Monday, September 23, 2019

'Night Mother & Loveliest Afternoon of the Year Discussion; David Mamet's Oleanna: Day 1

Morning Writing Task: Brainstorm some themes or topics for a play that might be important subject matter for a play. Outline your idea. Consider:
  • What issues (list them) do you care about or are interested in learning more about?
  • What might you want other people to know or understand about the issue you are concerned about?
  • Choosing one of your issues, consider where might the action of the play take place?
  • Would you have a single act or several? A single scene, or several? Why?
  • What would be the basic PREMISE of your play?
  • What characters would be needed to tell your story? 
  • Would the play end happily or tragically? What are some reasons why this would be your best choice?
  • [Can you include this idea into the play draft you are writing, or should it be a new or different story?]
Write your answers in your journal/notebook this morning. Take 10 minutes to write.

'Night Mother: (please read to prepare for our discussion)

A note about the seriousness of this play's theme:
  • Suicide is a potentially preventable public health problem. It accounts for more than 1% of all deaths in the U.S. each year. In 2001, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S.; today the American Psychological Association reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, and has increased by 33% since 1999.
  • Among young people aged 10 to 34, suicide is the second most common cause of death. Four times as many men die by suicide as women. And 73% of all suicide deaths are white males.
  • Risk factors for thoughts of suicide can vary with age, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnic group. And risk factors often occur in combinations.
  • Over 90% of people who die by suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder. Many times, people who die by suicide have a substance abuse problem. Often they have that problem in combination with other mental disorders.
  • Adverse or traumatic life events in combination with other risk factors, such as clinical depression, may lead to suicide. But suicide and suicidal behavior are never normal responses to stress.
  • You may find out more from the American Psychological Association in this linked report.
Other risk factors for suicide include:
  • One or more prior suicide attempts
  • Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Keeping firearms in the home
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others
Are there warning signs of suicide?
Warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning to commit suicide include:
  • Always talking or thinking about death
  • Clinical depression -- deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating -- that gets worse
  • Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death such as driving fast or running red lights
  • Losing interest in things one used to care about
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
  • Saying things like "it would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out"
  • A sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
  • Talking about suicide or killing one's self
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Be especially concerned if a person is exhibiting any of these warning signs and has attempted suicide in the past. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, between 20% and 50% of people who commit suicide have had a previous attempt.

For Discussion:

'Night Mother
  1. Having read and thought about these facts/details, how does the playwright use some of this statistical information in her play? Can you find specific examples or lines where she has her characters discuss this information in a more informal way? Is the playwright successful in presenting her audience with a powerful message? How did the play affect you? (catharsis)
  2. Would the play be stronger if minor characters like Dawson, Loretta, or Ricky appeared on stage? Why or why not? What about the structure of the play--would the play be stronger if we had multiple scenes instead of just one? Why or why not?
  3. How effective is the conflict in this play? Are there more than one type of conflict (what are the conflicts in the play). Which are resolved by the end of the play?
  4. Much of the power of this play is tied up with the suspense of the Major Dramatic Question. Will Jessie go through with her plan, or will Thelma be able to convince her otherwise?
  5. What is the role of the props in this play? How do props help tell the story, create conflict, or reveal character?
The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year
  1. What was your reaction to this play? Did you enjoy it or not? Why or why not?
  2. Are the characters and situations believable? How is "fantasy" and subjectivity presented in this play? Were you, as a reader/performer, able to "go along" with the "make-believe"? 
  3. Would this play be better with many scenes or other characters, like Maud or the blind-seeing eye-dog or cousin Lucy? Would the play be improved by having a big, expensive or luxurious set? Why might the playwright (John Guare) have made the choices he did?
Here's a short video about 'Night Mother on a Broadway revival recently, starring Edie Falco. Here's the last monologue from the play (New Zealand actors). You can watch an amateur production of the play if you wish at this link.

Period 2 (probably):

Let's dive into our next play: David Mamet's Oleanna.

David Mamet (you can learn more about this writer by clicking on the link and reading his short bio) is a popular playwright, screenwriter, novel writer, and director. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his play Glengarry Glen Ross. His most recent plays include November (with Nathan Lane) in 2008, Race in 2009, HBO's production of the series Phil Spector (2013) with Al Pacino & Helen Mirren, and his most recent play The Penitent (2017). Bitter Wheat, starring John Malkovich just opened in London in June, 2019.

Our next play will be Oleanna (1992) by David Mamet. William H. Macy starred in the original production (and the movie based on the play). Read a little about the play included as part of the script and at the links. Sign up for various roles as we read today. As we read, we will be discussing Mamet's use and style of writing dialogue.

HOMEWORK: None. Please bring your Oleanna scripts back with you to next class. If you haven't completed your character development of the play draft you are writing (draft #2)--see previous class post's writing activity, please work on completing that. If you did not complete 'Night Mother & the analysis, please add that to your "to-do" list.

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