Mary’s Joy – the anatomy of a martyr
Coming In Hot
Tucson Weekly (1)
Tucson Weekly (2)
Coming in Hot is a tour de force, drawing on the powerful writing of women who’ve served in the military… If you haven’t seen it, seek it out. It’s a powerful and affecting piece beautifully delivered by Simpson and Vicki Brown, a musician-composer whose evocative solo score carries these stories aloft before they settle deep in our minds and hearts.
The truly amazing thing about the presentation lies in the lack of apparent political manipulation of the text. While it would be easy to cherry-pick tales of horror in an attempt to create a shocking anti-war message, this show has the feel of simple, personal narrative. If there is an anti-war message in the work at all, is emerges simply because, as Stephen Colbert so eloquently put it, “The facts have a distinctly liberal bias.” This show should be seen by everyone, especially those who are at most risk of enlisting to serve, those who are financially desperate enough or militaristically indoctrinated enough to see military service as an easy route to independence.
Tenderness is not what I expected from a play based on a book by women soldiers. Yet tenderness is the quality that has most stayed with me from Coming in Hot. The actor Jeanmarie Simpson delivered the work as a monologue that propelled into the audience the individual emotional atmosphere of 14 “characters,” the authors who had served in the United States military .
On a bare, shallow stage the script from which Simpson read sat on a black music stand while next to her the sound artist Vicki Brown, on viola, played her own music, whose ethereal eeriness functioned to paradoxically lift many of the stories from grimness, such as corpses described in detail and a fellow soldier/rapist eluded, and to ground those stories in tonal roots. I heard angelic music. I heard the music of soil, of death, of passions confined, plundered, gushing.
Huge images, including those of women troops, Baghdad street scenes, the solider authors themselves in military gear, and Simpson performing the play in a different space and costumed as a soldier–white T-shirt, dog tag–and tending a coffin, projected to the left of her and Brown. The images held my attention far less than did the performers. I like LIVE. I like its directness and expressiveness. I like being in the presence of human beings breathing, sweating, and creating. With them, I feel my own presence. I liked the simplicity of dress–black, which I read as neutral more than funereal. In black’s neutrality and with my eyes mostly on the performers, their art as well as the crispness of the writing grew far larger than the visually large impact of the projections. With Simpson and Brown, I felt my humanness.
“Coming in hot” is military jargon for arriving with guns blazing. That’s often what heroes do, both real and mythic ones. The weapons of heroes may be lethal to human flesh (Genghis Khan) or loving to the human heart (Buddha). Either way, heroes produce social or cultural change. (I include spiritual change within those 2 categories.) Heroes are unique and special. Everyone is probably not a hero, although people have the capacity to be one. I’m defining “hero” differently from the way that I often hear it used today, as an adjective applied to virtually all soldiers returning from Iraq. In general, people use “hero” loosely.
The artist Barbara Kruger lampoons that looseness as she critiques the convention of the hero, the always-a-guy with public or personal, romantic or professional muscle. In a text-only work from 1983, in which What big muscles you have! in red overlays black text on a white ground, the “feminine” compliment, “Ooh, what big muscles you have!” turns into absurdity and ingratiation as we read line after line composed of “compliments” such as “My lordship,” “My Rambo,” “My baby mogul,” “My sugar daddy,” “My banker,” “My pimp.” Looking over the list, I end up thinking that any male in any role could be on it. The hero reduced to pablum.
The heat with which heroes blaze into us gives them the power to serve as activists in our lives. Artists can be such heroes. No surprise that “My great artist” is in Kruger’s list. The artist as hero is a repeated, though often implicit, theme within art history. The controversial artist or art work–heroes do tend to be controversial–often deals with social problems, frequently reflecting rather than transforming them. In other words, we get reiterations of issues rather than offerings of solution. Some have responded to Coming in Hot as controversial, and on the blog for the play I read, “Controversy is a good thing.” Our culture loves controversy and believes in its capacity to bring fortune, fame, or at least talk to a person, event, or work of art. Activism interests me far more than does controversy, which I see as a distraction, from something that either may or not be significant, both affective and effective. Controversy can become people’s focus, whereas activism needs that focus.
In this activist play we listen to a group of people whose speech about their own experiences and perceptions tends to go without a public hearing. That, to me, is the activism in Coming in Hot–women first. And it’s women first throughout the entire creation and production, from the authors of the book Powder to its editors Lisa Bowden and Shannon Cain to its publication by Kore Press, devoted to works by women and published by Bowden, to the book’s adaptation for performance by Bowden, Cain, and Simpson to the very live art by Simpson and Brown.
Brown’s music was heated, it was freezing too, and its vibrations enwrapped Simpson’s corporeality–her body, her voice. That voice and her demeanor became increasingly tender as the performance progressed. Greater softness, which was a matter of vocal malleability, and greater nuance produced a compassionate humor as well as that tenderness, which I felt at its height near and into the end of the performance. During that time the character whose voice and gruesome yet poetic remembrances recur throughout Coming in Hotcalls herself “mother of the dead.” The author of those remembrances prepared and processed the bodies of United States dead in a Mortuary Affairs Unit, which was work for which she volunteered while fulfilling formal duties as a Marine. Mother of the dead–she is the overarching activist in the play: mortuary goddess, a gentle Charon “ferrying” the spirit remains of her comrades wherever it is those remains go, speaking in the utmost gentle caress with the love whose realization, which is an activism unlike any other, can end all wars.
“COMING IN HOT” IS THOUGHTFUL ANTI-WAR THEATER
By Ford Burkhart (Pulitzer Prize Winning NY Times Journalist)
A recent production of the one-woman play, “Coming In Hot” was performed by Jeanmarie Simpson on Sept. 24-27 at the Rhythm Industry Performance Factory. It delivered at least two unexpected rewards. The play was a showcase for one of the region’s top professional acting talents, Jeanmarie Simpson, who turned women’s issues into compelling theater. But the play also illuminated the dimensions of men’s lives in war in Iraq — indeed in all wars — and gave a perspective on many other burning issues of our time well beyond the war in Iraq. The play is based roughly on the book “Powder: Writing by Women in the Military, from Vietnam to Iraq.” One hopes it will earn a much longer life beyond these few performances. One suspects that will happen, and one hopes it will be soon. Simpson showed rich, mature talent in playing 14 roles, accompanied by often disturbing music and other sound works created onstage by Vicki Brown, which helped complete the stories of the 14 women. Although the play is filled almost exclusively with women’s voices, it turned out to reveal so much truth about the daily life of men in the Iraq war, and the impacts of war on the lives of men as well as women. It is a tribute to the skill of the creators that they were able to give each woman a distinct personality without using obvious effects; there were no exaggerated accents, no major costume changes – just a powerful set of voices and expressions, all Simpson’s, and equally powerful lighting and stage movement. For that reason, the entire one hour and 20 minutes kept the audience members on the edge of their seats, listening for the first word and gesture from each new character, to learn where the play was going to take us next. This was theater that will long resonate in the thoughts of its audiences and in conversations about the nobler aspects and demands of public service, the motivations to take part in a national cause, the meaning of being a hero, right down to the smallest moments in the routines of all of the participants in a major event in global history. Happily, the play is not a simple antiwar exercise, but travels the route of the best theater. It evokes Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” as it embraces the full circle of relationships that surround, support and haunt each of the women caught up in the Iraq war.
As You Like It
…Directed by Jeanmarie Simpson, who makes ample and shrewd use of the steep hillside…the set design is, as you might guess, without fault and so is Simpson’s quick and quick-witted swiftness of direction. The questions posed by the play are many and are quickly resolved, if not always clearly answered. Will the handsome Orlando wind up with the comely Rosalind? Will the love-sick Sylvius land the narcissistic “who’s the fairest of us all” Phebe? Will Duke Frederic get his comeuppance? Will Jacques always be a wet blanket of broadside social commentary or will his droll philosophizing save the day? Will the girlish and attractive Celia marry anyone at all, or just go on having a grand good time? As things stand with this show as adroitly edited into an action packed 90 minutes, a grand good time is had by all. Too good to miss. — Jack Neal, Nevada Events (August 23, 2006)
Hamlet/Richard III Revival
Never underestimate the inventiveness of the Nevada Shakespeare Company… Astonishingly entertaining and just as astonishingly true to Shakespeare, Ms. Simpson has two hits on her hands that delighted debut audiences last weekend at Reno’s lovely Hawkins Outdoor Amphitheater… Huge credit must go to director Jeanmarie Simpson for her savvy at cutting, casting and directing the plays….. This exceptional group of six actors in search of meaning in two plays are a seasoned lot and exciting to behold on stage…. Playing “Richard” as a comedy that works as revelatory theater is a testament to Ms. Simpson’s conceptualization… King Richard may be willing to give his kingdom for a horse, but audiences experiencing [this] zany Richard will most likely never give up all those laughs and settle – without at least a slight tinge of regret – for the more traditional tragedy of “Richard III.” — Jack Neal, Nevada Events (Sep 21, 2005)
…The six-actor approach is a strong argument for the power of quality acting. Rather than load the stage with bodies, director Simpson took her finest performers, herself included, and allowed them to carry the entire play. Always one to value acting over spectacle, I found a great deal of joy in watching six strong performers pour their souls into their work, minus the usual theatrical trappings. Even the costuming was designed to be simple and inconspicuous. While chairs serve as the only props, the actors are quite active. Simpson’s staging is fantastic, constantly drawing the audience’s attention toward the action… Hamlet demonstrates what happens when a first-rate group of performers are allowed to play off one another. For those who’ve never seen scaled-down productions, it may be difficult to conceive of such a show packing the same emotional punch as full-scale counterparts. But Nevada Shakespeare’s Hamlet is living proof it can happen. Highly recommended. — Forrest Hartman, Reno Gazette Journal (August, 2000)
…Being a theater reviewer is a thankless job, but every once in a while, I see a play that makes the late hours, long drives and cranky letters to the editor worthwhile. Nevada Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard III is one of those plays; in fact, it may be the best one I’ve seen in Nevada thus far. Both Shakespeare buffs and casual theatregoers should love this wacky interpretation of the classic bloody play. Director Jeanmarie Simpson has turned Richard III into a cartoon, and like most cartoons, the reality of violence is masked with funny noises, gaudy colors and zany musical dance numbers. Physical comedy abounds, as violent battles are played out as bitchy slap fights and vigorous spankings reminiscent of Monty Python. Richard is delightfully wicked, making the audience a co-conspirator in his evil little schemes. Anyone who’s ever wanted Wile E. Coyote to catch the stupid Road Runner will root for Richard as he outwits, outplays and outlasts the good guys for the majority of the play. I enjoyed every moment… — Adrienne Rice, Reno News and Review (July, 2001)
A Single Woman
…Playwright and actress Jeanmarie Simpson portrays this feisty, formidable character… It’s masterful acting. Providing a foil and counterpoint is versatile actor and director Cameron Crain…The play is a favorable portrait of a fascinating personality, but it doesn’t gloss over Rankin’s thornier dilemmas: What about Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust and the Japanese army’s barbarism in China? The show will find a sympathetic audience among long-suffering, peace-minded lefties…However, Rankin emerges as such a gutsy, charming and independent presence that moderates, conservatives and political independents will enjoy her, as well… Seek it out, and soon! It’s well worth the effort. Kudos to California Stage for helping with the launch. Best theatrical surprise – California Stage (in a co-production with the Nevada Shakespeare Company) caught everyone off guard with a sparkling new play called A Single Woman . It is based on the life and writings of early feminist Jeannette Rankin, who was the first woman elected to Congress (before women had the right to vote!) and had a mind as tough as nails. Outstanding work by playwright and actress Jeanmarie Simpson. — Jeff Hudson, Sacramento News and Review
…As Rankin, Jeanmarie Simpson is entirely convincing. Simpson takes the life of Rankin and breathes freshness into Rankin’s every belief and pronouncement and there are plenty of both in this gripping play. Simpson and Crain are remarkable actors and both give A Single Woman an aura of devotion that makes their presentation crackle with excitement and truth. That A Single Woman also provokes as much as it excites is what the life of Jeannette Rankin was about…That it’s also entertaining theater only makes it that much more compelling… — Jack Neal, Nevada Events
…During her second stint in congress, elected in 1940, Rankin was the only member to vote against the declaration of war on Japan. Her pacifism made her very unpopular, but she never faltered in her stance. She believed when women gained the vote, they would become more active in politics and protest all courses of action that were not peaceful. When women didn’t take up her cause, she was frustrated and disappointed. “We women should picket everything and be willing to go to prison,” Rankin says…. Between her speeches, her reading of letters and her interactions with Everyman, Rankin makes bread rolls and lemonade. When Rankin becomes impassioned, saying things like, “War’s a habit, like alcohol to an intemperate man,” Simpson cleverly portrays Rankin’s fury by violently kneading the bread–probably the most violent motion Rankin herself ever made. When Simpson speaks, the air is electrified; her words are surely filled with as much power as Rankin’s ever were. Simpson’s timing and emotion are intense and flawless. As clichéd as it sounds, audiences will probably look at war in a different and more dangerous light after seeing A Single Woman . Even those who support war as an often necessary plan of action will find charm, compassion and insight in Rankin’s life. After the play, the bread rolls that Rankin placed in the oven about 20 minutes before the play’s end are cooked, and Simpson shares them with anyone who wants them. Eating the rolls is a consuming experience, even after the play is over. It’s like eating Rankin’s morals. If people could have just swallowed a few of her ideals over the years, perhaps the world would not be where it is today. — Miranda Jesch, Reno News and Review
… Roderick Dexter is absolutely amazing as King Lear. As he loses control of his mind, Lear’s emotions run wild. Dexter flits between anger, despair, joy and confusion, often within the same soliloquy… he delivers his lines with such passion that their meaning is unmistakable. He is backed by a strong supporting cast, all of whom play multiple characters. Jeanmarie Simpson shows her range by portraying both the evil Goneril and Lear’s gentle physician with equal aplomb. Cameron Crain gives a solid performance as Kent, a loyal lord who is banished by Lear but returns disguised as a servant… Anna Mosher effectively captures Cordelia’s good nature… she is talented beyond her years… Directed by Simpson, NSC’s King Lear is a worthy adaptation of Shakespeare’s great tragedy. With its pared-down script, the play is a palatable 90 minutes, and the simplicity of the production lets the beauty of the language shine through.. — Monica Wiant, Reno News and Review
…The staging of Cordelia’s death, the tarp used as Lear’s robe, the appearance of specific props and disguises were very creative… Roderick Dexter’s portrayal of King Lear is masterful… his interpretation of the disillusioned father and deposed king who is slipping into madness is forceful… Simpson as Goneril and the Doctor is equally adept at interpreting archaic English for modern audiences. Her delivery was beautifully paced – her characters richly real… Simpson has chosen a unique vision for her production, and the performance certainly provides fodder for discussion… — Marla Carr, Reno Gazette Journal