FPI Review: Strawberry
I was recently invited to go see a reading of a play, Strawberry, by a friend of mine who is associated with the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative- I now associate myself with this group as well. Said friend was Sabrina Lloyd, the director of my show. This reading of Strawberry was a part of the FPI’s Tactical Reads, which pairs female playwrights with female directors, with an eye on future production.
Strawberry was written by Paula Cizmar and directed by Sabina Ptaznik. It was at the Atwater Crossing, by the kitchen and wine bar. I jumped on the opportunity, since I always want to meet like-minded individuals.
Firstly let me discuss the theatre space: I’d never been to Atwater Crossing, or any of its “creative spaces”, and so it was a bit of an adventure getting there. As an Aries I am always up for great adventures- yet it was very hard to find with cut-off streets due to trains and- some shifty-looking things, and as I wandered the neighborhood for a good twenty minutes, I knew that returning to a bus stop would be very shady, so I arranged a ride home with my friend.
The reading was not held in an actual theatre so much as a sort of cabaret stage by the cafeteria, which was charming enough. It was great because there was food and drink of alcoholic or sober variety, and it had a nice vibe, but there were two big downsides: One, as mentioned, the neighborhood, and two, every once in a while during the play a train would pass literally RIGHT by the stage, just on the other side of the wall. I like trains, but, it’s certainly something to note.
I enjoyed the little schmoozing beforehand with a cold beer, which the bartenders were kind enough to give me on the house after the first beer I bought proved to be too warm. We females discussed what makes a good play for a female- one idea was that old Bechdel Test- that there must be a scene with at least two females alone together, with no males present, and they can’t be talking about men or sex. I think it’s great that my favorite Disney movie, Sleeping Beauty, passes the test, as do other favorites such as Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, but it seems as though those Disney movies which do not pass the test outnumber those that do. It’s a sad state of affairs that most movies and roles in general are so male-heavy, and how Western culture is so wired against giving women near to equal say- it is a reality often bemoaned by the actress. Read this interesting article for more about this issue that we women face in plays and movies and Hollywood: http://thehathorlegacy.com/why-film-schools-teach-screenwriters-not-to-pass-the-bechdel-test/
Well- that also made me think about my own play. My play failed in that criteria, at least in one regard, because almost all the characters were male, transgender, or intersex, and there was a lot of talk about sex (mostly between men or transgender men, although not all; the main character was a polyamorous male), but on the other hand my play did not fail, as the casting was gender-blind and it didn’t really much matter whether a character was male or female.
I considered such things and got to know the other ladies present in such conversations. Making contacts is always fun.
Now on to the actual play. There was a talkback afterward where we got to review a bit in person, talking with the director and playwright. I had little to say, but a lot to listen to. There was a lot of back and forth as to whether this would make a better play or a screenplay. To be honest, I had also envisioned it as a screenplay- but as the conversation wore on I began to see how it could be done as a play, and the conventions that would be necessary to pull that off. And, as my friend Sabrina mentioned, it could be a mixed media play, which I thought might also be wonderful- I’d be for that. It really all depends upon the budget, as was also discussed. It could be done with amazing effects- and I would truly love to see them. I’d love to see the plants and the wind laid out before me on a screen or some other medium. Otherwise, it would all have to be done with description.
Which brings me to one of the things I most noticed about this play: The descriptions. It was so detailed that you really did feel as though you were there. There were descriptions of the plant life in the town the characters were in that were so specific, and so full of imagery. And the specificity of plants were so integral to the story I was sure the playwright must have some good knowledge of botany herself, or at least good research skills. The intentions of the main character were very clear in the writing, even if she was a mystery that unfolded as the play went on. It was always clear what the characters were up to, and what the scenery might look like. It didn’t matter that this was a reading, that these were just four humans reading off scripts laid upon music stands and speaking into microphones, on a bare stage with only a tribal rug, and stage lights that never changed. It was such good story that I could see the whole thing before me in my mind. It was as enjoyable as the best of nights sitting around a fire, listening as the elders tell their stories, when stories are all you have, and there is no television. The story was real and present, and for the most part engaging.
There were a few parts that did drag on, but of course it’s only a reading, and playwrights do kill their babies in the end. Personally I thought a bit of the waiting and waiting and waiting for character Ofelia, played by Mariel Martinez, to take the main character, Anabel, played by Meredith Wheeler, to the grove of strawberries could have been made faster. I saw little reason for it to take so long, although a bit of a reason was given by the end. It was just that I felt it made the audience feel a sense of “waiting” unduly when we could have driven the story forward. I know some other women disagreed with me, but that was how I felt. At least- perhaps there could have been less scenes with the “active waiting”, with Anabel waiting in Ofelia’s company for Ofelia to show her the way.
Another favorite part was the relationship between the Anabel and the police officer, Ray, played by Chuma Gault. So, too, then, did I like the beginning of the play. The play started out with a bang (well, it shied short of a bang considering the action involved!) and it drew me in right away, wondering what these two characters would do in such an extreme situation. It had me wondering what I would do, and how one would ever get into such a situation, and how one would courageously walk into that- and what for? That scene had excellent and engaging dialogue. I enjoyed, later, watching their relationship progress. Yes, even though this was a “Female Playwright” play, there was still romance, and a real man interpreted in a real way, and I enjoyed it. So too did I enjoy all the characters’ realism, and I understood them, in their situations.
What I did comment upon when I spoke was that I enjoyed the symbolism and the character of the play and Ofelia. Some had commented that Ofelia seemed like a ghost, perhaps not even there, or perhaps the ghost of the main character’s mother, while I then vocally supposed that she might even have been the Mother of God, thanks to the excellent writing. A couple of the plants in the play that the young lady mentioned and encouraged were, of course, plants which are sacred to Mary- strawberries and sage. I noticed that definitely- those of us who have had a special relationship with sage will feel that as striking when it arises, and I enjoyed that Paula used that in her play.
All in all, it was an enjoyable experience, and a fun night, and a fun play. I’d love to do it again.