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Read My Scripts

By Rick Pender · August 17th, 2011 · Curtain Call
While you might think of a play or a musical as entertainment — which it is — there’s another dimension worth considering. They are also works of literature, words written on a page meant to be spoken or perhaps sung. The success or failure of a performed work often hinges on the quality of the words in a play’s script or a musical’s book.

As I prepare to attend theater during 2011-2012 season, I will read some scripts that will be produced on Cincinnati stages. I wish I could travel more often to New York City or elsewhere to see theater, but my budget and time are limited. So I often prepare for a show by reading the script. That allows me to absorb the material at my own pace, free of interpretation by a director or actors. By reminding myself of the “raw material,” I can more fully appreciate the effort and vision that go into a production.

Sometimes my advance reading refreshes my recollection of a work, especially one by Shakespeare, whose plays are as stimulating to read as they are to see performed, rich in language and character. My appreciation of contemporary playwrights can be enhanced by reading a work in advance: Tom Stoppard’s plays — Arcadia, for instance, to be staged by UC’s College-Conservatory of Music next April — are dense but richly rewarding linguistically and dramatically.

The Cincinnati Playhouse presents two Tony winners on its mainstage this fall: Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage (Sept.

8-Oct. 1) and John Logan’s Red (Oct. 10-Nov. 12). I haven’t seen either one performed, but I’ve read both scripts. The appeal of Carnage on Broadway in 2009 was star casting: two pairs of battling parents — played by James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis — meet to resolve a playground confrontation between their sons. The script is a fascinating exploration of human emotion and ego, but its attraction is in the friction witnessed between the actors as characters, not so much in the ideas expressed.

Logan’s Red, set in the late 1950s, portrays painter Mark Rothko and an assistant who struggles to work with him and learn from him. As with Carnage, there’s a lot of conflict and verbal sparring, but Red, the 2010 Tony winner, is about fathoming the creative mind and the artistic output that is driven by personality. Having read both scripts, I find the former offers emotional satisfaction, while the latter is intellectually stimulating. I’m not judging either one, but appreciating the art of writing practiced by Reza and Logan in creating two distinctly different works.

As you consider the coming theater season, you might find your own appreciation of a show enhanced by reading a script or the novel behind a show before you see it onstage. Suggestions: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (NKU presents a musical version this fall), Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility or John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (Cincinnati Shakespeare presents stage versions of the latter two in 2012). Other choices might be the scripts of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This (New Edgecliff stages it in October), The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (Covedale stages it during the winter) or any of Shakespeare’s works being produced this season. I bet you’ll enjoy these productions all the more.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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