Work

Musical Librettos

My Heart Is The Drum

My Heart is the Drum is the story of Efua Kuti, a 16-year-old girl who is aching to leave behind her stifling, poverty-stricken village to become a teacher, and Edward Adu, a farmhand with traditional views who is in love with her. Inspired by the spirit of her grandmother, Efua runs away to Ghana’s capital city of Accra to attend the university, but on arrival gets abducted into prostitution. Edward sets out to find her. Efua has always been able to draw on her cunning to solve her problems, but will she escape these most desperate circumstances? And if Edward finds her, will he still love her now that she has been “disgraced?” At its core, My Heart is the Drum is about finding the inner strength to achieve your goals and create social change.

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Unknown Girl

Masha, a seventeen-year-old girl in Minsk, Belarus, longs to distinguish herself in the Soviet world of 1941 when such a thing is frowned upon. More than anything, Masha wants to make some imprint on memory, on time. When her theatrical talent is discovered by a teacher, it appears she may have the opportunity she longs for, perhaps even appear in the cinema someday. But Anton, the boy Masha loves, threatens her plans. Anton’s father had been recently arrested for secretly teaching Hebrew to Jewish boys, accused of “Jewish Nationalism.” Masha, like most Jews, denounces any religion, but Anton, since his father’s arrest, has been reading his father’s clandestine Torah and discovering that Judaism has value.  Masha is furious at Anton for keeping the book and endangering them both. She demands that he bury it in a nearby forest. There they encounter a secret meeting: students who suspect their country’s news reports are lies. They have been hiding a short wave wireless without the limits of Soviet state-dispensed radios. The European broadcasts coming through reveal that Germany has invaded Russia’s neighbors. Russia is believed to be next and the group is planning to set up a camp in the forest in the event Minsk is attacked. Masha refuses to join Anton in this plan and the two part. But just as Masha auditions successfully for the state theatre, Germany invades her city.  Masha must now use whatever talent she has to conceal her identity as a Jew and help her mother and Anton’s sister survive in a ghetto the Nazi officers have constructed. In this filthy, dangerous place, an underground movement is formed which Masha joins. By the time she is captured, she has seen Jewish practices revived and realizes, before she dies, that the identity she has rejected is what distinguishes her and makes her, and her people, continue.

Inspired by the actual photographs of Masha Bruskina which chronicle her execution along with two others in a series of graphic images. After the war the photographs were widely circulated and honored, appearing in the Minsk War Museum and in school textbooks. But Masha’s name remains publically unknown. Although her compatriots in death are named, government officials refuse to identify the girl in the photograph and continue to do so.

“Russian filmmaker Lev Arkadiev first encountered the photos while making a documentary on the war in 1968.  Finding it remarkable that the woman in such famous pictures would remain unidentified, Arkadiev and Ada Dikhtiar, a Moscow-based journalist, initiated an investigation to determine her identity.  In the course of their prolonged and exhaustive study, Arkadiev and Dikhtiar conducted interviews with more than twenty individuals who had witnessed the execution or were connected to these events in other ways.  Their findings led to the identification of the woman as Masha Bruskina, a seventeen-year-old member of a Minsk  underground group.  Given Masha’s poise, clearly visible in the existing photographs, it is not surprising that she came to serve as a powerful symbol of dignity, patriotism, and courage.

After publishing their findings, Ada Dikhtiar was demoted from her prestigious position.  Prior to 1996 not one Belorussian historian had even examined the evidence gathered by the two investigators.  The denial of recognition to Masha cannot be attributed to gender or age: many other Soviet women were recognized.  The only salient characteristic that seems to differentiate Masha from the others is her Jewishness.”

A Historical Injustice: The Case of Masha Bruskina, by Nechama Tec and Daniel Weiss; Holocaust and Genocide Studies, VII N3, Winter 1997

“The enduring anti-Semitism in Russia, and notably in Belarus, seems the only explanation for the persistent refusal to publically acknowledge or honor Masha Bruskina.”

Judith Miller, ONE BY ON E BY ONE; Facing the Holocaust

About Masha Bruskina https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masha_Bruskina

Brown Girl

In Development at BMI Musical Theatre Workshop

Based on the journals of Charlotte Forten, a young black educator and the fourth generation of activists in one of the most prestigious and wealthy families in the free Black community of Philadelphia, Brown Girl tells the story of Charlotte’s longing, during the Civil War and afterward, to use her natural teaching talents to inspire and improve her race and the risks she takes to do it. The musical takes place in South Carolina during 1862 and 1863. In an early Civil War victory, Union troops captured the South Carolina Sea Islands and the fleeing Confederates left plantations and slaves behind. The federal government formed a Commission to send northern teachers to teach the freed slaves and Charlotte Forten was assigned a position at a school on St. Helena Island. There she is housed at Oaklands, a nearby plantation abandoned by its owners and now being kept by the owners’ former slaves. Most African Americans on the Sea Islands had never met a free black person and they view Charlotte with suspicion – several of them require coaxing to wait on her and clean her room. Her “fancy manners and white-sounding speech” are joked about among the servants who refer to her as “dat brown girl.” An even bigger challenge is the Gullah dialect the former slaves use which Charlotte can barely understand. It is soon clear that Charlotte has more in common with the whites than with her own race and a momentous task awaits her merely being accepted by the students she longs to inspire.

Full Length Plays

Gone Astray

(Winner, Stanley Drama Award)

Kerryn O’Malley has insisted for nine years that her abducted child is still alive. Since her daughter’s disappearance she has frozen herself, her husband and their mentally handicapped son in a changeless state.  With the missing girl’s twentieth birthday approaching, a young woman of the Lakota nation arrives at their doorstep and is persuaded to recover the lost child.  A battle of wills ensues when the hopes of Kerryn, a white woman steeped in Roman Catholic ritual, clash with the doubts of a Native American who has wandered adrift of her ancestors’ beliefs.

 

Award winning play, GONE ASTRAY received a podcast reading as part of the theatre’s Modern Myths Reading Series through 12 PEERS THEATRE.

Listen to Podcast:

GONE ASTRAY

ACT ONE

ACT TWO

INTERVIEW WITH PLAYWRIGHT

Cast: 3 men, 2 women

Running time: Approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes with intermission

Read a Writing Sample

Desperate Territory

Desperate

Georgia’s inability to stop drinking is destroying her marriage. She feels culpable for driving her brother Benjamin away when he forced her to choose between her husband, Michael, and himself.  Georgia has all but blocked the night Benjamin left from memory when a package containing his property, sent from a hospice across the country, arrives at her doorstep. Georgia is terrified to call the hospice and discover that Benjamin may be dead. Instead, desperate for a clue that will exonerate her, she searches through Ben’s belongings. One by one, she draws forth memories: her need and worship of Benjamin when she was young, her failed attempts to separate, her role as her brother’s protector against a father’s brutal indictment of his gay son.  When the present, and Michael, intrude, Georgia does all she can to force her husband to make the decision to leave her. By the time the memory of the night she chose Michael and rejected Benjamin plays out before her, it may be too late to save her marriage. To do that, Georgia must fight her own fear of loving and face the one member of her family she never sought to rescue: herself.

A Rape in Glorious

Glorious

(Winner – 2000 Arlene R. and William P. Lewis Playwriting Award for Women)

In the 1930s, the Depression has curtailed finances at Thomas Mallory College in Glorious, Pennsylvania.  Joan, a young art student, is working on a sculpture of Joan of Arc when she learns that she has lost her tuition funding and will have to return to her Orthodox Jewish home where her father severely limits her artistic freedom.  Desperate to remain, she applies for a scholarship overseen by her English professor.  Attracted to her, he grants it.  When it is discovered that the professor has raped her, the College Board of Directors holds an inquiry. Joan faces the prospect of incriminating her professor, the only faculty member who, like her, is Jewish.  With her confidence and integrity shattered by the assault, she soon finds herself mistaking Joan of Arc’s trial with the ordeal in which she is embroiled. Confused about her own morality and motives, Joan is torn between betraying a fellow Jew or her own personal honor.

Cast: 5 men, 3 women (with role doubling) or 5 men, 5 women

Running time: Approximately 2 hours with intermission

Read a Writing Sample

Ride The Dark Cars

Ride

Nicky, convinced that her violent husband Joe might kill her, appeals to Suzanne, a New York police officer, who is interested in Nicky romantically.   The two women hatch a plan to threaten Joe by provoking him into attacking Suzanne’s partner and being shot and injured as a result.  The ruse of a social evening they arrange is all going according to plan when a few drinks unleash Joe’s racist and anti-Semitic views.  Silently steaming, Suzanne, who is Jewish, makes it clear that the plan has changed.  Not long after Suzanne’s partner arrives to taunt Joe, Nicky realizes that they are going to kill her husband.  She tries to communicate secretly that she wants to cancel their scheme, but it is too late. Joe’s behavior has fanned Suzanne’s violent mission into a deadly personal flame.

Cast: 2 men, 2 women

Running time: Approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes with intermission

Read a Writing Sample

House of Angels

Angels

In the winter of 1914, the home of widow Amelia Vane is a stir with plans for the approaching wedding of her youngest daughter, Helen.   Helen’s older sister Autumn, like their late father, appears to suffer from what has yet to be classified as an illness – manic depression.   Mr. Vane’s death by his own hand has left the women in a precarious social position at a time and place where social standing is imperative.  Helen’s engagement to a wealthy businessman, James Paxton, son of their late father’s employer, will secure all their futures.  When James introduces an artist, roguish Henry Lafon, into their midst to paint Helen’s wedding portrait, the charming facade of propriety Amelia has created begins to crumble.  The senses of all three women are kindled by Henry’s presence, especially Autumn’s which brings out erratic behavior.  When Autumn discovers her father’s correspondence with European doctors about his illness, raising questions about herself, the threat she poses to Amelia and Helen can no longer be concealed.  Her relentless search for the truth not only endangers her family’s future, but may ultimately cost Autumn her sanity.

Cast: 2 men, 4 women

Running time: Approximately 1 hour, 50 minutes with intermission

Read a Writing Sample

A Fair Wind For Yarrow

In the summer and fall of 1955, the country seems focused on the World Series, none more so than Brooklyn Dodger fan, Russell, awaiting not only the outcome of the Series, but his sixteenth birthday.  Russell was only three when his glamorous mother Irene divorced his father and moved in with her own mother, Millie.  When Irene died, Russell’s father allowed Millie to raise his son.  When Russell uncovers a journal his grandmother has hidden of Irene’s writing, he becomes fascinated with the mother he scarcely remembers.  Enthralled by Irene’s accounts of studying dance in Manhattan, Russell finds himself wanting to be a dancer himself.  When his father shows a sudden interest in drawing closer to Russell and taking over his care, father and son clash over Russell’s fierce adoration of Irene.  Their conflict forces all concerned to confront their unsettled grief and love.

Cast: 2 men, (1 adult, 1 teen), 4 women

Running time: Approximately 1 hour, 50 minutes with intermission

Read a Writing Sample

One Act Plays

Miscast

Miscast

Meg Riley won the part of Masha in an Off-Broadway production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters,” but believes in her heart she should have been cast as Irina. Meg ardently identifies with Irina who insists that work is the only thing that matters. Meg’s own work, however, is hardly to Irina’s taste. To tide her over between acting jobs, Meg receives calls from phone sex customers whom she does her best to satisfy. At present they are annoying interruptions to her preparation of an argument that will prove to the play’s director that he made a grave casting error. Everything changes when a caller whose voice sounds familiar to Meg describes her Brooklyn apartment from his window where he apparently has a perfect view. Meg thinks she recognizes the young man’s voice – connecting it with something unspeakable that happened the year before which brought on a mental breakdown, causing her to drop out of college. The proximity of the caller can mean only one thing – whatever the ordeal – it isn’t over.

Cast: 3 women, 3 men play 14 roles

Running time: Approximately 1 hour, no intermission

Read a Writing Sample

Lavinia Speaks

lavinia

Lavinia Lewis, an African American actress, supports her dream with two jobs, each of which strains the amiable facade she has struggled to maintain. She is alternately at the mercy of an attorney who hasn’t a clue that she, his part-time secretary, is human, and a brood of precocious children learning from Lavinia how to act” for TV commercials. In the midst of this her father is hospitalized and doesn’t seem to want to live. As his anger is directed at Lavinia, she discovers her own wrath which appears to have a life of its own, placing her jobs, relationships and dreams at stake.

Nineveh

nineveh

On the evening of July 4th, a middle-aged beauty salon operator, Clemmentine Jenkins, stops at a seedy bar she has never before stepped foot in on her way out of Bartow Florida, her home town. Clemmie has summoned all her savings and courage to leave home for a more elegant lifestyle in Palm Beach but can’t help herself from making a last stop at Madge’s Bar, a place she has seen frequented by a migrant worker who calls himself Tom. Clemmie observed Tom that afternoon in town taken into custody by police when he harassed a young woman marching in the Independence Day parade. Nevertheless, Tom does show up at Madge’s and Clemmie finds herself half attracted and half repelled as he questions her reasons for leaving and suggests that perhaps her fate lies elsewhere. As her responses to Tom’s advances change with each revelation he unfolds, Clemmie faces her own guilt over surviving the fire that killed her parents and struggles over what to do with the freedom to escape she now holds in her hands.

10 Minute Plays

A Stream In The Wasteland

A stream in the wasteland

In Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, in the 1930’s, Katherine, a young Roman Catholic novice, discovers her younger sister, Annie, is pregnant.  The discovery forces her to confront an unspoken shame the two share. It is an acknowledgment that will force a choice between the depth of Katherine’s love for Annie, or the need to transform herself into a pristine example of womanhood.

 

Broken Moon

Broken moon

Lila, a diffident, middle aged woman, finds herself in a waiting room. Pauline, young, with a defensive arrogance, enters.  As the two women reluctantly connect, the purpose of their visit is revealed: to end their pregnancies. Pauline is at first impatient with Lila’s bewildered and emotional state and rapidly becomes outright annoyed.   She is therefore startled when Lila erupts in sudden rage at one of Pauline’s flippant comments.  Soon Lila is disclosing that the child she carries is not her husbands but belongs to a stranger.  Her confession and the plea for forgiveness which follows breaks through Pauline’s armor and the truth for both of them is revealed.

Screenplays

The Six Candles

Clare’s Hayes’ parents survived concentration camps but her father’s dark memories and distrust of life haunted Clare’s childhood, ultimately driving her away from their Brooklyn home after graduating from medical school. Now, her father dead, and nearly estranged from her mother, Clare has established a new life as a non-Jew in a Midwest suburb. She is enjoying her successful plastic surgery practice, her husband Jerry and daughter Jo, when antisemitism intrudes on her comfortable community.

A local synagogue has hired an architect to design a Holocaust memorial composed of six lofty candles. Their sober meaning and especially their size are interpreted as a disturbing specter looming over the middle school across the street from the Temple, and the students’ parents form a protest group which Clare is invited to join. At the same time, Ethan Baker, a newcomer to the community, opens a training center for fashion models aimed at high school clientele, and his somewhat anti-Semitic views and charismatic influence on Clare’s daughter Jo and her friends inflames the already unsettled feelings in the town. When Jo discovers that her mother has been hiding the fact that she is Jewish and revolts, Clare finds herself siding with the pro-memorial supporters against her daughter and her husband’s family. After a violent fight, Jo moves out of Clare and Jerry’s home to live with Jerry’s parents and join the beautiful group of young people in Ethan’s entourage. Soon Clare’s own buried memories of her father’s suicide surface and she contacts her mother, bringing her to live with her and Jerry. Clare’s need to accept her identity and her longing to reunite her family are aided when Jo’s younger best friend, Charlie, a computer nerd, rejected by Jo for her glamorous new crowd, discovers something suspicious about Ethan’s fashion modeling business. Soon Clare, Jerry and Charlie are faced with a prospect that means danger not only for Clare’s family, but for Jewish families throughout America.

Zone One

with Mark V. Olsen

Rachel (“Rick”) and Jake grew up in a Midwestern home where the sexual abuse by their father was never discovered. As adults, though fiercely devoted, they never mention this past to each other and each finds their own way to bury memories.  Jake is married and a successful partner in a law firm, firmly rooted in his community. Rick is his opposite, working as an Associated Press stringer, a life of airports and faraway lands.   When she found herself pregnant, things changed and she managed to combine single motherhood with constant travel, prevailing upon Jake and his wife for childcare. It all worked until Rick fell in love. Not with a person, but with the country where she had been reporting. Guatemala.  One day, after being there a year, she uncovers a mystery. Unaware of what motivates her, Rick has embraced a collection of less than innocent waifs or street boys who live in a deplorable section of the capital city: Zone One.  Frank, another expat and the first man Rick has allowed to get close to her, joins her in investigating why the boys are becoming sick and dying. When she discovers that they are being poisoned, Rick begins to track down what she is convinced is a conspiracy involving the national police, oblivious of the danger to herself of threatening foreign officials. When Rick’s teenage daughter, Dee escapes from Jake’s home and surprises Rick, things become more precarious.  Rick is forced to confront her emotional distancing of Dee, and far worse, as her investigation of the Zone One boys uncovers the sale of tainted narcotics, Dee is kidnapped, bringing Jake to Guatemala. As Rick’s frantic search for Dee escalates, it becomes clear that corrupt officials, some of whom report to agents in the American Embassy, are involved.  Driven to see justice prevail for the innocent, dark childhood memories of her own victimhood surface which threaten not only Rick’s own life, but her brother’s and daughter’s as well.

Publications

AUDITION ARSENAL FOR WOMEN IN THEIR 20’S

LAVINIA SPEAKS (Monologue)

Lavinia Lewis, 20-40, African American, hiding behind smiles and a fragile self-control.

Lavinia Lewis is a struggling actress. Among her several part-time jobs, she works for an attorney. Meanwhile, her father is ill and Lavinia is convinced he might live, but he seems to be giving up. Watching him, Lavinia sees her own lifelong inability to fight for herself, and her buried anger surfaces. Here, she reaches the end of her patience with the attorney’s disregard for her feelings.

SCENES FROM A DIVERSE WORLD

GONE ASTRAY

CAST:

Warren O’Mally: Irish American, 40-50

Winston O’Mally: Warren’s son, deaf, mentally handicapped, obese, 22

Abbie Firewing: Lakota Sioux

AT RISE:  Winston sits before a battered upright piano wearing a set of earphones unconnected to anything. Having just single-handedly transported the piano from an upstairs room, Warren is staring with wonder at his biceps. Abbie has just returned from searching for clues in an effort to find Warren’s daughter, Raven, who has been missing for nine years.