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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thoughts on this and that

A blog! I still have one! It's still here! Long after most bloggers that I used to communicate with have either morphed into something else, quit, professionalized or just started publishing a million interviews. I still just have this space.

Well, what the heck? I feel no need to actually pronounce an end to the blog, as it's just a blog. I can write here when I feel like it. Right? Right.

Anyway, Why We Left Brooklyn ended just about a month ago and I'd call it an overall success. In terms of ticket sales and audience, for twenty performances, we had several sell out performances and full houses and good responses. Thanks to all of you who supported the work just by being there, and to the many of you that donated to the production as well.

The play, personally, was so much fun to put together. The cast was a wonderful group of people, a mix of old friends, older friends and new relationships that I'm glad to have forged.

From a critical perspective, I felt like it was largely successful... New York Magazine critic's pick isn't too shabby.. but that's tempered with a few lukewarm reviews, which stung, of course. (I won't link to those here because this is my house and I don't like to track dirt in it.)

I will say that as someone who self-produces and has had a decent level of success with that approach, I just cannot ignore the reviews. As an artist, I'd love to live in a rarefied way, not engage with them, do my work, not read the critics. Unfortunately, the reviews are capital. I use them to promote the work, try to encourage people to see the play for themselves, and as a calling card for theater companies and publishers that want evidence and endorsement before they put you at the top of their reading list.

I had the pleasure of seeing a variety of terrific productions over the past month or so.

I took in one episode of Mike Daisey's All The Faces Of The Moon live, and listened to several of them via podcast. It's quite an extraordinary feat of strength. Mike is simply one of the most purely talented stage performers I've ever seen: he's just gifted. While I've only experienced the show in pieces so far, whenever I have tuned in, I've been captivated and delighted.

It's what strikes me as the great irony of whatever controversy (still?) surrounds Mike Daisey's work is that the man is a living example of what makes fiction wonderful. We're living in a world of economists and fact-checkers, when what we really need is the humanities. Connections, magical ones, images, feelings: the things that we make up, the stories we tell. Otherwise, our lives will be pieces of information. That's what I sometimes fear most: that information is replacing imagination.

On the other hand, Daisey's show was also an attempt to engage with contemporary theater audiences in the age of Netflix. It's a show that you can binge. It's a season. It rewards the casual viewer, but also rewards the dedicated fan. While I think there might have been too much to catch up with all at once (once I got behind, each show was an hour and a half podcast to take in in order to get current); it now lives on as a digital relic and so it can be taken in entirely. Plus, there's the great artwork that was inspired by the piece. Things to collect. Things to keep. A mosaic.

I also got a chance to see Something Something Uber Alles, directed by Time Out's own David Cote and starring my good friend Robert Honeywell. (Honestly? You should listen to Robert and David talk about the show on the Go See A Show Podcast to get the full and best rundown of the history of the production, its roots, and the ideas behind it.)

This piece felt like the sort of theater I came to New York to do and see. Presented at Under St. Marks, it felt gritty in the best way. It smells like stale beer down there. There was a fly that kept dancing with Robert as he performed. The piece itself is about a man who resembles Hitler and finds himself under the spell of a cult that worships Hitler. Not because they hate others, but because he represents, to them, someone who they can obey. It's a cult that seems to have a sexual desire for surrender to authority.

Somehow, Robert Honeywell makes this all seems hilarious and grim and casual and chilling. It was a virtuoso performance, perfectly staged, and I very much hope it finds further audiences.

But more than that, it just felt like being reminded of something. Of what we're here to do. It's got fighting spirit. One I wanted to, and want to, emulate.

Finally, I took in the much ballyhooed Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play at Playwrights Horizons.

What struck me about Anne Washburn's play is that it's just plain smart. Every tie is twisted, every choice seems entirely right. By the time the play culminates in a sort of Greek version of The Simpsons in HMS Pinafore, it tracks perfectly with the themes that came before it. We get a sense of a society that is telling itself the story of nuclear power's dangers, and carrying on despite insurmountable obstacles. That it's appropriated half remembered characters and made something resonant and new.

I will say that, as with The Flick at Playwright's Horizons, a part of me felt like the audience for New York Theater and the actual work of the artists has a bit of a gap. Someone behind me in the audience, talking loudly, explained to a friend that she'd never seen an episode of The Simpsons. Her friend said she had seen a few, but wasn't that familiar. I got the sense that this was not an uncommon sentiment in the crowd. The Simpsons is, in fact, the longest running American television program in history...has aired more than 500 episodes. It's been on for over 25 years. I'm not saying it's impossible to have missed it. I'm just saying that Washburn isn't playing with obscure references here: she's just using very specific ones. Only a New York City theater audience could go to see a show about The Simpsons and think "Will I get this?"

As for me, I think I admired the play more than I felt moved by it. It is future-anthropology, and, perhaps, a celebration of theater as a medium. But I rarely felt as if I was going to cry or cheer. I laughed, a lot. But more than anything, I was just impressed by the depth of the thoughtfulness and talent.

And so, for me, I'm continuing to do my work. I'm providing text for the upcoming Cloud Cuckooland by Desert Sin and I could not be more excited about that project. I'm also looking forward to finally getting my version of Bluebeard out into the world in some form.

The most exciting thing is Pam's Occult Humanities conference, where I will be happily serving wine and be arm candy. Lucky me, I am. Yesterday was our three year wedding anniversary. That makes nine years as a couple. Which is awesome.

All right, that's enough for now. More to come.

How are you?

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