Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Plays About Business

A few days ago, my student Gregory Cohan (to be seen in the Gallery Players' upcoming Lend Me a Tenor) asked me to suggest plays about business for him to read, since he's writing one himself.  Since then, my friend James Robinson and I have had a great time assembling the list.  One or both of us has seen or read each of these plays.  I think one of my favorites is Pinter's Trouble in the Works.  Very short, and hilarious.

Plays About Business, or set primarily in a workplace

What Price Glory?  Maxwell Anderson & Lawrence Stallings-  World War I Marines.  1924.
Tea and Sympathy.  Robert Anderson.  Prep school.  1953.
The History Boys.  Alan Bennett.  Prep school.  2004.
The Three Penny Opera.  Brecht & Weill.  (Mack’s crime gang and Peacham’s beggar syndicate).  1928.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Abe Burrows, Frank Loesser & 3 other guys. 1961.
R.U.R.  (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Karel Capek.  1920.
Serious Money.  Caryl Churchill.- London stock exchange.  1987.
Offices.  Ethan Coen. 2009.- offices
Anna in the Tropics.  Nilo Cruz.  2004.-  cigar factory
Butley.  Simon Gray.  Academia in London.  1971.
New York Actor.”  John Guare.  1992.  –actor/waiter
Steel Magnolias.  Robert Harling.  1987.-  beauty shop
The Dresser.  Ronald Harwood.  1982.-  theatre
The Memorandum.  Vaclav Havel.  1965.
Pravda. David Hare & Howard Brenton-  basically about Rupert Murdoch and the press.  1985.
Racing Demon.  David Hare.  1996.- Anglican clergy 
Mr. Roberts.  John Heegan & Josh Logan.  About the Navy, in an entrepreneurial way.  1948.
They Knew What They Wanted.  Sidney Howard.-  California vineyard.  1924. 
Once in a Lifetime.  Kaufman & Hart.- Hollywood. 1930.
The Cocoanuts.  Kaufman & Ryskind- the Florida land boom in the 1920s.  1925.
Parfumerie. Miklos Laszlo. (if you can't find it in English, rent the movie "The Shop Around the Corner").  1940?
Side Man.  Warren Leight. 1999. – the jazz world
American Buffalo.  Mamet.  1975.- small time business
Glengarry Glen Ross.  Mamet.  1984.-  real estate
Speed-the-Plow.  Mamet.  1988.- Hollywood
Little Shop of Horrors.  Menken & Ashman.  1982.- florists
All My Sons.  Miller.  1947.- weapons manufacturing
Death of a Salesman.  Miller.  1949.- sales
Waiting for Lefty.  Odets.  1935.- cab drivers
 Body Shop.” Phelan. 2003.  In  Best Ten-Minute Plays for Three or More Actors
2006. Smith & Kraus.- replacement parts
It’s Called Development.”  2005. The Best 10-Minute Plays for 3 or More Actors,
Smith & Kraus.  2007.-  philanthropy
Our Dolls.”  Phelan. 2010.  In Best Ten-Minute Plays of 2011.  Smith & Kraus.-  doll factory
They All Know Me.” Phelan. 2012.-  overseas employment agency 
The Hothouse.  Pinter- mental institution.  1958.
Trouble in the Works.”  Pinter.  1959.- factory
Enron. Lucy Prebble.  2009.- Enron
The Winslow Boy.  Terrence Rattigan. Military school.  1946.
The Adding Machine.  Elmer Rice.  1923.- the corporate world
Working.  Stephen Schwartz & Nina Faso.  1977.- combo
Doubt:  A Parable.  John Patrick Shanley.  Parochial school.  2004.
Four Dogs and a Bone.  John Patrick Shanley. 1993.-  Hollywood
Major Barbara (Shaw)- munitions.  1905. 
Other People's Money (Jerry Sterner)- corporate takeover 
“Interview” (part of America, Hurrah!).  Jean-Claude van Itallie.  1964.-  the hiring process
Fiorello!  Jerome Weidman & George Abbot.  NY politics.  1959.
Jitney.  August Wilson. 1979.- cab drivers

Monday, August 27, 2012

They All Know Me

We had a good run this past week.   Here are the usable production photos that I was able to take on Saturday.  Everybody did good work, the ladies are back to school, and I'm thinking about my September reading of The Tiger Play.

Katie Newcomer as Elena in "The All Know Me"

Jeremy Rafal, and Katie Newcomer  in "They All Know Me"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Almost a Fantasie

Here's a review of my student Mike Aguirre's play:
“Almost A Fantasy”
By Michael Aguirre
Directed by John Grabowski
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited


Teaching piano in a windowless basement studio somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania does not preclude having been a world-famous concert pianist earlier in life. Taking piano lessons at seven years old in that windowless basement piano studio does not preclude studying piano for the wrong reasons. It is Youthney’s fantasy that if someone can teach him piano and he has a student recital, his agoraphobic mother might leave their house. This, it turns out, is a wrong reason. Nonetheless, it is Dolores’ fantasy that her new seven-year-old student Youthney becomes an accomplished pianist.

Although Youthney does not play any Beethoven until the end of the play, the three movements of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata (Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 2)” parallel the movements of Michael Aguirre’s deeply beautiful and important new play “Almost A Fantasy,” currently playing at The Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. It is important to remember, as Dolores reminds Youthney, that the original title of this sonata was “Quasi una fantasia” (Italian: almost a fantasy).

The first movement of “Amost A Fantasy” (the Adagio sostenuto of the Sonata), develops the main melody of the relationship between Dolores and Youthney and then plays it again very similar to how it was originally played. Dolores and Youthney live out their disparate fantasies through a series of piano lessons, rehearsing one another’s stories. Dolores’ (Danijela Popovic) story is well-written with proper key signatures. Youthney’s (AJ Kiehner) story when he first meets Dolores is a blank staff, scarcely a sixteenth note and certainly no key signature. Dolores’ stories of escaping east Berlin and developing a successful career as a concert pianist at first embolden Youthney and encourage him to get in touch with his own (yet undiscovered) story: in particular, why he continues to study with Dolores despite her aggressive and sometimes maniacal methods. She wants her student “to learn” piano; Youthney only wants “to be taught.” There is a profound difference and in this profundity lies the mysterious, almost haunting melody of the first movement.

The second movement, the Allegreto, is (as in the Sonata) is fast-moving and often comedic. As he grows older and more comfortable with Dolores, Youthney becomes more playful and their lessons sparkle with wit and wry humor. However, this movement concludes with a seventeen-year-old Youthney who leaves Dolores as he leaves high school.

The final movement (the Presto agitato) of “Almost A Fantasy” surprises the audience with its hard-hitting, invigorating, and powerful passages (fortissimo) and progresses rapidly to the play’s conclusion and denouement. Youthney returns to Dolores’ studio after many years to find the building in a state of disrepair and Dolores in a similar downward spiral of aging and disability and disappointment. He bristles with new-found energy and proposes that he and Dolores should go on tour. Unfortunately, it is too late for that fantasy to play out. Instead, Youthney offers to play from his “cheap” edition of Beethoven Sonatas: something he had always wished to do. He asks if he can practice first and Dolores reminds him compellingly that “one does not rehearse Beethoven here.”

Under John Grabowski’s sturdy direction, actors Danijela Popovic and AJ Kiehner use their accomplished keyboard skills to bring this dramatic almost-love story to bristling life. Youthney does not become the pianist Dolores hopes he would: his interest in piano ceased when he no longer needed to perform his mother’s way out of her dysfunction and illness. And Dolores, disappointed in Youthney and, perhaps in herself, quietly listens to Youthney play the “Moonlight Sonata” bringing into remarkable counterpoint the “almost fantasies” of these two star-crossed musicians. At the lights fade, there were few dry eyes in the audience including the tear-filled eyes of this appreciative critic. There are only three more opportunities to allow yourself to risk playing your almost fantasies in the basement studio with one amazing (though sometimes terrifying) teacher and mentor and her almost-star pupil.

Presented by Chelsea Rep Lab in Association with The Acting Studio, Inc. and The New York International Fringe Festival. Written by Michael Aguirre. Directed by John Grabowski. Set Design by Oliver Sohngen. Lighting Design by Zach Ciaburri. Costume Design by Alison Parks and Corrie Blissit. Stage Management by Julie Greeneisen.

WITH: AJ Kiehner (Youthney) and Danijela Popovic (Dolores).

All performances take place at The Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor (Astor Place and East 4th Street) in New York, NY. Tickets are available at or 866-468-7619. $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Senior and Fringe Junior tickets available at the door for $10. Running time: 1 hour and 25 minutes with no intermission. For further information, visit:

Remaining Show Date:
Thursday, August 23rd @ 3pm
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Monday, August 20, 2012

Rehearsals for "They All Know Me"

Here are the photos that I took at They All Know Me rehearsal yesterday.  The actors look great despite the lighting and my camera work. 

First photo:  Katie Newcomer as Elena in "They All Know Me."

Second photo:  Katie Newcomer as Elena, and Jeremy Rafal as Tiongco  in "They All Know Me."

Third photo:  Jeremy Rafal as Tongco, Katie Newcomer as Elena in "They All Know Me."

The show runs this Thurs., Fri. and Sat. at 8; there's also a Sat. matinee at 2.  The theatre is Joria Productions, 260 West 36th, 3rd floor, in Manhattan.  Tickets at the door, or via Brown Paper Tickets.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

In the Relentless Self-Promotion Dept.

Talented playwright Adam Szymkowicz and I will be housemates at the William Inge Center for the Arts this fall.  Adam has a blog called I Interview Playwrights, and he just interviewed me.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

They All Know Me

So on Sunday afternoon, director Christie Clark and I start rehearsals for They All Know Me.    The actors are:  Katie Newcomber as Elena, Katharine Scarborough as Hannah and Jeremy Rafal as Mr. Tiongco.  Katie and Katharine are classmates of Christie's at The New School; Jeremy is an alumnus of The Acting Studio.  Yes, we still made them all audition.

The play is about cultural dislocation.  We live in such a connected world now-  I can email or Skype with my friend in Bratislava, or my friend in Montreal, and think nothing of it.  But cultural differences still exist, and one afternoon about ten years ago I was in a business meeting that ended very badly.  My friend Jelka (who unfortunately is no longer with us) and I were the New York office of a medical personnel company, and we had a meeting with a man from Manila who was a recruiter. We went to our favorite coffee place, the desperate-for-work recruiter arrived, and things went down hill fairly quickly.  After Jelka died, I thought that afternoon and Jelka needed to have a play written about them.

The play is part of Thespian Production's Slam-a-thon III showcase at Joria Productions, 260 West 36th Street, 3rd floor.  It runs August 23 & 24 at 8:00, and August 25th at 3:00 and 8:00.  Tickets are available at the door, or at Brown Paper Tickets.   

For more information:

The Top 100 NYC Movies

As you can see, I'm catching up on the blog. 

Back in July, Time Out NY's Joshua Rothkopf edited a list of the best movies set in New York City.  How you begin to categorize movies for this, I'm not sure.  Movies set in NYC?  There are many.  Of TONY's list, these are the ones I'm in total agreement with.  Not C.H.U.D. or The Hunger (really?) or Black Swan.  In most cases, I don't agree with the ranking.
Here they are:
55.  Fame (1980)
44.  Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
41.  The Godfather (1972)
39.   Metropolitan (1990)
35.  Midnight Cowboy (1969)
28.  All That Jazz (28)
23.  42nd Street (1933)
21.  Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
14.  Ghostbusters (1984)
10.  On the Town (1949)
6.  Do the Right Thing (1989)
5.  Manhattan (1979)

TONY's #1 is Taxi Driver.  Which I like, but not at #1.

The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2011

Smith & Kraus' The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2011 is out.  Edited by Lawrence Harbison, it includes plays by a lot of playwrights, several from the League of Professional Theatre Women:  Jenny Lyn Bader, Deborah Savadge, and me, plus Carson Kreitzer, Rich Orloff and others.  It's $24.99, but it's chock-full of new work. 

The Best Ten Minute Plays 2011My play is "Our Dolls" that was directed by Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum for the 4th Annual Shortened Attention Span Festival at the Players Loft Theatre.  It featured Emily Louise Parker as Bitsy and Michelle O'Conner as Heather. 

Here's the link to buy the book:

Mike Aguirre's Almost a Fantasy

There are two posts up on about Almost a Fantasy.  A q. and a. with John Grabowski, the show's director and the director of the Chelsea Rep Lab (and until very recently, my boss), and one with Mike Aguirre, my student.

Here's the beginning of Mike's q. and a.:

Almost A Fantasy:
Michael Aguirre

An FringeNYC Q&A
Q: What is your job on this show?
A: Playwright
Q: Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
A: I'm a Midwesterner (originally from a suburb of Chicago) and a Hoosier at heart (I graduated from Indiana University)
Q: Have you been part of FringeNYC in the past? If so, how did you particpate? (Be specific! Name shows, etc.)
A: I, myself, have not been a part of the Fringe, but the company who is producing the play, Chelsea RepLAB, was a co-producer of a Fringe show in 2010 which was awarded Excellence in Directing (Kym Gomes)
Q: How did you meet your fellow artists/collaborators on this show?
A: I was taking writing classes through Chelsea RepLAB about a year ago in Anne Phelan's playwriting class.

To read more, go to