October 3, 2012
Even if you’ve been in a coma for the past month, the news certainly must have gotten to you by now that the first of the debates between President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney will be held tonight. A record-breaking number of people are expected to watch.
But regardless of whether or not you intend to watch tonight’s faceoff, I’ve found what may be an even better way for us theater lovers to satisfy our patriotic urges: it’s My America, an online series of 50 mini monologues about the state of the nation written by an impressive lineup of playwrights that includes Christopher Durang, Danny Hoch, Rajiv Joseph, Neil LaBute, Lynn Nottage and this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama Quiara Alegría Hudes.
All of the playwrights were asked to write a response to the questions “What is my America? Where is my America?” Their answers run between three and 15 minutes in length and touch on such hot-button topics as immigration, gay marriage, health care, income inequality, education reform, race relations, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the definitions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Each is performed by a kickass stage actor like L. Scott Caldwell, Bobby Cannavale, Kathleen Chalfant, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Jefferson Mays. The ones I’ve seen so far are all totally cool. Some are LOL funny, others defiantly provocative and a few downright touching. Together they form a vibrant portrait of America at this moment in time.
of best stage actors in the business, people
Ironically, the whole project is the brainchild of a Brit. The British actor, director and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah came up with the idea as a way to get to know more about this country when he took over as artistic director of Baltimore’s Center Stage theater company a year ago. He also smartly figured out that it would be a great way to grab some attention for the company’s current 50th anniversary season during this election year.
So Kwei-Armah and his staff drew up a wish list of playwrights. They wanted it to be diverse ethnically and geographically, by age and gender and by political beliefs. The latter proved the greatest challenge.
“This is theater in America and there’s a leftward tilt to that,” says Susanna Gellert, the artistic producer of the project. “But we did want to figure out how to get some balance.” She was particularly disappointed that the conservative playwrights David Mamet and Jeremy Kareken declined the invitation to participate. [Correction: Karaken did participate in the project; sorry for the error]
Another disappointment came when, Gellert says, Edward Albee begged off because he was in rehearsals with Signature Theatre’s revival of The Lady from Dubuque earlier this year. But, she told me in a phone interview, nearly everyone else asked said yes. LaBute was so excited about the project that he's actually contributed two pieces.
Kwei-Armah and Gellert brought filmmaker Hal Hartley onboard to record the monologs and he spent about a week in New York and a day in L.A. filming the performances in various theater rehearsal rooms.
The first 10 were released online last Friday and seven more came out yesterday. A new group will be released each Tuesday through Election Day. You can check them all out by clicking here.