Character References

by Stephen Peithman

Acting Lions, by Penny Templeton
Acting Lions, by Penny Templeton
Books and plays that focus on the human factor

A good story is important, but a play depends on the people who live that story. We relate to the main character, we hate the villain, we sympathize with the victim, and we root for the underdog.  The challenge for the playwright, director and actor is to create memorable characters who engage the audience while moving the story along. It’s not surprising, then, that creating character is a primary focus of Acting Lions, by Penny Templeton, a comprehensive look at the art, craft and business of acting. Templeton (a teacher and coach) also discusses various acting techniques and provides insight into finding an agent and getting work. The section on script analysis is particularly well done, underscoring Templeton’s point that the more you understand the script, the more you will be able to use your own unique perspective to interpret the character in a way that really matters.  [$19.95, Penny Templeton Studio]

 

Pirandello in an Hour from Smith and Kraus
Pirandello in an Hour from Smith and Kraus

To aid in script analysis, it’s helpful to know something about a playwright’s life, work and philosophy, which we get in Smith and Kraus’s “In an Hour” series. Recent additions include Pirandello in an Hour, Durang in an Hour, and Gilbert & Sullivan in an Hour.  We were skeptical about the latter, since there is so much historical, musical and stylistic material to understand, but writer Marc Shepherd does an excellent job of introducing the dynamic duo’s work—likewise, Carl R. Mueller on Luigi Pirandello and Alexis Greene on Christopher Durang. [All titles $9.99 each]

 

 

 

 

 

Audition Monologues for Young Women: Contemporary Audition Pieces for Aspiring Actresses from Meriwether
Audition Monologues for Young Women: Contemporary Audition Pieces for Aspiring Actresses from Meriwether

Audition Monologues for Young Women: Contemporary Audition Pieces for Aspiring Actresses offers speeches from recent plays by Pulitzer Prize-winning, well-known and emerging new playwrights. The selections by editor Gerald Lee Ratliff emphasize characterization for actresses 15-30 years of age, for use in competitive auditions, acting exercises, forensics, or class and studio work.  Works represented include Doubt by John Patrick Shanley, Phat Girls by Debbie Lamedman, Waiting for Oprah by Mary Miller, The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel, Coffee Klatsch by Dori Appel, Yellow Dishes by Jolene Goldenthal, Lives of the Great Waitresses by Nina Shengold, and Love-Lies-Bleeding by Don DeLillo, among others. [$16.95, Meriwether]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seminar, a comedy by Theresa Rebeck
Seminar,a comedy by Theresa Rebeck

Modern playwrights often place a group of characters in a stressful situation and allow them to react and develop—postively or negatively—as the story proceeds. In Seminar, a comedy by Theresa Rebeck, four ambitious young writers meet weekly in an Upper West Side apartment to show their work to a celebrated editor with no feel for diplomacy. The characters may be recognizable types, but Rebeck never fails to provide masterful comic dialogue of the kind made famous by Neil Simon.  She also allows the seemingly sadistic editor to show some vulnerability when he’s handed a really good piece of writing by one of his students, and responds in a fascinating mixture of joy and envy. Three males, two females. [$11.95, Smith & Kraus]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side Effects, by Michael Weller
Side Effects, by Michael Weller

In Side Effects, by Michael Weller, the central characters’ marriage seems picture-perfect, but behind the scenes they’re falling apart—and having problems keeping the curtains shut. Melinda is grappling with bipolar swings, their teenage sons are acting out, and Hugh’s rising political star is suddenly endangered. Like their counterparts in Weller’s earlier play, Fifty Words, Melinda and Hugh love each other, but circumstances and their divergent personalities are driving them apart. Weller dishes up an intriguing mix of passion and resentment, leaving you wondering whether some marriages are beyond saving. One female, one male. [Dramatists Play Service]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beau Willimon’s Spirit Control
Beau Willimon’s Spirit Control

Beau Willimon’s Spirit Control begins dramatically as air traffic controller Adam Wyatt works to help passenger Maxine land a small plane after her pilot has a heart attack.  Despite his calming guidance, however, Adam’s rescue efforts fail. He quits his job and during a drinking binge meets a young woman who he tells about the accident and the woman whose death is haunting him. When the woman says she can be whoever he wants and tells him her name is Maxine, the story takes a turn familiar to anyone who has seen Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Four males, two females. [Dramatists Play Service]

 

 

 

 

 

The Heir Apparent, by Jean-Francois Regnard
The Heir Apparent, by Jean-Francois Regnard

The Heir Apparent, by Jean-Francois Regnard, adapted by David Ives, is breathtakingly funny. It takes the plot of Regnard’s 1708 play and stuffs it with 21st-century in-jokes, pop culture references, and modern idioms. The wealthy but miserly Geronte wants to marry the lovely Isabelle, but she is in love with Geronte’s nephew, Eraste.  In response, the two youngsters hatch a plan to trick their uncle out of his gold and his bride-to-be.  It’s all offered in a virtually unbroken string of rhyming couplets over the play’s two hours, and audiences—and actors—will have a ball.  Four males, three females. [$10, Shakespeare Theatre Company]

 

 

 

 

 

 

33 Comic Short Plays by Laurie Allen
33 Comic Short Plays by Laurie Allen

33 Comic Short Plays by Laurie Allen is a follow-up to an earlier collection, using real-life teen dilemmas as the basis for comedy. Characters push boundaries, act crazy, and occasionally discover themselves in “Grounded Until Further Notice,” “Crazy Hairy Day,” “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” “Prom Date,” “Confessions,” and “A Fine Line between Love and Hate,” among other small-cast plays. Allen has a knack for natural dialog and believable situations, even when the characters are over the top. [$16.95, Meriwether]