Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Mark (preview)

Stark Raving Theatre
March 22, 2006; closes April 22, 2006

Accessible, well-cast, though somewhat hesitant trio has potential to give depth to this simplistic Lifetime triptych. First act transparent; second stronger, craftier; third blurry. Could all three blend into a tighter, richer storyline with clearer intention, resolution that focuses on consequences? Move-and-pose staging busies itself with more picture than purpose.


gretchen said...

Well, you've done this writer a great service by administering an early pinprick to that crazy (but not uncommon) fantasy that "everyone's gonna love it." So thank you for the reality check (tho' of course it's no more or less real than the very different responses I received from others in the audience).

I realize that the demands of your self-inflicted brevity force you into a suggestive shorthand, but in the interests of taking something constructive from your criticism, I hope you'll expand a little on how you define "simplistic" (as distinct from "simple") and what connotations "Lifetime" has for you. Is it meant to be a caution sign: "Just For Girls Who Like a Good Cry"? I don't have cable, so I'm genuinely curious.

gretchen said...

One more question: were "transparent" and "blurry" *both* meant to be disparaging?

Follow Spot said...

Nothing’s intended disparagingly.

“Simplistic”: unfleshed storylines somewhat obvious, one-dimensional; without nuance, subtlety. Not enough to hook me; left more curious about what characters might’ve done after play’s events.

“Lifetime”: one-too-many soap-opera shockers created unintentional melodrama, like “ripped-from-the-headlines” “inspired-by-a-true-story” movies-of-the-week.

But this is one opinion. What do others have to say?

David said...

I read the script a few months ago when I was preparing to audition for it. Truthfully, I liked it a lot. It seemed unpretentious to me, for the most part, and I found a lot of wry humor and underlying good will in the authorial voice; that is, I never felt these characters were only either mouthpieces for proper opinion or mere examples of bad behavior. Yes, I felt some underlying didacticism, too, but, it was gentle.

Also, I remember liking the feel of the sentences in my mouth. They were polished and made for speaking.... I was quite dissappointed not to get the part, actually, a lot because the words WERE fun to say.

I also liked that Neil Goldschmidt comes so readily to mind in The Mark. It makes it easier both to hold him accountable and forgive him at the same time.

gretchen said...

Re: followspot post. I find your contention that "Nothing's intended disparagingly" (interesting, self-effacing use of passive voice) almost comically disingenuous. In any case, it dodges the question about your use of "transparent" and "blurry." Exactly what degree of opacity do you think that a play or production ought to offer?

I'm also intrigued by your definition of "Lifetime," which omits the only thing I *do* know about the channel: its target audience. Your use of "Lifetime" as an epithet to describe the work of a woman writer stinks faintly of misogyny (in these nostrils, anyway), implying as it does a close affinity between women and cheap sentiment.

My larger point concerns a critic's responsibility to attend to language. I weighed and considered every word of the thousands in that script; the director and cast have invested months (not to mention their minds and hearts) in bringing those words to life. It doesn't seem too much to ask that you not be glib or sloppy with any of the fifty words you've alotted yourself. You owe it less to us than to those readers who hold your opinion in some esteem.

You do raise an excellent question about the evocation of strong emotion in the theatre (of sorrow in particular). When is it earned, and who's the best judge of that? What's clear from your review is that a play and production clearly intended to move its audience failed to move you; what's less clear is where the 'fault' lies. Speaking very generally, I am apt to trust a critic first in matters of craft (if that critic is discerning and precise). In the matter of emotional impact, however, I more readily trust an actor or audience member. Their strongest impulse is often generous: they wish to connect. Perhaps necessarily, a critic's strongest impulse is often to resist. It takes a most self-assured critic to surrender to any direct appeal to deep emotion. I don't mean to dismiss your entirely legitimate lack of response, but your description of the play as simplistic melodrama doesn't have for me the same weight as, for example, the thanks I received this weekend from multiple cancer survivors (men and women) who thought I had captured complex truths about their situation.

Re: David's post. Many thanks for your words and for your work. The play was a bear to cast, for all the best reasons (too many talented folks). I'm especially glad that you found its didacticism gentle-- you can see that I'm generally not a very subtle schoolmarm!

Anonymous said...

From today's Oregonian:

Icenogle has been known, to those who know her, as Stark Raving's literary manager. "The Mark" repositions her as a playwright of formidable talent, a writer who knows how to slip inside the hidden cabinets of human emotion and tease the turmoil, smoothly and poetically, into the open. Assured in its language and its elliptical structure, "The Mark" is a terrific play.

Under Artistic Director Matthew B. Zrebski's direction, it gets a first-rate production, with emotionally pliant and technically assured performances by Torrey Cornwell, Mario Calcagno and Darcy Lynne, who play all of the characters. In a word: hurrah. -- Bob Hicks

Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion, the only entity guilty of implying "a close affinity between women and cheap sentiment" is the Lifetime Channel itself. For example, check out and the descriptions for the movies "Fatal Desire" and "Black Widower." I didn't search for these, they're right on the front page.

O boy said...

Here's the entire Oregonian review:

"The Mark," which is having its premiere at Stark Raving Theatre, consists of three interlinked one-act stories, the first of which relates the not-quite-Goldschmidt tale. It's mostly about the girl, brilliant and troubled and semi-suicidal, and how the profundity of her experience creates an inner mess that will take years to clean up.

Act 2 tells the tale of the daughter of a famous photographer who was scandalously murdered a quarter of a century before, and how their uneasy relationship resonates forward. In Act 3, the politician's victim from Act 1 and the reluctant boyfriend from Act 2 return in a tale of love tangled with the impending death of the boyfriend's cancer-stricken twin sister.

Icenogle has been known, to those who know her, as Stark Raving's literary manager. "The Mark" repositions her as a playwright of formidable talent, a writer who knows how to slip inside the hidden cabinets of human emotion and tease the turmoil, smoothly and poetically, into the open. Assured in its language and its elliptical structure, "The Mark" is a terrific play.

Under Artistic Director Matthew B. Zrebski's direction, it gets a first-rate production, with emotionally pliant and technically assured performances by Torrey Cornwell, Mario Calcagno and Darcy Lynne, who play all of the characters. In a word: hurrah. -- Bob Hicks

La Foi said...

The thing that makes a critic different from an actor or other audience member is that, because he/she is not speaking to your face, there's more distance in the critique. Does this mean it is entirely objective? Of course not. Should you count it as more valuable than the opinion of a cancer survivor? No. But having someone with this kind of distance critique your work can be very useful, and it serves a different purpose than the opinion of cherished friends or colleagues.

Just wanted to throw that out there.

Kolme said...

Has anyone else actually seen the show?

Anonymous said...

If this had been a more positive review, written in the same way, would the playwright come out with the same criticisms of the criticism? Would the reviewers piece be called glib or sloppy? Would the playwright ever say "I'm glad you liked my show, but multiple cancer survivors who attended this weekend didn't seem to care for it, so you're praise doesn't carry much weight with me"? Sometimes I hear people involved with productions privately mock the prose of a postive review, but that doesn't stop them from blowing it up and mounting it on foam board in the lobby.

Anonymous said...

I saw the show last week and found it unknowingly melodramatic. Cliches abounded - dialogue bordering on soap opera at times. One of the things that really stopped me from getting involved was length: knowing it was in three semi-related segments, when the first one wasn't over by the time I was bored, I knew I was in for a night. Each act seemed to lose momentum and die in the middle. Poetical fragments out of characters' mouths were sometimes intriguing, sometimes overly precious. The production seemed to want to shock the audience with lust and changing sexual partners; this made me feel manipulated and took me out of it. Thought the presentation was strong and was compelled by Torrey.

Anonymous said...

I think portland takes this site too seriously. We all need to remember that this is one man's opinion and he's not any more of a critic than you or me. THIS IS A BLOG! He has every right to say whatever he wants, however he wants, with no regard to how his words come out. If you don't like it, don't read it, don't reply to it. However, don't defend your show because you are upset that one person out of Portland said something bad about it. The only people that read this are the theater people anyway, so it's not like it's hurting publicity. This guy has simply created a forum in which to discuss theatre, using his OPINION as a starting we should use it as a discussion of ideas as oppose to attacks on others opinions. Now get mad about it.

Dave said...

Stick a banana in that show and we'll all have a good laugh.

Matt Zrebski said...

Hey anonymous - as we've begun gathering the feed-back cards from the audience and assessing all reviews and comments (as we will throughout the run) - I'd love you to be bit more specific if possible.

Given "cliches abound" I imagine you can grab at least a few from memory. What was cliche to you? Sounds like you're more in line with Tim than Bob - and I actually love when theatre is divisive - it typically means it's onto something.

Some clarifications for you: the sex scenes are in the script...not necessarily the specific staging, but nothing is presented in a way to "shock" as a goal - the scenes are part of the story: the sexual partners do switch throughout as characters also switch throughout - it's not a "choice" - it's the play. And really, the scenes are pretty tame in their content - so your reaction is a bit baffling - I'm aware some audience members loathe sexual intimacy of any kind on stage - perhaps that's your camp.

And so the "length" comment doesn't scare...and I'm aware "length of time" and how something "feels" are not always linked - but the show is only two hours and ten minutes including both intermissions - this is no epic - shorter than many two act plays.

I hope more see the show and keep commenting - I'm fascinated. And thank god for Gretchen. I am all for artists talking to critics - it happens far too little in Portland - heat things up and out of the fire will come knowledge and most importantly...specificity...something that can't always be achieved in 50 words exactly. Brevity does not guarantee specificity - or even efficiency.

Neal said...

I can't say I find Gretchen's response to be any more or less valid than the review too which she's responding. I have a little maxim though: "Responding too a review can be more ridiculous than writing one." We have a policy over at Vertigo of not responding to negative reviews, even when they're posted on our own website. If you do, you almost always come out looking bad, thus having an opposite effect than intended. I know how tempting it is to respond to negative comments, especially in a public forum like this one. IMHO, it is better to let your work stand for itself. As Gretchen says, we "weighed and considered every word of the thousands in that script; the director and cast have invested months (not to mention their minds and hearts) in bringing those words to life." That is bound to make a stronger statement than a few lines or paragraphs dashed off here.

Matt Zrebski said...

Thoughtful comment, Neal - but I would never impose such a policy. It could easily prevent a spark of necessary truth - debate is good - standing by your work is good - and if an artist wants to defend it, great. Do it. And loudly. And if some think that makes you look bad, oh well... Because I gurantee many others will think you're brave.

And the "too seriously" comment... this strain is moving forward in a manner of the forum's intent is it not? People are talking - Gretchen included.

Follow Spot said...

Exactly what degree of opacity do you think that a play or production ought to offer?

This was probably rhetorical, but I would hope that a play or production offers whatever degree of opacity best tells its story and, in so doing, conveys its message. There is no one exact way to tell a story, and therefore no one specific answer (sorry, Matt) to your question.

gretchen said...

Whew! Are we having fun yet?

I think followspot asks to be taken seriously, and should be taken seriously. The idea that theatre people have no effect on the public response to a play is laughable (or really depressing). And why shouldn't we all take the opportunity to further a dialogue about what makes for good theatre, and take that opportunity when we have the greatest stakes in the conversation? I dived in here not because I'm a glutton for punishment (well, maybe), but rather as an acknowledgement that things are pretty darn intimate here in the Portland theatre scene. What you say about someone's play you may be saying to his/her face, and you can expect that she may be inspired to defend her work, however petty and oversensitive that makes her look.

Of course I'd be much less exacting with followspot if the review had been positive! I think Bob Hicks must be a splendid fellow!

And I think that's it for me on this thread. Thanks for your candor!!

Anonymous said...

This is why anonymous posts on a site like this are essential: people are too gentle to offer any constructive feedback face-to-face. This is one place where you can hear what people are saying behind your back.

nicole said...

In response to anonymous 4:43--

I'll freely admit that I have posted anonymously at times, for a variety of reasons, but I can't think of anything I've posted that I wouldn't say to someone's face. Rather, when I have chosen to be anonymous, it was taking into consideration that I was having a public conversation instead of a private one. Perhaps I don't want my question/opinion to reflect back on the company I am consistently associated with, or don't want to have that particular conversation with the group of artists I am currently working with. But I (for one) do not use the veil of anonymity to say one thing to my fellow artists’ faces and another to the rest of our community. I’d wish the same of others.

I'm not trying to spark another "anonymous vs. not" debate, but I hope that as a community of working artists we do not fear criticism within our ranks. There is value in what people say "behind our backs," but I'd like to see us step up to the plate and tell each other what we think. If this type of public forum is not the place for that, so be it. But it's silly to think that we will all like the same type of work, or that we'll offend people by saying that something's not our cup of tea. You don’t like my show, or I don’t like yours… frankly, who cares? Let’s talk about why and make all of our work better.

In idealism and solidarity,
Nicole Gladwin
Stark Raving Theatre

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Follow Spot said...

Let's focus on the production, people, not the pants ... I have a delete key and I know how to use it.

Anonymous said...

You wound us Followspot.

Another time.

The PANTS will rise again.

I swear it.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see the posts that were deleted, but I heard what was said.

Dude, the "joke" died months ago, Let It GO!
It isn't funny , it's creepy, and pathetic.

Get a life!

Anonymous said...

Difficult tho it is to accept, the negative opinions about my work are probably more important to my growth as a writer than the positive ones. I often say I’m open to criticism (discussion, dialogue) about my work, but then I spend most of the conversation defending it.

I don’t think the general theatre-going public is reading the Followspot. This is an anonymous blog with which the Portland theatre community alone is fascinated. So much so that when the opinion expressed is a positive one, producers quote the review in their marketing paraphernalia. They quote an unnamed person of unknown credentials. I always find that odd. Perhaps this should be referred to as audience feedback rather than a review?

(Yes, you *all* know who the writer is, but the audience doesn’t.)

Matt, I agree that dialogue about art is critical to its growth and success. How does Stark-raving Theatre solicit feedback and from whom?

(I think it's admirable that SrT risks presenting new work by the way.)

Gretchen, if your “thanks for the reality check” comment wasn’t followed immediately by the “everyone else liked it” comment, I might’ve actually believed you wanted to discuss the play instead of merely defend it. Thank you for the reality check. :-P

Thanks to whomever posted the contrasting review from the newspaper here. I am reminded that that at the heart of every review is a person with an opinion. (And a positive review doesn’t necessarily invalidate a negative one nor vice versa. My opinion anyway.)

Dan said...

Hello latest anonymous poster. I like that you speak of credentials. That's a word we don't often see synonymous with theatre reviewer these days. Critics have a tremendous amount of power to hold theatre practitioners accountable for their artistic choices, often citing the ones who have made the show and flogging the ones who have broken it, but when does the critic's own credentials ever come into scrutiny? What makes a critic an authority on the subject that we should hold their words with any kind of weight?

I know at its intrinsic core, it supposed to be only one person's opinion, a snapshot of society, a respresentative cross-section of our theatre-going audience, and THAT kind of sentiment I don't mind. I don't mind when a critic only claims to see what they liked or didn't like based on the eyes and ears of a pedestrian patron. It's refreshing to see what John Q Public thinks of a show because he/she represents our audience. I like to hear/see those people saying things like "this seemed such and such," or "It worked for me because..." and "I wasn't really getting this part, it wasn't clear to me," or "so and so didn't seem to be up to par with the rest of the cast and it drove the energy of the scene down," because those observations are pure, they are clear, and they stand for things that your average audience will consume and process. They also are easily fixable and help put artists in check about what they need to focus on as their production grows, especially if the sentiment is repeated by other reviewers and audiences.

But what is disheartening is that some of our illustrious critics out there have the egos of experienced professionals that do not come close to matching their credentials in the field, if they yet have any. You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones who slam a show with the wit and cynicism of someone who apparently knows how to do it better than you but have no more experience than the very beginniners in the field. I think the critics who do claim to be experts need to earn their words by telling us what makes them experts on our craft when they are introduced to us.

No more waxing philosophical. Let's break it down shall we: Those who give us that shit and don't have the "credentials" to back it up need to either be deposed with the swiftness or given a humbling reality check, plain and simple.

Dan said...

So the question is: How do we hold those snide, out-of-their-league writers accountable and snap them back into reality? Let's discuss!

Anonymous said...

ignore them.

Matt Zrebski said...

Anonymous - we hand out feed-back cards to all audience members and urge them to turn them in at the end of the show. The current one asks:

1. Which of the three acts resonates most deeply for you?
a) Act 1 b) Act 2 c) Act 3 d) none

2. What was your favorite part of the production? Circle all that apply.

a)acting b)design (set / lights / costumes / sound) c) script d) when it was over

3. Would you recommend this production to others?

a) yes b) no c) with reservations

4. Did you find the telling of the stories...

a) extremely clear b)mostly clear c) often confusing d) I was totally lost

5. On the back of this card, please offer any comments you like...

Now...this may yield nothing but a snap shot, but it does get people thinking. Often patrons fill up the back of those cards til they run out of room. Each show, I get about ten mailed to us after the show has closed. This is always cool, because it means the audience member has taken time to think about it for weeks.

We also take into account all reviews - comments on blogs - emails we receive - and then we also seek the commentary of trusted professionals. We all have colleagues who DO speak unedited TRUTH to our faces. And those folks are extremely valuable. In addition, we take time once a show has closed to assess more carefully the production and script - once it's not so close to us as an artistic team.

And hopefully in the end - the playwright has a better idea of where his/her script is it virtually "done" or does it need numerous re-writes?

And now - I certainly hope more people see the show and offer comments- as interesting as the rest of this is...

Peanut Duck said...

Back to the play:

1st act - Most interesting b/c had the most action & depth - characters doing something and wanting something. Obvious, yes, because it is not a new story, tho the obviousness did not make me enjoy it less. I enjoyed the break-up moment the best because the energy between the two characters felt quite real. Heartbreak of the girl, if seemingly melodramatic, she's also only 15.

However, had problems with the cutting & wrist-slashing. Self-abuse is difficult to portray without seeming false or overwrought. I think of Chekov & his keeping such moments off-stage, ie audience imagination.

2nd act - Nothing much happens. The daughter goes on and on about what her mother did & how awful she was but we see very little action. Characters more 1-D - cranky daughter, hip, suave, semi-cold mother w/her young boyfriend. What's going on in this scene? What's the goal or action?

Did like the moment of rough & tumble with the b/f and the daughter how she teased him about his sister.

3rd - Dunno how the structure (backward time) helped dramatically. Weakest section. No idea what the point was....This further confused by whole structure of 3 acts - is this 1 play with interesting structure or 3 short plays w/interconnected theme? I prefer the 1 play idea...however, this needs to be strengthened by a stronger throughline - what is point of play? meaning, theme, etc?

What most excited me about this play was the structure's possibilities...these scenes a level of removal (like 1st cousin twice removed).

Disliked - all the boodie grabbing... no matter my personal take on sex on stage, as an audience member, tiresome and distracting after awhile.

RE: Dialogue btween critic and artist - I'm all for it as long as the artist can separate him/herself from issue. B/c a lot of what I see is the artist getting defensive rather than trying to understand the critic's opinion (whether they agree or no) or justifying him/herself. And you can work a play a million times, line by line, and still end up with crap (NOT THAT I THINK THE MARK FALLS IN THIS CATEGORY).

I'm happy to have a dialogue face to face as long as I know we can be professional about it.

Mr. Follow-spot man is not a deemed or self-touted "Official Critic" (ie oregonian) matter how much his readers enjoy his opinion, he is given value by his readers not by some third party employer. I don't completely agree with his review, oh well, it's his opinion.


O.W. said...

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person," said Oscar Wilde. "Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."

For what is theatre, anyway, but using masks to tell the truth?

gretchen said...

Theresa, I really appreciate the specificity of your feedback-- it's terrifically helpful and speaks directly to some of the doubts that I have about the play and how it works/doesn't work. I'm also grateful that you recognized that at least some of the melodrama was intentional (one of the core subjects of the play for me is adolescent self-dramatization).

I'm also very interested in the ways that we "possess" the dead by making them into icons, in effect robbing them of their rough edges (and of their agency). For me, the end of act one is a bit sinister, as Daniel "belongs" to Lucy now. By contrast, Ellen's journey in the second act is, for me, one of moving from this kind of possession to an acknowledgement of Betty's independence from Ellen's highly stylized memories of her (tho' Ellen's *still* quoting Double Indemnity at the end).

I agree that the final act is the most problematic and has the least story. It is a suspended moment, and one whose pathos verges (even for me) most toward the self-indulgent. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's the act that draws most heavily from autobiography.

It may be too much to ask that someone who's taking it directly on the chin separate herself from the issue, and I do think the critiquer ought to be subject to the same scrutiny as the critiqued. Credentials aren't really the issue, just sensitivity and rigor. Which is why your comments are so valuable.

Re: the Wilde quotation. It'd be lovely if the true selves "liberated" by the mask of anonymity here and elsewhere weren't so often plain (and boring) nasty. A little more accountability might encourage a little more civility.

Anonymous said...

From the Willamette Week:

(WW PICK) The Mark
[NEW REVIEW] Gretchen Icenogle's world premiere The Mark is a character-driven drama that explores the unforeseen effects of several complicated relationships. Local playwright Icenogle posits that memory is a living thing—each of the three acts focuses around a recent death, with the "recently departed" sharing the stage with the living. Sometimes the dead are ghostlike, interacting with the living, and sometimes the dead exist only through flashbacks. That these dead folk seamlessly blend in and out of the play's action is less a testament to Icenogle's writing than to the talent of three actors inhabiting the script's 13 characters. Darcy Lynn, who most notably played Ellen and Jane, gives a standout performance. Her ability to move between the living and dead, and memory and reality, provided emotion and depth to an otherwise soap opera-esque play. PAIGE RICHMOND.

Burt said...

I love the 50 words gimmick -- not only does it focus a conversation, but there are often strange nuances to be found in its sometimes perplexing architecture. That may be less helpful for a playwright who is looking for advice on whether the second act's third line should be in the present tense or present perfect, but sometimes (not necessarily in this case specifically), it can be a springboard for a larger discussion.

Anonymous said...

But, Burt, like a reviewer who doesn't get a show, if we don't understand a critique, what are we to make of it?

Anonymous said...

I can't stop chuckling. This is a BLOG. This is the personal website of a theatre-goer. This is how I've always viewed this site: the person sees a lot of theatre and takes a few minutes after a show to share his/her observations in a clever way. Sometimes I agree with the opinion expressed, sometimes I don't.

The 50-word gimmick is stated outright. To imply that the blogger "shouldn't" be doing this is absurd!!! If you don't dig the gimmick or if you think 50 words cannot yield honest and valid feedback, don't read it for chrissake!

Better yet, ask questions! If called unclear, the blogger has always expanded his opinion.

(An opinion, by the way, that doesn't get out to the general public! Relax theatre folk!)

This, by the way, is the only "review" I'll read, but it doesn't make or break my decision to see something by any means. It's just that the three local newspapers that review tend to give the entire plot away. It's annoying. I don't feel inclined to write them letters and demand that they change the format, but it would be more reasonable than asking a blogger to change his personal posts to suit my needs.

Dan said...

I just want to clarify: I see this blog as an intelligent viewer making brief yet cogent observations designed to incite discussion about a show he has seen. I would in no way lump him in with those who "slam a show with the wit and cynicism of someone who apparently knows how to do it better than you." This is a snapshot and it spurs great conversation. More people should read it! Spread the word!

gretchen said...

I don't think it's a bad gimmick-- it does make a great springboard. I just found these particular fifty words (well, one word in particular) simplistic rather than simple, reductive rather than illuminating. Just one opinion, and hardly a disinterested one. Bizzarre that everyone seems entitled to an opinion here but the people whose work is being discussed.

Anonymous said...

While FollowSpot doesn't refer to it/him/herself as a "reviewer", I have seen FS printed in Just Out. Personally, I love the 50 word format. In those 50 I usually get more thoughtful criticism then in other papers... I sometimes have to consider particular words, but that’s part of the interest.

Burt said...

No one is denying you your opinion, Gretchen -- I mean, come on, girlfriend -- you posted six times already! :)

In fact, I'd bet most peeps here think it's kinda cool to have actual artists involved in the discussion, and a playwright at that. It's a rare opportunity (well, OK, maybe not that rare at a place like Stark Raving ........). So thanks for stepping up and speaking out.

Anyone else got more feedback about the show for Gretchen?

gretchen said...

Good call, Burt! Truth is, I've never felt so raw, defensive, or monstrously self-absorbed in my life. But you're all theatre people, you can probably relate a *little*!

Neal's right-- the show finally has to speak for itself. I hope you'll all come see it and make up your own minds. Can't vouch for the script, but IMHO the production is terrific.

Anonymous said...

What I saw here was solid melodrama from start to finish - snap changes in mood, inappropriate volume, stereotyped behavior etc.

Without more info, audience could not travel with the characters through a lot of these baffling night and day transformations.

The sex scenes were downright embarassing. Why exactly are we being subjected to this?

It is demoralizing to see characters talk in the "Hello? Like o my god" intonation. When you resort to such prefab cliches, credibility quickly unravels. It feels like an imitation of a bad sitcom imitating a bad sitcom and immediately tells your audience "Don't worry - no real emotions to encounter here. You know exactly what this is." This sort of thing is poison to your play and should be avoided like name dropping, references to pop culture etc. These devices serve to distance the audience from your characters - not draw us in.

I did not find any of these characters believable at all. The super-saturated tone of sarcasm, self-pity and all around bitchiness that hung over most of the dialogue really got tiring, like hitting the same note over and over.

The absence of real and genuine human emotion we can connect with - that's what was missing for me.

Anonymous said...

wasn't this a one-act at one point?

Matt Zrebski said...

For the record:

I regret having used the word "sex" myself in a previous post, because in truth, there are no "sex" scenes in The Mark. None. Some of the negative posts regarding the intimacy on stage might be misleading.

There is no nudity in this show. There is no partial nudity in this show. There is no simulated intercourse in this show. There ARE a few moments of heavy petting and "making out" - all of which are critical to the narrative. In the second act in particular, the intimacy is key to the climax (no pun jokes please) of both the story and the protagonist's arc.

I state this because negative comments are one thing - an honest reaction is great, but the manner in which distaste for these brief moments has been communicated might lead one to believe this show is full of graphic sexual content, and there's simply none of that in this production.

Matt Zrebski said...

An earlier post asked about how we solicit audience response. I responded about our comment cards and thought for the first time, it would be interesting to share some of the info thus far. Now that we've surpassed 50 responses, it's good to begin exploring the data.

As of April 1..
79% would recommend the production to others
16% would recommend with reservations
5% would not recommend the show

Some quotes from the 79%:
"Gretchen sees deeply. The somewhat confusing structure adds great poignancy to the story - and makes us pay attention."

"Compelling. Great levels. Incredible attention to individual moments without ever being sentimental."

"The best acting I've seen on the west coast - beats anything I'm seeing in LA or The Bay."

"The direction captures the ethereal nature of the script perfectly."

Some quotes from the 16%:
"The set was too representational - forced symbolism."

"A bit too long."

"If only all the acts had the emotional courage of Act 3."

"Simply too confusing in structure to fully recommend - too sparse."

Some quotes from the 5%:
"Asks an audience to draw too many conclusions. Too artistic for its own good."

"Complete and utter crap. Get a clue."

"Production is as good as it gets, but like the larger theatres in town - you must try and present something that matters. Who cares?"

"Bored to death."

And with 12 shows remaining we shall see what comes next...keep 'em coming.

Neal said...

Matt, that's fascinating to read. Thanks for sharing that with us. Question: what do you do with that feedback from here? Particularly, how do the 21% that didn't love the show weigh in Stark's future planning?

JP said...


Once a playwright has a show produced, gets all the feedback, and is ready to move on, does Stark stay involved in any way to hand off the show to whatever's next? Or is that sort of up to the playwright? What's Stark's role post-production, if any?

Matt Zrebski said...

Very few comments affect actual season planning. Because we take risks with new work - if we were to listen to statements like "we want more comedies" or "the plays need to be more accessible" I fear we would shy away from the most exciting of writers. The goal is for audiences to be challenged and feel involved in the process. The excitement of coming to SRT should be that patrons are seeing something for the first time - it's a different expectation than if you go to see All My Sons - and it should be. I suppose such comments would indicate that we need to educate our audiences more on what we do, but it would not affect actual season programming. Now, comments that are a reflection of actual production choices - i.e. direction, design, acting - these things we take very seriously. If we felt our audiences were losing faith in our ability to provide the highest production standards for these playwrights, then we'd have to take a hard look at our artistic team and our collective vision / standard.

Most comments are going to be helpful for the writer. After enough come in, it's easy to highlight key points of division. Currently for The Mark, the divide seems to be "melodrama" v "emotional truth". Most of our audiences are moved by the visceral journey this play provides; they feel it speaks deeply to emotional truth, BUT it's important to note that the most vocal dissent comes from people who find it emotionally simplistic. This is something Gretchen must look at. My two cents: the play is a well balanced intellectual and emotional journey - but when you sit on the line of "balance", there will be those that want you to tip in either direction. I think that line is the bravest place to be, but admittedly, that has much to do with my own taste.

As for SRT's promotion of plays... it's a case by case basis. Typically, we don't act as an agent for writers - we don't seek out theatres to produce their work. But...we will act as an advocate. We write many recommendations for writers and I have on occasion contacted a theatre I think is the perfect "fit" for a play. Circle X in LA got us interested in ElectroPuss and in turn, we got them interested in Tundra. My hope is that should SRT succeed and grow, we can have a person devoted to promotion for playwrights once a production closes. I'd love to have a more active role in helping writers, but it's baby steps - right now, we must focus the majority of our energy in development and production.

Liz said...

We would love some more comments on The Mark from people who have actually seen the show -- particularly the discerning eyes of the followspot readers. I suggested, and have been authorized to offer, a special discount to all of you. Mention "followspot" when you make your reservations and get in for $8 on any Friday, Saturday or Sunday for the remainder of the run. Then let us know what you think - either through the comment cards or here on this blog. Thanks for your feedback!

Liz Young
Board Vice President
Stark Raving Theatre

Follow Spot said...

Wow, Liz, et al. at SRT -- that's a very generous offer that I hope folks take you up on.

A Fan of Secret Fan's said...

For more feedback, check out Secret Fan's comments over at

Carol said...

since we have the playwright and producer amongst us...

Gretchen ... as a playwright ... how was the experience (not of this blog, but producing a new work) ... did you consider it "done" or a "work-in-progress" ... what's been your take-away thus far from the whole experience? ... and what are your plans for "The Mark" after closing at Stark?

And a question for Matt Z.: should all work at Stark be considered a "work-in-progress" and, if so, how should that affect an audiences perception of the work? ... and what has been Stark's take-away from this particular production?

Anonymous said...

That is a generous offer SRT. Will definitely take you up on it. Thanks.

Michael Teufel said...

I thought that this is one of the best productions I have seen at Stark; having been in several, I know what I am talking about. Great performances all around - a very strong triumverate. I think the script is lovely and lends itself extremely well to the stage. In response to some of the postings above about getting "lost" or not picking up on the "clarity" of the script, I say that you are too stupid to be allowed to see theater and you should be at home watching the simple life - perhaps you may be able to follow that show. Seriously, there was nothing to miss or get lost in or be taken out of in this production. It was well directed, beautifully lit, well costumed, sensitively performed and more over, a great example of a true collaboration between artists. Bravo SRT.

Grendel said...

There is almost no way a playwright can argue with a critic to advantage.

Johann Reger (1873-1916), a German musician, composer, and teacher, took another tack; he famously wrote to a critic:

"I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me."

Thanks to everyone commenting on "The Mark".

Anonymous said...

Matt Z, once this show is closed this weekend, can you share a summary of all the feedback?

Also, Matt and Gretchen, wehn you have time, I'd be interested in your answers to Carole's questions (see above).

And MT: I hope your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek cuz it's just not necessary to call people stupid if they hold a differing opinion or are honest enough to admit they don't understand something.

Vocabgirl said...

Well, Michael Teufel. You just called my momma stupid. How unfriendly.

I understood what was happening, but I knew the script, as did you. We had a "leg up," so to speak. I don't, therefore, think it's very fair for either of us to comment on the clarity of the script (or potential lack thereof), nor on Average Audience Member's ability to follow it.

Vocabgirl said...

I've just realized you didn't say you were familiar with the script, Michael. I think, having read all of the posts at once this morning, my coffee-deprived brain attributed to you the comments of another. My apologies. This is why I don't usually post.

However, the stuff about my mom still stands. ;-)