Tag Archives: “Clybourne Park”

Gotta Have a Gimmick, Part Two

by Kitty Felde

Just want to followup on a comment from playwright Mallery Avidon:

Welcome to LAFPI! It’s a wonderful group of women writers battling it out in Los Angeles to draw attention to the work and increase the number of produced plays by women writers.

I think I need to more fully explain my inclusion of your play in my description of what I call “gimmick” plays.

As I noted, I don’t use the term as a derogatory genre. Shakespeare himself used cross dressing lovers to great effect in “Twelfth Night.” It’s a trend I’ve noticed as a genre showing up on legitimate stages all over the country. They can add an element of fun and excitement to a play. It’s what Hollywood might call a “hook” – something that will turn a curious audience member into one who will buy a ticket.

And as playwrights, it’s something we should take a look at as another reason a theatre might want to produce our plays.

Here, let me express my own personal opinion, not that of LAFPI:

I am not a fan of “Clybourne Park” for reasons other than the writing. I think Norris got it wrong. I grew up in Compton, lived through the white flight and thereafter. I just think his history is wrong in Act One. (I’m not the only one: Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director at Centerstage – like me – wrote a play IN RESPONSE to “Clybourne Park.”)

“Oh Guru Guru Guru, or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you” has a terrific first act – funny, heartfelt, a story that felt specific and real. The fact that the writer used the “gimmick” of a lecture was icing on the cake. In my own opinion, the use of several other gimmicks in the next two acts – demonstrating the life in an ashram, audience participation, the surprise of “it’s only a movie!”, the conversation with Julia Roberts – detracted from the strong beginning. And from the play, which tackles a unique experience: growing up in an ashram and how that affects a person’s life.

Would I buy a ticket to a gimmick play? Of course! Would I write one? You bet.

Gimmick Plays

By Kitty Felde

I mentioned in an earlier posting that I’ve seen a lot of new “gimmick” plays lately. Our fellow LAFPI member Marissa was “wondering what you mean by ‘gimmick plays’ being the new hot trend these days” and asks what kinds of gimmicks are showing up onstage.

Great question.

First of all, I don’t mean to disparage the genre. It’s a concept as old as playwriting and the mantra of Hollywood. Another way of describing it would be a “hook.” In my own personal theatre dictionary, I’d describe a Gimmick Play as one that offers something else besides character, dialogue and plot to draw in an audience.

Here’s a few examples: Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park” is a two gimmick play. It’s a riff on Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun” AND it offers the added bonus of having the cast from Act 1 play completely different characters in Act 2.

At the Humana Festival, there was another play with FOUR gimmicks: “Oh Guru Guru Guru, or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you” (I suppose you could count the title as a sort of gimmick, too…) by Mallery Avidon. Gimmick one: a lecture. The first act is a lecture, complete with slide show, of the “author” explaining the premise. Very funny. Gimmick two: we go to the ashram in act two where audience members are invited to come onstage and sit on embroidered pillows to be enlightened. And then there’s gimmick three where we discover the ashram is just a film set for “Eat, Pray, Love” and act three is a conversation with Julia Roberts about how tough it is to be Julia Roberts.

“Clybourne Park” would have stood on its own feet without any gimmicks; “Guru” would not.

There was one FABULOUS gimmick play at Humana – tucked in with two real turkeys. Apparently the acting school in Louisville is learning how to fly ala Peter Pan or Spiderman or that Angel in Tony Kushner’s work. And there really aren’t a lot of other plays out there with flying actors. So Humana commissioned a trio of writers to come up with them. The real genius gimmick piece was by Lucas Hnath called “nightnight.” He used the gimmick of flying to show weightlessness in space, telling the story of a trio of astronauts on a mission. It was brilliant. You marveled at the cleverness of the gimmick itself: an astronaut sleeps in zero gravity, lying sort of sideways, suspended above our eyes, the launch itself had the actors straddle a wall twelve feet high, upside down. It was marvelous to watch. The director also created with perfect accuracy the mumblety dialogue of the NASA engineers in Mission Control, chattering about who knew what constantly. But the play itself was about the conflict between characters, their ambitions, their foibles, their actions.
It’s not a new concept. Shakespeare certainly wrote gimmick plays. “Twelfth Night” could be described as a cross dressing play; “Hamlet” as a ghost story. Again, though, it’s the writing that carries the play, not the gimmick.

And I suppose here’s my beef: a lot of theatres are choosing work for the gimmick, not the writing. It will certainly sell tickets. But will those theatre-goers return for more once the gimmick has been revealed?