Joseph Chaikin has been regarded as a distinctive voice in modern American theatre for some time now. One of those rare birds, he is an actor and writer who is not afraid of the big issues, which he takes on with a lyrical passion, and a bent for the experimental.
In 1984, he suffered a stroke which left him partially paralysed and unable to speak. This led him to co-write The War In Ileaven with his long-time collaborator Sam Shepard. An abstract, poetic play, in which three fallen angels pine for the freedom they once enjoyed, it was performed last year by Glasgow-based 7:84 Theatre Company. low the company is producing Tongues, an earlier Chaikin-Shepard piece, in a co-production with disabled theatre group Birds Of Paradise. A year-long community outreach project, Tongues is the result of intensive workshops with actors with physical disabilities.
‘lt’s quite political in the respect that we’re not ignoring that fact,’ says llatalle Wilson, one of three directors working on the project. ‘We’re presenting actors who aren’t hiding irorn their disabilities, but who are striving for and achieving a level oi professionalism which is equal to any able-bodied company. in the end it will be judged on its own merit, but it’s also a political act of breaking down barriers and preconceptions.’
Wilson and her co-directors have also encouraged reaction from the actors, and these have been incorporated into the play. ‘The whole process is about enabling people to have their own voices,’ she explains. ‘lt’s interesting to see how an American piece can relate to the people of Glasgow. in any case, the play is very much about different voices, different people, different walks oi life. Tongues itself is a collage oi lives. It can be quite brutal, but it also expresses the amazement oi existence.’ (Marc lambert)
Tongues, Birds of Paradise/7:84 Theatre Company, Tire 1 f-Fri 14 Feb, Comer Theatre, Glasgow; then touring.
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Joesph Chailtln: speaking in tongues
Best known for his fiction, Duncan McLean has written over a dozen plays, even if the latest is based on his novel Blackden. Peter Burnett reads between the lines.
Bearing in mind the rural setting of Duncan McLean’s novel B/(ltfkdt’ll, it may be a surprise to some that Castlemilk People‘s Theatre in Glasgow — known for tackling contemporary issues head-on — are about to present an adaptation of the piece.
Bearing in mind also the current craze for foul-mouthed. drug-taking. rave-dancing. all-shagging. arm-round- the-U-bend drama in our theatres. Orkney-based McLean was himself surprised.
‘I wrote a short play for Castleruilk two years ago,‘ says McLean. ‘and when they asked for a full-length piece I was expecting in my naive country way that they would want some gritty urban realism . . . but the first thing they said was that they wanted a play set in the country. and they suggested Blue/(den. ‘
Blackden the play. adapted by McLean from his novel. promises dancing. stovies. romancing. witchcraft, whisky. rain. neeps. curling and cancer — to name but a few of the diverse elements advertised. But what can we expect to see on stage from a novel that takes place largely in the head of its central character. Patrick Hunter?
Going wild in the country: lluncan McLean and friend
‘Even though the basics are the same. people who know the book may find it odd that the central character is not even present.‘ says McLean. ‘In that respect. Patrick is significant by his absence. and the performers aren‘t actors so much as story-tellers.‘
Whether the audience know the book or not. they will be aware that this work is a far cry from the more aggressive side of contemporary writing in Scotland. a fact that McLean acknowledges.
‘It was a good challenge.‘ he says. ‘I came back to the novel after three years and i was still pretty happy with it. even though I started the stage version basically from scratch. l‘rn used to writing plays. so what i gave to Castlemilk is something new, not just another boring adaptation. Most of the recent adaptations of Scottish writing. in fact. have been done in an up-l‘ront. in-your-face style of theatre. Castleruilk wanted to do something gentler and more contemplative. This was perfect.
as the subject matter comprises Patrick‘s reflections on what‘s going on about him. his heritage. his family and friends.‘
It should be remembered that McLean cut his teeth writing drarua. originally with Edinburgh‘s Merry Mac Fun Co. Since then. he has continued. most notably with Julie Allardyce for Boilerhouse Theatre Company.
‘l wish people didn‘t think I was a novelist who‘s suddenly decided that there‘s money in the theatre.‘ he says. ‘l‘ve actually been doing play-writing for longer than I‘ve been writing books. I was interviewed on the radio about a play i‘d written for the Traverse last year. and when the (nameless) presenter asked me why I‘d decided to turn my hand to drama. I had to tell her that I‘d already written thirteen plays!‘
Blue/(den. Cast/emilk People '5' Theatre. 'I'rmr Theatre. Glasgow. Wed [2—Star 16 Feb.
‘llvo men whiling away a Sunday aitemoon on a park bench hardly sounds like the stuff oi high drama, but that’s the set-up in Edward Albee’s classic study oi urban paranoia The Zoo Story. line oi few American exponents oi absurdlst theatre, Albee is best known for his marital nightmare Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
in The Zoo Storythe action centres a chance encounter between apparent fruitcake Jerry and educated farnlly man Peter, in llew York’s Central Park. Snatched fragments of conversation develop into power-play as .lerry reveals himself to be a shrewd cookie, adept at manipulating mild- mannered publishing executive Peter.
‘While they irritate and annoy each other, the two men also find something very appealing about each other,’ explains Emily llarrls, who is directing the play for new Glasgow- based company Theatre Flux. ‘lt’s possibly because they’re from such
opposite ends of the spectrun.’
Peter could get up and leave but, while revulsed by Jerry’s tale about attempting to murder his Iandlady’s dog, he finds himself drawn into the story. Meanwhile, the significance of Jerry’s recent visit to the zoo is only understood in the closing lines of the play as a metaphor for man’s inability to communicate.
llarrls believes the piece, the first major production from Theatre Flux, is as pertinent today as it was on its first outing 38 years ago. ‘Albee is dealing with such a universal theme,’ she says. ‘Thls piece is a very raw and accurate study of the human condition - which will always be the same because essentially mankind hasn’t changed.’
While Albee is notoriously obstinate about granting permission to perionn his plays, llew Yorker llarris believes a chance encounter with the playwright swung the odds in her favour. ‘I guess I was lucky,’ she admits. ‘I went to see Albee’s Three Tall Women when it opened on Broadway and happened to meet and talk with him. I think what we’re presenting here is very faltlrful to Albee’s own vlewpolnt.’
While the picture presented is of a bleak, lonely existence, llarris
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Edward Albee: animal instincts
reckons there are glimmers of light. ‘The ending is tragic, but the play shows how much we can learn from other people,’ she argues. ‘Both Peter and Jerry end up standing up for their own identity. illtlmately they develop this bond and through their Interaction both characters achieve what they wanted or needed to achieve.’ (Claire Prentice)
The Zoo Story, Theatre Flux, The Arches, Glasgow, The 18-Satﬁ Feb.
53 The List 7-20 Feb 1997