jordan tannahill

I don't think Edward Albee would have enjoyed meeting Canadian-born,  award-winning Jordan Tannahill  or seeing a play of his.

I have enjoyed seeing two of his plays: Concord Floral, last year, and Declarations, this month, both produced by Canadian Stage, the latest one directed by Tannahill. He is 29 years old and he doesn't make me happy, although it's too late for me to care and whine about it. 

What a contrast his plays are to Albee's!  And what a challenge to actors they present. 

"A deeply personal  play about mortality and the fragments that constitute a life (This is a pressed bruise. This is Greta Garbo’'s smile. This is the smell of Windex), Declarations  is an ode to mortality, – that of the playwright’'s mother, his own, humankind'’s, – a joyful and moving attempt to capture the objects, sensations, and experiences that make up a life. Through a lyrical and iterative text, five performers chronicle a life pulled through time, encountering meteorological phenomena, mythology, political calamity, pop culture, and everyday happenstance along the way. What accumulates is a staggering archive of images, sense memories, and voices asserting that here lived, for a time, a woman."

 That's the description from Amazon. Woulld you buy the play on the strength of that?  You might, if you'd seen it first. The actors are the best (hard-working!) sales staff.  I paid rigid attention to the physical presentations of each declarative sentence they portray.  Oh, and BTW, what a contrast to the play I wrote on the death of my father.  Mark is a conventional play with recognisable characters  bearing no resemblance to the smell of Windex or Greta Garbo's smile - well,maybe a little to that enigmatic smile - and yet I have a riff in one scene where the father and daughter play fractured Latin puns with each other, beginning with something m father really said:

Morituri te salutamus: "We who are about to die salute you."  This is the greeting that gladiators were supposed to have given to their emperor before the lethal games.  My father had been given a couple of months to live (cancer of the liver, then totally inoperable), and chose to live the rest of his life running a salon of ideas and memories with family and friends.  I was angry with him for that greeting, which no one else understood and I played with it in an incomprehensbile scene of fractured Latin puns that some of you might know, e.g. Sic gloria transit mundi (Thus passes the glory/fame of the world ) - Gloria gets sick on the TTC on Monday.  Like that.  

It's a wonder the director (William Hutt, who loved the play,  bless him), didn't cut the lines. Tannahill directed his own play so there was no question of cutting, only of interpreting. My play is available in print (Playwrights  Press); to my knowledge it was produced only twice after the original production: once in Waterloo, Iowa, and once in Dundedin, NZ, though ti was considered a couple of times elsewhere, was nominated for a Chalmers Award for new plays (losing to a play called Cripples,I think,  by a paraplegic playwright), and was second for a GeeGee Award, losing to a collected anthology of plays by W.O. Mitchell.  Story of my life.

That's why I am not very happy with Jordan Tannahill.  Not his fault. 

a delicate balance

I'll never be a theatre critic but I like to think about the plays I go to and to do a little analysis and thinking while it's fresh in my mind.  So:

A Delicate Balance (1966; Pulitzer Prize 1967 by Edward Albee, coming  up!  I'm going to talk to the director before I write....

I did. As a playwright I am very interested in who contributes what to a play. As you may know. when  writers sell a screenplay to a producer, they give up all rights to it, unless they have a special arrangement.  If they're lucky and get hired for the next draft, that is a separate contract, no guarantees that it will be produced.  As a member of the Dramatists' Guild of Canada, I have been asked twice to arbitrate on the ownership/credits of a screenplay, that is, whose name goes on the opening/closing credits. This is a mandatory service, although allowances will be made for other commitments and inconvenience. In each case, I was given a total of about 15 drafts by two different writers. Same story in each draft but different scripts.  You have to read them all and decide which one is the most consistent, best presentation. I remember reading that so many writers were involved in the writing of Tootsie, that it took a while to decide who got the credit. In the end, I think it was Murray Schisgal.

It's tricky sometimes, figuring out who wrote what or who planned a specific detail.  I notice details and I love to talk to the director or actors to find out who did what.  There's a famous example, the question of who wrote a telling piece of action in the movie, Bullit  (Steve McQueen).  His character is in a cell, bouncing a ball from floor-to-wall and back to his hand, again and again.  Was it an action conceived of by the actor (actors love to do things), by the director, to give him something to do, or by the writer  - to indicate thinking and nerves?  No one guessed the writer but that's who thought of it. 

 I lkie to look at things and notice details and figure out who thought of what. It's fun as i say, to talk to the director about it.  In the case of A Delicate Balance, I also re-read the play after I saw it last week. My old copy cost about $2.95, that's how old it is!  What I didn't remember was how detailed Albee was in his actors' directions, giving readings in almost every line. The actors are free to make their own decisions, I was told, but only after they have seriously considered Albee's suggestions.  Screenwriters are not encouraged to do that.  Such suggestions are called "wrylies".   Thus:

Dick says his line - (wryly) - he is instructed. Cut wryly. Albee would have hated that.

 Well, I had other questions but some of them would have been spoilers and I had waited too long to write this blog. t's actually February 4 as I write this and I have miles to write before I sleep (other than a blog).  

Tomorrow is another day, whatever the date.