Stirring sci-fi at The Ring (Review of “The Other Two Men” in the The Sound)

Stirring sci-fi at The Ring

Jul 21, 2016

Emery Lawrence (left) and Bailey Weakley star in
Emery Lawrence (left) and Bailey Weakley star in “The Other Two Men.” photo by Jasmin Hunter

“The Other Two Men” is thought-provoking theater

Modern society’s interpretation of history is never certain. Despite our best attempts to learn from the past, our current resources limit us from experiencing the proper lesson. We try anyway, for as the old saying goes, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

A new play on stage at The Players’ Ring in Portsmouth is spinning that popular belief into a reverse concept: If we were to repeat the past, would we learn from it?

In “The Other Two Men,” presented by Oz Productions, this question is explored through the interactions between Saskatoon II (Emery Lawrence) and Nebraska II (Bailey Weakley), clones of two of the four long-dead founding fathers of a future society built upon a colonized Milky Way galaxy. Saskatoon and Nebraska are under observation by their creators, who hope to discover historical intricacies by replicating the lives of the original two founders through their clones. But the controlled nature of their existence causes the clones to question and debate the ethics and value of such an endeavor.

Written by Lisa Shapter and directed by Tomer Oz, the two-man show is great entertainment for fans of the sci-fi genre, particularly those seeking a production with non-traditional plotlines. “The Other Two Men” is attractively unorthodox, a good choice for anyone looking for a different kind of theater experience.

The scenery and detail of the set is refreshingly sparse, allowing the audience to devote all of its attention to the two actors onstage. The spotlight remains on Lawrence and Weakley, who cope with the pressure through a dedicated maintenance of character. Their dialogue is steady and their facial expressions reflect the strong emotions their characters are feeling. The two stars develop and maintain a clear chemistry.

photo by Jasmin Hunter

Despite the compatibility of the actors, Nebraska and Saskatoon have conflicting reactions to their circumstances. While Nebraska continually expresses worry and doubt about their situation, Saskatoon is more resigned to his fate and optimistic about the outcome of the experiment. Although this dynamic creates an interesting tension between the two, Saskatoon gets somewhat short-changed as a character, lacking Nebraska’s depth and vulnerability. This results in a slight imbalance in the plot.

The lighting for the production is well done, but some of the sound effects are vague, particularly the source and meaning of the sounds the characters hear in their heads. Furthermore, the narration that accompanies different scenes is often difficult to understand and too brief for the audience to adequately consider.

But the artfulness of the writer and director, the performance of the actors, and the skill of the crew are all on full display in this production. The cast and crew’s ingenuity has created a compelling and thought-provoking show out of scant resources.

Audiences will not easily brush off the effects of “The Other Two Men” once they leave the theater — they will be made to think, and they will be made to feel.

“The Other Two Men” is onstage at The Players’ Ring in Portsmouth through July 24. Show times are Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12, available here.

Link: http://soundnh.com/stirring-sci-fi-at-the-ring/

“The Other Two Men”: The Actors (Part II)

Casting my science fiction play The Other Two Men (review) was difficult.  A lot is at stake:  while we’ve joked about landing spaceships on stages, smoke machines, and robots for comic relief this play is science fiction with no special effects — just these two characters and their unique problem about history, predetermination (genetic, sociological, and psychological), and choices.  Tomer Oz  (Oz Productions) and I knew that the casting could make or sink the play before the first table read.  We had two auditions and callbacks and were at a bit of a loss with so many talented and experienced actors to choose from.
We both kept notes and checked in with each other – but I could not feel any winnowing happening as we went through a long day of callbacks.  During a late break near the end of the day we turned to each other and said, “I really like Bailey for Nebraska II.”  This was not a decision:  Tomer was casting a two-hander, a very small ensemble cast – one promising actor on his own is not ‘an ensemble’.   My director shook his head.  “Who I cast for one part will depend on who I cast for the other part.”  He remarked.
During rehearsals I’ve been trying to put my finger on what caught my interest in Bailey Weakley’s audition and callback:  it’s continued to be there.  I think it’s actually two things:  he’s able to portray a complexity or gravity that reads older than his actual age (a particularly important trait for this part, given the revelation at the end of the play) and he’s good at putting across several things at once.  The part of Nebraska II in The Other Two Men is thankless – the character is a walking box of defense mechanisms who hides behind his masculinity and his military profession.  I spent quite a while worrying that any actor in his 20’s might hold onto those aspects a little too tightly …. and the part does not give many chances to see the character without those masks.
Bailey portrays Nebraska II as someone who has needed to build a protective shell and he gives the character more depth than he has on the page.  This perceptive choice makes the role into an intelligent man who is always thinking – and feeling at least three things at once, including the reasons why he isn’t just saying what’s on his mind.  It is still a role that could push away an audience’s sympathies (as well as the other character, Saskatoon II’s (Emery Lawrence)) but Bailey gives the part a touching sweetness that makes you want both characters to find their way through the play’s strange dilemma.
Looking at Bailey’s professional experience I can see where this comes from:  he’s been acting for 15 years.  His last role at the Players’ Ring (in Memento Maury) called for him to stand on stage – wearing a full mask – while projecting an ominous numenosity.  Not easy, and not easy to keep that moment from becoming silly or absurdist, but it lifted the play (along with outstanding monologues by James Ouellette and Shaughnessey H. Gower) into the realm of chill-inducing metaphor.  Bailey’s training and experience comes from work at New Hampshire Theatre Project.  Notable roles include:  Valentine (Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona), Mortimer Brewster (Arsenic and Old Lace) and Berenger (Rhinoceros).

 

Bailey was also the assistant stage manager for Memento Mary.  A Portsmouth local, he is an artist of broad and genuine talent:  he is also musician and an expressionist painter.  He will soon be releasing an album with his band, Marvel Prone — and see one small part of his extraordinary talent in “The Other Two Men” (review) —

 

Oz Productions is proud to present:

The Other Two Men:  A New Science Fiction Play by Lisa Shapter
with Emery Lawrence and Bailey Weakley
at The Players’ Ring Late Night Series
July 15-24, 2016
10 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays
9 p.m. Sundays

Tickets at:
http://playersring.org/box-office/
or call: (603) 436-8123

  • Lisa Shapter

Poster Reveal!

This is Kaitlyn Huwe‘s magnificent poster design for “The Other Two Men“! (review)  (Art: Kaitlyn Huwe  Used by permission. Concept art: Tomer Oz.)

TOTM_FBsquare_150dpi

Oz Productions is proud to announce

The Other Two Men
with Emery Lawrence
and Bailey Weakley
at The Players’ Ring Late Night Series
July 15-24, 2016
10 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays
9 p.m. Sundays

Tickets at:
http://playersring.org/box-office/
or call: (603) 436-8123

 

“The Other Two Men”: The Actors (Part I)

When director Tomer Oz (Oz Productions) and I met to talk about staging my science fiction play The Other Two Men (review), we agreed one of the most important elements was casting. We continued to talk about it through two auditions and callbacks. We heard nearly every young male actor in the region, we talked about the play and its two characters, and I mulled over the positives of the casting at last November’s reading (Generic Theater’s Collin Snider and Alex Pease).
One of those many positives was age: Alex and Collin are both seasoned actors. The Other Two Men is a play about a relationship (in the entire breadth of the term) and last Fall’s reading left me in a quandary: this script asks a lot of actors who are the same age as the characters (early 20’s) – depth of lived experience, professional craft, and the ability to ‘open up’ a text full of idiosyncratic science fiction ideas and peculiar experiences no one in this world has gone through (i.e. being raised in a living history museum).

 

I should not have worried: both Emery Lawrence and Bailey Weakley have the empathy and talent to run away with these two parts. Both of them are in their 20’s with the called-for ‘energies’ and they are a good match as performers: theater audiences often try to pick one standout performance and I look forward to the lobby conversations where no one can finish a sentence for praising both of their work.

 

One of Emery’s great strengths is his way of reading a script. He has directed (Paula Vogel‘s The Baltimore Waltz). He writes himself and is a Creative Writing minor. I have had the privilege of watching him think (and feel) through the script, scene by scene. From his first table read, his character (Saskatoon II) had a vividness and subtlety that has only gotten more complex and breathtaking over rehearsals. (I recommend getting a seat close to the stage.)

 

Emery’s primary strength is his innate ability as an actor. He is a Theater & Dance major at Colby, and their program is a thorough one including acting, directing, designing, and play writing. He has played Orlando (Orlando), Sylvio (The Servant of Two Masters), and Butt the Hoopoe (Haroun and the Sea of Stories). At Colby’s student-run theater club, Powder and Wig, Emery has played Jacques (The Miser), Alfred (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), and Romeo (Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet). In fact, this Fall, he’ll be attending the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.

He doesn’t have an easy part in The Other Two Men. Saskatoon II is a voice of hope but in lesser hands the character could come across as something of a nag. He spends much of the play trying to persuade the other character, Nebraska II, out of a place of empathy – but it’s a subtle thing to get right and a difficult, rather quiet, inner life to put across to an audience. Emery does a spectacular job with this part – come out and see how well he handles every dry joke, strange conundrum, and each place where you watch this character thinking through his own self-determination and these two characters’ mutual happiness.

-Lisa Shapter

Support me for the Clarion Write-A-Thon!

Support me (or another fine SF author) in the Clarion Write-A-Thon!
http://clarionwriteathon.org/members/profile.php?writerid=380064

When I started writing I was bad at short stories: I couldn’t write them.

Meaning, I couldn’t write anything shorter than a novelette (a piece than unfolds over the length of 2-3 short stories). I had written the occasional short work, I had even gotten one or two things published, but for most of the history of science fiction a career worked like this: get known for short fiction then publish a novel. I felt there was something missing if I couldn’t write short stories and my late friend and fellow writer Gil Pettigrew recommended writing (and sending out) a lot of short pieces. There was a greater chance of success, he said, and it was a quicker and less bruising process than sending a novel out to agents.

I decided to get over being bad at short stories. I had two sources of inspiration: my pottery professor in college and Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles, recommended writing and sending out a short story a week. (This is all the more impressive when you realize in those days each draft of a story had to be completely re-typed on a typewriter.) So I took his advice: I’d write a short story each week, revise it, and send it out to a magazine before 7 days had passed.

I quickly realized my unconscious had added a twist to this challenge – I found myself writing science fiction stories from the same narrator (Resada Gestae), a human trafficking survivor looking for her stolen children among the planets of the Milky Way galaxy. Each story took place 2-6 months after the previous story and I quickly realized the point was not simply to write a story each week but to follow how the narrator grew from rage and resentment to integration and empathy. Part way through the process her security team, her police escort, took over the week-to-week stories then handed the narrative back to her.

After several years (and the interruption of three smaller interlinked short story series set in the same universe) I am ready to finish this 74 Story Project. Resada Gestae will visit her last half-dozen destinations and return home to her husband and rest of her story (the novel I was trying to write when her security team interrupted me. I have often wondered if I would ever finish the 74 stories: there have been interruptions (serious and not so serious), I feared I would lose inspiration or interest, and the series has not found its stride with magazine editors.* (Half of my rejections slips for each of the stories read “this is too much background!” and the other half say “why isn’t there more background?”)

So, I will finish the 74 Stories Project this Summer with the help of the Clarion Write-A-Thon.  I have promised to finish the final stories of this interlinked 74-story series in order to support Clarion and I need backers (pledges per story). If this project doesn’t interest you there are other authors who will.

Wish me luck as I finish this multi-year project (now the equivalent of 3 novels in length) and support a Write-A-Thon author to benefit Clarion!
* With the notable exception of the editor at Black Denim Lit.

-Lisa Shapter

My Play “The Other Two Men” Was Performed This Summer!

Thanks to the talent and focused dedication of the two actors, the director, and the production and theater staff, “The Other Two Men” was the first play in The Players’ Ring (Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA) annual summer Late Night (new play) Series‘ 15 year history to receive a review  (you can also read a preview review here);  it was a success in a long-running, beloved Late Night Series well-populated with established playwrights (see the rest of the series here!);  and the unusual genre of science fiction went over well with theater audiences.  (I was in the lobby after each show and instead a grappling with an unfamiliar concepts the audiences:  1) enthused about the actors, 2) asked when they could see the play again.)

 

What was it all about?

 

My play “The Other Two Men” is part of a local 30-year tradition of doing ambitious small-cast science fiction in regional black box theaters. This play is set 800 years in the future in a colonized Milky Way galaxy. In this production, historians on an established colony world decide to clone two of their four planetary founders in order to solve the problem of what went wrong in their lives. These clones are raised in strict historical recreations of their 300-years-gone-by North America hometowns and are given the same military training as their originals.

This play is about the day the two young men meet.
They find themselves locked in one room until they solve an unspecified problem about the past. Some things go wrong … historians on this colony planet have only cloned two of the four founding figures; the clones have figured out they are duplicates of famous long-dead men and everyone around them is an actor in a living history museum; and they’re two unique new people – not their original, heroic progenitors.
This is a story about free will and predestination – what can and cannot be planned. It’s also a story about what is us and what has been pre-programmed by our circumstances. I’ve been writing about these characters for two years and I’m exited to bring them – and their unique problem – to the New Hampshire Players’ Ring Late Night Readings Series under the direction of Tomer Oz (not the martial arts expert on IMDB — the New Hampshire director/actor who is currently playing the electric moral center of the Ring’s current production of Rajiv Joseph‘s  Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo).

“The Other Two Men” started as a short story. This play stands on its own but it can be viewed alongside my 18-story series featuring these characters that will be published in Black Denim Lit over the next few years. Three of the stories have already appeared: “This is Not a Love Story”, “Searching”, and “Planet 50”. Two other stories will follow this year. All of my work is interconnected: each work stands on its own but each piece adds depth and nuance to the others. Those who see this play will know things about these characters that no one knows – and I am thrilled to contribute (in a very small way) to the area’s unique heritage of live science fiction.

 

I’d particularly like to thank M. Marguerite Mathews & Greg Gathers, the Artistic Directors of Pontine Theatre, for their encouragement; the insightful actor/writer Alex Pease and the Generic Theater (NH) for their guidance and good advice at the reading last November.)

-Lisa Shapter