer when I read scripts for the local theatre. I advocated Inherit the Wind, also based on the monkey trial, and I suggested we work around the limited repertory and stage resources this way:

... I suggest the theatre do this as a staged reading with double casting. We can go with simple props and scripts and old-time radio microphones. The stage action is insignificant; the dialogue is everything. If we focus on that, we can abstract the set to the black-box level.

... I phrased it as "We could do it this way and this way. It would be cheap! We won't have to memorize! We could rehearse in half the time!" I still think a bare-bones staged reading of the play with seven people playing all 30 characters (including the monkey) could work. Scrap the spectacle, get to the text. That will make people connect with the script without being distracted by the yokel caricatures.

The idea was kibboshed. And what did I see on Friday?

A staged reading in a virtual black box setting with doubled roles. Thirteen people played about 25 roles. Stage mics. Simple costumes. This is a national show with celebrity actors. I feel utterly vindicated. I strike the Caesar pose.

We did have celebs. The play was led by Ed Asner, and the man was a fucking lion. I have never seen a dramatic performance this good. He owned. He ruled. He should have struck the Caesar pose. Funnily enough, almost all the actors listed a performance on Law and Order.

The show was from the trial transcripts. Small-town Tennessee school board folk wanted to challenge the state's new Butler Act, which forbade teaching evolution as a contrary theory to Creationism. The official state biology textbook, which predated the act by two decades, did just that. The board remembered that the school football coach also substituted as a biology teacher, and he affirmed that he might have read the evolution passage from the biology textbook. The board found their poster-boy, and Scopes found the sheriff to turn himself in. The media were informed of his arrest, and the town, as planned, became the national hot spot and was soon wallowing in money.

Clarence Darrow, who just successfully defended Leopold and Loeb, joined a three-man team to defend Scopes. Former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryant, who has since become a fundamentalist lecturer, was recruited to argue against Darrow alongside the state attorney general. This was spectacle by design.

Darrow's team targeted the Butler Act while the prosecution targeted the affirmed legal transgression. Bryant was eventually called to the stand himself as a Biblical scholar. He deflected Darrow's attacks on the Bible (where did Cain's wife come from, how long was a Genesis day, how were there three mornings before the sun was created), but Darrow's point was made and broadcast to the world. Political pressure nudged the judge to go light on Scopes. Darrow didn't care what the verdict here was; he always planned to take it to the Supreme Court.

But the judge scuttled the case. Because the jury refused to set the fine, the judge did so, and he surpassed the legally allowed amount. The State Supreme Court ruled quickly that this negated the conviction, and the trial progressed no further. Darrow couldn't appeal, and the Supreme Court avoided the case.

It's a different story than Inherit the Wind, better in many ways. The acting was superb. The cast took the stage after the play for a QnA session, and I happened to close the night with my question: Did they discuss the nuances between conveying a transcript and performing a script? They didn't know how to respond at first, but they did mention how the narrator frames the recreation into a storyline instead of conversation, and I was happy with that.

Great show.

I've since spent time refining the comic script and lettering the comic on the computer. I adjusted some art gaffes and now have more than a week to add spot colors. I'm very, very close to finishing and uploading the procedural on Facebook.

All that workshop hunching drove me to run Sunday, and I got enough a groove going to run four miles. If I can extend that two more miles, I can attempt a 10k run. I think I'd like to try that this summer.

For Valentine's Day, we watched the Fiddler on the Roof and the DVD's documentaries on the actors and production. It's such a weepie.

Picture of the Day
Another Lost wallpaper.

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