Saturday, March 13, 2010

Close, But No Cigar

Many people have a strange concept of how a writer works. They imagine him sitting at a keyboard, effortlessly typing out perfect stretches of text and dialogue. While some writers are fast and fluent at their craft, they didn't start out that way. Many began with clumsy attempts to express themselves that showed promise, needed work, and required a lot of rewriting.

In many ways, rewriting is the key to smooth writing. Words and sentences that may have sounded great in one's mind take on a different meter and rhythm once they appear in print. Often, a writer must go back and change words to avoid too many repetitions, add or subtract words to catch the beat of a rhythm, or cut and paste entire sentences so that the line of thought flows more smoothly and logically.

For playwrights and screenwriters, seeing their work brought to life by actors helps them understand where they need help. If they are lucky, they can spot dead patches of dialogue, areas that need to be trimmed, or spots where their intent is not being clearly communicated to an audience.

Several works from the the recent Bay Area One Acts Festival had the distinct aura of artistic potential that needed more polish and experience. Three heavily conflicted dramas instantly come to mind.

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In Query, a one-act play by Bennett Fisher that was directed by Meg O'Connor, a young woman named Arwen Archer (Alana Waksman) has come to an agency that is supposed to help people who need help. Hoping to get practical help, she is confronted with a professional bureaucrat named Priscilla Poplarson (Kathryn Wood), who is very good at spouting bureaucratic nonsense but is essentially useless. When in doubt, Priscilla turns to the enigmatic Banjo Man (Brian Trybom) leaning against a pole who tacitly agrees or disagrees. Sometimes his mumblings make no sense at all.

Part of the problem with Query is that it is simply too long. Having started with an interesting idea, the playwright found himself flailing around trying to stretch it out further. I did, however, enjoy Alana Waksman's performance as Arwen Archer, a woman who would probably have done a lot better without ever seeking the help of someone quite as tone deaf as Priscilla Poplarson.

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Directed by Claire Zawa and produced by Three Wise Monkeys, The Great Double Check is a curious piece for three characters. Playwright Megan Cohen has set her one-act drama in a restaurant where Dory (Lauren Bruniges) has suddenly discovered that her wallet is missing and enlisted her friend Alison (Claire Slattery) to help her find it.

Dory is all flash and impatience, while Alison likes to examine life at cooler temperatures and slower speeds. When a man (Geoffrey Libby) sitting at one of the restaurant's tables starts a conversation with Alison and outlines his grid-like approach to problem solving, he helps the two women locate the missing wallet by taking them one step after another backwards in time.

When Alison rejects his friendly advances, the man suggests that they apply the same grid approach to how they met to see if they can move forward through time toward a happier ending. While The Great Double Check had an interesting plot twist at its core -- and was quite well directed -- it seemed as if the script needed some cosmetic microsurgery to make it tighter, smoother, and more easily understood by the audience.

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By contrast, playwright Daniel Heath knew exactly where he was going and where he wanted Nothing Works to end. As directed by Amy Clare Tasker, this play focuses on the mounting frustrations of Mark (Adam Simpson), an appealing young man who is running late for an appointment and getting nowhere fast.

Not only has Mark's car broken down, his laptop won't work and he didn't have time to prepare the dish he was supposed to bring to a potluck, date, or some other kind of engagement. Enter three good samaritans with the critical skills Mark lacks.

Adam Simpson
  • The mechanic (Kat Bushnell) is a woman who loves cars (she has four of her own that don't run properly) and can't wait to get under the hood and start tinkering with Mark's vehicle.
  • The computer programmer (Logan Fox) is a determined, affable nerd who is ready and willing to fight Microsoft's blue screen of death to the bitter end.
  • The chef (Dan Williams) knows exactly what to do with Meyer lemons, good balsamic vinegar (as opposed to Safeway's brand), and is more than happy to do some cooking.
While Mark gnashes his teeth, answers his cell phone, and keeps trying to stall for time, these three angels/hobbyists go about fixing things for him. Although described as a play about failure, Nothing Works is also a play about how, in a world controlled by technology, lowering one's expectations can help make life a whole lot more enjoyable.

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It would be easy to dismiss God Is D_ad (which will be screened as part of the San Francisco Asian-American International Film Festival) as clumsy and amateurish. But that's exactly what the characters in this road trip film written and directed by Abraham Lincoln Lim are all about. They are horribly clueless, socially inept, adolescent losers. While there may be hope that they will experience some personal growth in the short time they try driving to Chicago, one should not expect them to turn their lives around in the brief course of Lim's film.

Tim (Cy Shim) works in a video store in Kansas City. It's 1987 and he is an ardent player of Dungeons and Dragons.

Although Tim may consider himself to have master-level powers, he's also a hopeless nerd. In order to get to Chicago for a gaming convention (where he hopes to win a tournament and get someone interested in his new comic book hero), he has placed an ad in the paper looking for people who can help share the driving and expenses.

Tim (Cy Shim) at work with his favorite action heroes

The first person to answer Tim's ad is Alex (Brett Emanuel), a former classmate who everyone has always assumed to be gay. Alex, however, has decided to deny his gayness and overcompensate by becoming hyper religious. The rally he is heading to Chicago to attend is not for gay pride, but to protest against abortions.

A young punk girl named Meredith (Lauren Mayer) who answers Tim's ad is heading to Chicago for a very personal reason: to have an abortion. Meanwhile, Tim's best friend Bob (Derek Hicks) has befriended Lindy (Elvis Garcia), an obese young man who has been placed in an assisted living care facility after an automobile accident left him with a speech impediment, a tendency toward seizures, some obvious brain damage, and some money.

What a great idea for a road trip movie! Add in an older and much more realistic hitchhiker (Carlo Corbellini) and you've got a battered recreational vehicle packed with societal misfits who decide to venture off the main highway and try getting to Chicago via secondary roads.

The group of misfits en route to Chicago

When they finally arrive in the Windy City, Tim's plans start to fall apart. By this point, Lindy has started to suffer seizures and thrown a good scare into his fellow travelers. Bob has grown protective of Lindy (who he originally invited along because Lindy had money that could help pay for gas).

Alex (the Christian do-gooder who lacks the balls to honestly address his gayness) calls a local minister to their motel room to try to convince Meredith to have the baby. Angered by Alex's cruel and insensitive intervention, Bob decides to accompany Meredith to the abortion clinic.

Meanwhile, Tim is trying to find his cousin Julian, who has refused to let him crash at his apartment. Julian keeps insisting over the phone that because he has a new job -- which is a really big opportunity -- he can't allow himself to be distracted by Tim's neediness.

What does Julian's exciting new job really entail? He's dressed in a hot dog costume, hawking a new fast-food restaurant.

Interspersed with the road trip to Chicago are a series of animated clips mean to express the action character that Tim has created (and likes to think he is) as well as some live action primitive warrior scenes starring a Helmsman (Davis Choh) that take place in a cave somewhere in Korea (don't ask).

Although shot in the United States and South Korea, God Is D_ad's attempts to fuse Korean fantasy with the bitter realities faced by Lim's less-than-lovable losers is clumsily conceived, poorly written, and edited without much creativity. Shot on an extremely low budget, this film frequently tries the audience's patience. Although you can watch the trailer here, I sincerely doubt it will inspire you to watch the entire movie.


Anonymous said...

Uhm, a portly medical reporter who covers the opera REALLY shouldn't get the themes or the characters of the film. I saw it with a sold out audience who were laughing all the way through so I don't know where you were at- probably in a Lazyboy with a DVD and an endive salad in your lap. Stick to opera and Depends, you are obviously too old to make this trip without having to stop to pee every two minutes. You will never get this way cool film! By a real fan for real fans, GOD IS D AD man!

B.Cannon said...

I just saw the movie at the SF Premier... I loved it, but being that it was the premier, how the cock did you see it already?

As a white guy - I really identified with the lead character, God is D_ad breaks new ground and I think the packed house agreed with me.