Saturday, April 05, 2014

Playwright Goodisman talks "Checkoff in the Sun"

Playwright Leonard D. Goodisman

(via Capitol Hill Seattle)

The subtitle of Leonard D. Goodisman’s new play, Checkoff in the Sun, staged at Eclectic Theater, is “a comedy about dying.” There’s a very obvious pun in the title and the flavor of the famous playwright Chekhov permeating the play. Goodisman says, “The pun just sort of popped out when (my character) Victoria asks, ‘Why did you come here, just to check me off a list?’”

Goodisman’s subject is Victoria, a woman who is in the end stages of dealing with cancer, yet still in control of her decisions and desires. Victoria calls together her family and best friends to a villa in the Southwestern desert. It’s a Palm Springs or Tucson type property that her real estate friend hasn’t sold yet. Though they really shouldn’t be in the property, they accept her wish and travel to this destination to say goodbye and resolve what they can of loose ends, things unsaid, broken moments unmended.

Yet, there is a lot of humor woven into the play. Goodisman, who says he is a fan of Chekhov, reminds that Chekhov thought of himself as a humorist. He says that the leading figure of Russian theater, Stanislavski, chose to direct The Cherry Orchard as a tragedy, and “Chekhov stood for that and it’s been done as a tragedy ever since. I see the comedy in all his plays.”

As we talked about how the play developed, Goodisman remarked, “The play was taking form on its own and I saw Chekhov on my shoulder and I realized that there was a lot of interesting relevance there… and the role that it played popped into my head and onto the paper very readily.

The Cherry Orchard is of course a Russian play about the dying aristocracy being pushed out by the middle class. It raises immediately the question what do we pass on to our heirs and the assumption that Chekhov’s generation had was that you had some kind of security that you were passing on, you were a landed gentry or aristocracy that owned something tangible. How those ideas would be transplanted into American society today. How would they appear if they were asked today?

“Everybody in the play has his or her own arc, perspective, adventure, and each has a personal perspective on handing things down. Those perspectives vary from those who want to be the aristocracy and express their belief that if they were, they’d have something solid, immutable to hand down. Others in the play think of handing down something special or inspirational.

“But there’s a clash amongst the different perspectives about what you can and can’t hand down. That’s a big range of possibilities. Others say, “You taught us to sing.” So you get a broad perspective on handing down to the next generation. It’s an important aspect of dying.”

Goodisman says that there are other obvious parallels in his new work with Chekhov. “Chekhov was talking about the rise of labor and the rise of the middle class and writing about it. My characters also argue. Who’s got the money, who’s got the culture? Politics and art and who has the right handle on it. And who loves who more and who is closest to whom and who is most special and what their responsibilities are to each other.”

“The play is an exploration of dying. People who know that person well and have complex relations with that person, on the occasion of their dying, have to somehow make peace with that transition. This is a fairly common scene these days where someone is on her deathbed and others are called to say goodbye and it means something different for every person. I thought it was a very revealing situation, what kinds of people we are and how we relate. I thought an exploration of that would be fun, comic and moving as a theatrical presentation.”

Goodisman says he’s worked on the play, off and on, for about five years. He says he considers this production, “a developmental production. I was making changes during rehearsal. Cold readings aren’t the way an actor tries to become the character. I made radical changes until the last possible day I could, but it was too late to give them to the cast. There is already a version that is beyond what you see on stage. I continue to work on it.” He hopes, now that he’s polished it some more, that it can be chosen by a company to develop a full production.

For information on the play, which runs until April 19th, 8PM Thu- Sat and 2PM Sun, go to Brown Paper Tickets.  Eclectic Theater is at 1214 10th Ave, Seattle 98122.

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