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

New Englanders, Come See My Play! (July 15-24, 2016)

“The Other Two Men” at The Players’ Ring (review)

Reading: Wed., Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. FREE

Performances:  July 15-24, 2016

Cast:

Emery Lawrence as Sgt Saskatoon* Elis II
Bailey Weakley as Sgt Nebraska Vogul II

Tomer Oz as the Voice of the Planetary Archive of Gestae’s World

Director: Tomer Oz

(not the martial arts expert on IMDB)

Presented by Oz Productions

* (Hey, you changed the guy’s name!  I didn’t — this future universe writes in a set of characters that represent individual syllables.  In this writing system “Saskatoon” and “Saskatchewanare spelled the same. To Saskatoon’s permanent annoyance everyone but Nebraska calls him the wrong name – but he’s given up trying to explain the difference. Even his computer autocorrects to “Saskatchewan”.)

The descendants of the four founders of Gestae’s World decide to clone 2 of them and raise them in careful recreations of their 300-years-gone-by hometowns in order to solve the problem of what went wrong with their lives.

This is about the day the two young men meet.

Four years ago, in about this part of November, I was working on my National Novel Writing Month novel. I had started a sequence of 74 short stories (“Planet 38” and “No Woman, No Plaything”) and I had decided the unfinished novel The 75th Story needed a sequel. That National Novel Writing Month I was writing that sequel – and about this point in the month a minor character in the novel said something to the narrator, took over her chair, and said “Author, I have a story to tell you.”

I sometimes have several narrators with different stories trying to talk to me all at once so I said what I usually say: “Get in line. You’ve interrupted the narrator I was already working with.”

The reply was quite surprising, “Well, she’s my wife. And you need to hear my story first.”

Characters spring these sorts of surprises on me all the time: in this case the first narrator, Resada Gestae, was happily married to only one person – not the second narrator. “Fine. Talk. Make it snappy, I have a 50,000 word deadline to meet by the 30th – just like every November.”

That novel made the word count by the end of the month – and I am still working on it as of this week. The same second narrator then interrupted Reseda Gestae’s sequence of 74 stories (including “Planet 38” and “No Woman, No Plaything”) to tell “Story 45” through “Story 63” (including “Searching” and “Planet 50”) – and then handed narration back to Reseda.

Just when I was thinking about revising that past November’s interrupted novel for National Novel Editing Month, the second narrator, Saskatoon Elis, interrupted again with another curve ball: a version of him from 500 years ahead started talking, the first man’s clone. So I wrote a long short story about the clone called “The Other Two Men” – while keeping up with the original story-a-week-project. I was looking at that long short story a few months later and noticed it was all in one setting and had only two main characters: rather claustrophobic or stage-y for a science fiction story, even SF stories that take place on one ship usually have more characters than that. I started to wonder if it would work as a play, so I looked for a word processor with a preloaded stage play format, lifted out all the short story’s dialogue and started a long process of re-writing (including showing the play to an actor and giving the play to my editor who writes plays for a living.)

In the process of sending my short stories to literary magazines (“The guidelines say ‘no genre’? Hey, I don’t like skiffy, either.”) I’d noticed that a few of them took scripts along with short stories, poems, and/or essays. I also sent the script to a few theaters but since I’m new at this I wrote it to be read on the page. (I went through a jag of reading The Best Play of the Year in high school, so I’ve read most of my theater rather than seen it.)

Portsmouth, New Hampshire has a decades-old tradition of small theaters who perform avant-garde, small-cast, minimal-set plays. I drew on that tradition as I turned “The Other Two Men” into a play, aware of what a small theater could and could not do. I sent to play to one of these role models: Portsmouth’s Pontine Theater and in their kind rejection note they suggested the Generic Theater might like to look at it. After a bit of confusion over how their process worked I hand-delivered three copies of the script (this is my first time out of the gate) with three copies of a form explaining in triplicate that, erm, no, I had not gone as far as casting or selecting a director for the piece – I only wrote it. I had very low hopes: my script was going into a contest against experienced playwrights who had done all of those things. I went home, sent out more short stories, and waited for another type of rejection slip – this time from a theater instead of a magazine editor.

Instead, I got an email that my play was part of a short list of 8 or so plays sent to the Players’ Ring, a second local theater, for the selection of the finalists. That was nice to know – my rejection slip would arrive a bit later than expected.

Both theaters wrote and said my first play “The Other Two Men” was selected as a finalist – however it was quite short (I knew that, my theater friends did talk me through giving an estimated run time) and it would be paired with a second play. I quietly hoped the second playwright would be better known than me – but odds were any playwright would be more experienced and better known that I was, so I was glad to hear that news.

The Generic Theater and the Players’ Ring matched my first-time play with James Patrick Kelly’s “The Promise of Space” – the man who’s won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus award (and many others, besides), the man who wrote for the Sci-Fi Channel’s Seeing Ear Theater. The man with an English degree whose acclaim-starred career in science fiction is nearly longer than my lifetime.

I am deeply grateful for this, and to the Generic Theater, and the Players’ Ring, and to James Patrick Kelly (“Y’know, you don’t need *this many* stage directions”) and Alex Pease (“*Formatting*.  What script software did you use?” *kof* “I didn’t.”) for their guidance and advice.

Come see James Patrick Kelly’s “The Promise of Space” and my play “The Other Two Men” read tonight by the company of The Generic Theater at The Players’ Ring tonight at 7:30 p.m, the tickets are free.  (Cast: Alex Pease as Sgt Saskatoon Elis II, Collin Snider as Sgt Nebraska Vogul II,  Alan Huisman as Maj Saskatoon Elis I Director: Susan Turner.  (Players’ Ring Late Night Series Performances:  July 15-24, 2016) (review)

– Lisa Shapter

My New Book A Day in Deep Freeze is Out!

My alternate history novella A Day in Deep Freeze is now available in paperback and ebook forms!

1963: Emran Greene is a successful corporate accountant, a hopeful soon-to-be-father, and an unremarkable husband–except for the lingering effects of an experimental wartime truth serum, his ex-boyfriend, the impossibility of his conceiving a child, and all of the other secrets he keeps from his wife and his employer. One of these, the secret of the lonely grave he visits regularly in Riverport’s Castleview Cemetery, holds a tragedy that just won’t stay gone…

Order it from:

Amazon,com

Aqueduct Press

Are you a bookstore or library?  Click here.

Are you a reviewer?  Click here.

-Lisa Shapter

Feminism (Or “Where Are The Women in My Fiction?”)

I write fiction that is a metaphor for things that are difficult to say in plain, non-fiction prose. I write feminist science fiction set in a single-sexed military that has colonized the Milky Way galaxy. I’m doing the old and revered fictional trope of taking a minority’s experience (women’s) and giving them to members of a majority (men) – to take away that ‘I can’t entirely identify with someone who’s Other’ that sometimes happens in readers’ subconsciouses. I hope this may make my perceptions of women’s experiences clearer to readers who might not pick up the straight-up version of the same thing (an all-female science fiction story – a genre I don’t always finish, myself: ask me someday for my review of Herland or Door into Ocean.)

As a result, readers sometimes ask me why the otherwise tolerant and egalitarian society in my military science fiction has banned women from serving in space. The in-world reason is not complex or nuanced: it is the irrational reaction to the tragic loss of an all-female transport ship a generation before due to an unexplained hull rupture. I’ve sometimes responded to sudden misfortunes by getting upset about smaller, more controllable things: what if an entire planet (and the policies of its representative government) did the same thing on a larger scale?
The male narrators within my military SF stories are very aware that their home planet’s decision is irrational and hypocritical: but they will lose their careers if they advocate for a political point of view while in uniform. (Read my story “Life on Earth” in Expanded Horizons (Jan. 2015) for an example of this.) They are very aware that the human body, with very minor individual variation, can survive only a narrow range of pressures and temperatures – they endured every survivable extreme during basic training (beside women, I might add, who still serve a limited military role within the solar system). Nearly every one of them wants the ban on women to end: they frequently encounter life and death challenges where the training, intelligence, knowledge, strength and problem-solving of women could have made a vital difference, and they say so (if only within their own thoughts while telling the story). These are also stories about how even an unwanted, artificial segregation from part of humanity changes their culture and thinking, as little as they wish either to be changed.

I also write fiction where the pieces of the puzzle are scattered across several stories. A generation later, my narrators do not remember exactly why a transport ship was entirely crewed by pregnant soldiers. In the novels and short stories from the same time there is the mundane explanation that these are the wives of men and women with field assignments on their way to join their spouses at their colonial posts. The maximum galactic travel time is six months, the first three month is the most fragile trimester in a pregnancy: better to serve it on earth (or in a transport ship with a full neonatal hospital). Their later children will be born onworld in clinics with limited medical staff, but their oldest child will have the best start. The truth is, the frontier is an immensely dangerous place to have children – and the transport ship is an attempt to ensure at least some reproductive success.

The exact cause of the all-female transport’s loss is never found: despite investigation, it remains and enigma and a source of conspiracy theories … and homeworld responds by banning women from serving in space. It makes no sense: there’s no ‘why’ but the over-compensation of the human brain in trying to find patterns and avoid danger. A generation later a lot of the details have been forgotten; my narrators have to live with the ban (and almost none of them support it).

At the end of this network of interrelated stories written across the history of this single-sexed military there is a novel: a novel about how and why the ban on women’s service in space is reversed.

I do not share my narrator’s views. I am not writing these stories to advocate for the characters’ individual politics. (I don’t like political advocacy novels from any part of the political spectrum.) I’m asking wider questions about what it means to be human, what the consequences are of asking only part of humanity to be more involved in childbearing (if technology might permit neither or both men and women to have children – by artificial wombs or artificially created full hermaphroditism), and what it means when humanity does not fully use all of the strengths and skills of its whole population (caused by sociological or historical accidents, not a deliberate decision that some portion of the population is not worthy of full consideration.)

So: the men in my stories stand in the place of women. (You can even try it with the non-military SF novella A Day in Deep Freeze.) Read them in that light and see if it makes them less cryptic.

-Lisa Shapter

Reading My Stories in Order (Not That It’s Necessary)

My new short story “Nightskyman Hope” (prequel to 2015’s “Life on Earth” and Things We Are Not‘s “The World in his Throat”) is out in Expanded Horizons. Since it is part of a linked set of stories, some fans have been asking me where to catch up on the other stories.

Here is a list of the stories in internal chronological order, with links:

1) This is Not a Love Story  in Black Denim Lit (October 2015)

2) “Nightskyman Hope” in Expanded Horizons (January 2016)

3) “The World in His Throat” in Things We Are Not: An M-Brane SF Magazine Queer Science Fiction Anthology (2009)

4) “Inducement” in Black Denim Lit (forthcoming 2016)

5) “Searching” in Black Denim Lit (December 2014)

6) “Life on Earth” in Expanded Horizons (January 2015)

7) “No Woman, No Plaything” in Kaleidotrope (October 2012)

8) “Planet 38” in Four Star Stories (Summer 2013)

9) “Planet 50” in Black Denim Lit (September 2015)

10) “The Other Two Men” (Performance dates TBA Summer 2016, see: http://playersring.org/box-office/)
And an unrelated alternate history novella set in New England about the unintended side effects of a WWII-era drug developed to create affinity between an interrogator and interrogatee:
A Day in Deep Freeze Aqueduct Press (Conversation Pieces series)  (April 2015)

-Lisa Shapter