Tuesday, November 17, 2015

About the Playwright Sharr White

Sharr White, age 45, has been writing plays since the 1990s. They've been presented around the country, including at South Coast Repertory, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center Theatre's Directors Lab and Key West Theatre Festival. Born in Frederick, Maryland, Mr. White moved to Southern California when he was young. The family moved to Boulder, Colorado for his junior high and high school years. And after high school he moved back to Southern California, took some time off, and worked in a warehouse for a few years. Mr. White eventually went back to school where he planned to major in biology since his father in in the sciences. He also took some acting classes and decided to switch to theatre. Mr. White then moved to San Francisco to go to the A.C.T. [American Conservatory Theatre] program. He didn't get accepted into the program and ended up at San Francisco State for a little bit and then jumped over to A.C.T. and finished the acting program there. He started writing at A.C.T., though they didn't have any writing classes.

Mr. White graduated with an M.F.A. in 1993 and was hooked on writing, so he moved to New York. He gave up on acting to solely focus on writing. Mr. White says "From there it was a long process for me, because I didn't go to grad school for writing, I didn't go to any writing programs, I wasn't formally trained at all. I felt like when I reached a point in beginning to develop I didn't have anyone to turn to, which was pretty isolating. My time in New York has been about writing, writing, writing. I did some self-producing in the '90s. The big break was with Humana Festival in 2006. I was able to start surfacing to people, and I got a couple of commissions. It's been a long process to get [to Broadway]."

Sunlight had its World Premiere at the Marin Theatre Company in 2010. Sunlight was followed by Annapurna, which debuted at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and then moved to Los Angeles where it featured Megan Mullally and her husband Nick Offerman. It then moved Off-Broadway with Mullally and Offerman. Mr. White made his Broadway debut in 2012 with his play The Other Place, which happened to close the Dragon Theatre season in 2014. The Other Place was directed by Joe Mantello and featured Laurie Metcalf and Daniel Stern. The Other Place received two Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play and Outstanding Actress In A Play (Laurie Metcalf). Laurie Metcalf also won an Obie Award, Performance and was nominated for the 2013 Tony Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play.

With this success under his belt, Mr. White then had his play The Snow Geese open Off-Broadway in 2013 with actress Mary-Louise Parker in a lead role. Mr, White, who is an advertising copywriter by day, lives in New York City and is currently writing Stupid Kid, a newly commissioned work for the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

When Sunlight premiered at the Marin Theatre Company, the Examiner ran the following interview with Mr. White:

Usually when playwright Sharr White, starts writing, he begins with a character. For his latest play, White  wanted to write about Richard Nixon.  
“My wife said, ‘You can’t do that,’” White said. “But I was really in love with the idea of a character who abused power.” 
White’s political thriller Sunlight, which opens at the Marin Theatre Company on Jan. 26, is about a liberal university president, his daughter and her conservative husband, and their debates over torture memos. 
In the play, White doesn’t mention John Yoo, the Berkeley law school professor, who wrote the so-called torture memos that offered legal justification for interrogation techniques such as water boarding, but White says a character in Sunlight was inspired by him and White read many of Yoo’s statements on the memos.  
“I really started writing in 2006,” White said. “Abuse of power was such an undercurrent of our national discussion, and it seemed important to explore. It was a discussion about who we are as a nation and a culture and what we’ve stood for and stood against. It was a very profound shift happening with us and a lot of people seemed happy not to talk about it.” 
White says the plays focuses on the characters in it, not on Issues.  
“I don’t really think that this is a play about torture,” he said. “It’s about these four people who love each other very much and whose worlds have suddenly crumbled after 9/11. They have felt a personal loss after 9/11 of what they used to be, and they realize nothing will ever be the same again.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The factual basis for Sharr White's Play Sunlight

While the story of Sharr White's play Sunlight is entirely fictional, the events discussed in it are loosely based on current events. At the heart of the true story stands University of Berkeley Professor of Law John Yoo. 

According to his official UCB bio, "Professor Yoo received his B.A., summa cum laude, in American history from Harvard University. Between college and law school, he worked as a newspaper reporter in Washington, D.C. He received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was an articles editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Professor Yoo has clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit. He served as general counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995-96. From 2001 to 2003, he served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he worked on issues involving foreign affairs, national security and the separation of powers."

Mr. Yoo served as the Deputy Assistant U. S. Attorney General under John Ashcroft in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice during the George W. Bush administration. He authored the so-called Torture Memos that addressed the use of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" including waterboarding, was strongly in favor of enhanced executive power, and wrote legal opinions concerning the Geneva Conventions that legitimized the War on Terror by the United States after the attacks of 9/11. Essentially, Woo provided legal arguments to support the Bush administration and CIA's position that the Geneva Conventions ban on torture did not apply to detained members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. 

In 2009, just  two days after taking office, President Barack Obama wrote Executive Order 13491 which revoked all of Yoo's legal guidance on interrogation. 

Last week the story of Sunlight took on new meaning in light of the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad. Extremists continue to terrorize and governments continue to look for ways to protect civilians. 

If you'd like to make donations to help the people in Paris, Beirut, or Baghdad, consider donating to Doctors Without Borders or the International Red Cross

Friday, October 16, 2015

Feeling Good

One of the more unusual elements of Or, is the music. The script notes that "The play is set in the Restoration period, but plays off the echoes between the late 1660s, the late 1960s, and the present." And so liberties are taken, especially in the sound design, to show that Aphra Behn was truly a woman ahead of her time. One of my favorite moments occurs at the end of the show because it's underlined by the fabulous Nina Simone. 

A perfect Friday song isn't it? Or, runs for two more weekends so come join us for a history story that I have been describing as a cross between Shakespeare and Noises Off. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who Was Nell Gwyn?

Eleanor "Nell" Gwyn (2 February 1650 – 14 November 1687; also spelled GwynnGwynne) was a long-time mistress of King Charles II of England and Scotland. Called "pretty, witty Nell" by Samuel Pepys, she has been regarded as a living embodiment of the spirit of RestorationEngland and has come to be considered a folk heroine, with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella. She was the most famous Restoration actress and possessed a prodigious comic talent. Gwyn had two sons by King Charles: Charles Beauclerk (1670–1726); and James Beauclerk (1671–1680). The surname of her sons is pronounced 'Bo-Clare'. Charles was created Earl of Burford and later Duke of St. Albans.

In her early teens, Nell Gwyn was engaged to sell oranges at the King's Theatre. Her natural wit and complete lack of self-consciousness caught the eye of the actor Charles Hart and others, and Dryden wrote plays to exploit her talents as a comic actress.
She became Charles Hart's mistress, she called him Charles the First, and was then passed to Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, whom she dubbed Charles the Second, and later the King, calling him her Charles the Third.
Lady Castlemaine (Barbara Palmer) had been King Charles' mistress for many years when he became enamoured of Nell.
"Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore" was Nell Gwyn's cheeky retort to the masses pushing around her coach in the mistaken belief that it was that of the Duchess of Portsmouth, the Catholic Louise de Keroualle, one of Charles' other mistresses.
Unlike Charles' other mistresses, Nell never received a title herself, but by using clever tactics she obtained a title for her son.
"Come here you little bastard" she is reputed to have said to her small son in the Kings presence. The King was horrified, but as Nell asked, "what should she call him, was not bastard true?" The King immediately made him Duke of St. Albans.
When the King died in 1685 Nell's creditors descended upon her - she never did starve, but was in grave danger of being sent to a Debtors prison. She appealed to King James and to his credit, he settled her immediate debts and gave her a pension of £1500 a year.
James asked in return that her son should become a Catholic but James was to be disappointed.
Nell survived Charles by only two years and was only in her thirties when she died. She became a legend, the only royal mistress in English history to provoke popular affection.