Blog | The Poetry in Your Mouth

The Poetry in Your Mouth

By admin | January 31, 2018

by Colin Thomas 

The Poetry in Your Mouth

Annie Baker is the most interesting playwright on the planet these days—at least the most interesting one that I can see from here. And Sticks and Stones Theatre is presenting an exquisite rendition of Baker’s The Aliens at Havana Theatre until this Sunday, February 4.

The Aliens is about two 30-ish slackers and one teenager who hang around by a dumpster behind the restaurant where the kid works. Here’s my review, in which I talk about how Baker’s spacious sense of time creates a contemplative experience. Here’s where to get tickets.

And check out this lovely two-minute clip in which the playwright talks about her art. “With every play I write,” she says, “I’m trying to reassess what it means to watch a play… One of the ways I do that is by picking as the ostensible topic of my play something that sounds like the last thing you’d want to see a play about.”

In Baker’s newest script, John, a young couple gets caught in a conversation with the chatty proprietor of a bed and breakfast. Reviewing the Toronto production of John, The Globe and Mail’s J. Kelly Nestruck says that, in her generosity, “Annie Baker is a playwright who can make you believe in God.”

And he adds, “Baker has an incredible ear for how North Americans truly speak.” In the clip, Baker states, “everybody speaks in their own kind of poetry and I’m always interested in listening.”

Ngozi Anyanwu was born in Trenton, New Jersey, but her father wants to be buried in Nigeria. In terms of her identity, what does that mean? Photo by Brad Ogbonna for The New York Times.

Ngozi Anyanwu’s character, Kelechi has been fully Americanized, but her father wants to be buried in Nigeria. In terms of her identity, what does that mean? Photo by Brad Ogbonna for The New York Times.

We Are Here

“You can complain about how your culture is depicted, or you can do it yourself.” That’s American playwright Ngozi Anyanwu, quoted in this article from The New York Times.

Anyanwu’s play The Homecoming Queen is about a Nigerian-born American novelist who wrestles with her cultural identity when she returns to Nigeria to tend to her dying father.

The high-profile production and critical success of The Homecoming Queen make Anyanwu part of a trend: in the past two years, four women who are daughters of recent African immigrants have emerged as playwrights to be reckoned with.

The group also includes Danai Gurira (Eclipsed), Mfoniso Udofia (Sojourners and Her Portmanteau), and Jocelyn Bioh (School Girls; or the African Mean Girls Play).

Onoso Imoagene, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, has an interesting take on this blossoming: “The economic migrants are coming in extremely educated, and there’s pressure on their children to do very well,” she says. “There’s pressure to pursue professional careers—medicine and law and pharmacy but because they’re becoming a large enough population, you have some saying, ‘I don’t want to do that—I want to do arts or music or fashion.’”

For the artists, the response is visceral. Udofia explains, “I felt little pockets of anger and frustration because I wasn’t seeing me or the people that I knew in a very nuanced way on stage, so I started writing them to show that we are here.”

Keely O’Brien’s new home includes a downstairs community art space, where she will host public events. Upstairs, there’s a living space and studio. Photo by Sheng Ho.

Keely O’Brien’s new home includes a downstairs community art space, where she will host public events. Upstairs, there’s a living space and studio. Photo by Sheng Ho.

Home Is Where the Art Is

Artists know the scenario too well: you finally find a place to live—and then you get kicked out.

Twenty-five-year-old theatre and visual artist Keely O’Brien had been hunkered down in her East Van digs for five years before she was evicted.

City of Richmond to the rescue!

O’Brien applied to become the artist-in-residence at Richmond’s Branscombe House. Her application was accepted and she’ll be there for the next 11 months making work focused on the subject of… housing. According to CBC Arts, her project “will include everything from interactive performances and personal map-making workshops, to art installations.”

She plans to use the process to get to know her new neighbours.

Riff-Off

How can they make me laugh and give me goosebumps at the same time? It must have something to do with talent.

In this clip, Neil Patrick Harris “interrupts” James Corden’s monologue on The Late Late Show and challenges him to a Broadway performance duel.

Dig in.

Bonus: in this piece from The Independent, Harris reveals how a kiss from Burt Reynolds “made him gay.”

Extra added bonus bonus: here’s Harris performing the opening number at the 2013 Tony Awards, the best Tony opening number ever.

Art Has To Matter

As I was spelunking through the internet archives on Annie Baker this week—see “The Poetry in Your Mouth” above and “What’s Up?” below—I came across this tender three-minute clip of Baker interviewing playwright Terrence McNally.

She notes that in McNally’s Master Class, the soprano Maria Callas says, “the older I get, the less I know but I am certain that what we do matters.” Baker asks McNally if he feels the same way.

He answers, “if art doesn’t matter, then a great percentage of my waking existence has been spent in vain and I’m not willing to… I honestly don’t believe that.” And he mentions people whose lives his plays have touched: “If you’re talking about one other person, five other people, that’s enough.”

I also found this charming interview with Baker in the Evening Standard. Her advice to young playwrights is the best: “Be incredibly vulnerable, but not necessarily confessional. Invent your own genre. Don’t try to look smart.”

Teo Saefkow gives a smart and openhearted performance in Annie Baker’s smart and openhearted The Aliens—at Havana Theatre until Sunday. Photo by Matt Reznek.

Teo Saefkow gives a smart and openhearted performance in Annie Baker’s smart and openhearted The Aliens—at Havana Theatre until Sunday. Photo by Matt Reznek.

What’s Up?

The show to see this week is… you guessed it: Annie Baker’s The Aliens at Havana Theatre. Again, here’s the review and here’s where to get tickets.

Don’t just check this out for the playwright’s work; bathe yourself, too, in the talent of young local artists, including director Kevin Bennett, designer Stephanie Wong, and actors, Tim Howe, Teo Saefkow, and Zac Scott.

A humble kind of heaven awaits.

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