Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Fifth of July

Fifth of July is not just a date, it’s a play by Lanford Wilson. It opened off-Broadway in 1978, then, after some revision, on Broadway in 1980. It’s also the play that was the starting point of my doctoral studies and the subject of my doctoral thesis in 1988.

In 1985 I directed a production of the play at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder with a great cast.

Fifth of July Nomads March 1985

The cast of Fifth of July at Nomads Theatre, Boulder, Colorado, March 1985

In the course of my studies I became friends with Mr. Wilson, and the director of the productions, Marshall W. Mason. So ever since then, I have marked the 5th of July as a special day for me and my love of theatre.

“Matt didn’t believe in death and I don’t either…. There’s no such thing. It goes on and then it stops. You can’t worry about the stopping, you have to worry about the going on.” – Sally Talley, Fifth of July.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Friday, June 17, 2022

Happy Friday

The reading on Tuesday of Tucumcari Tonite! went very well.  The cast of Ian McEwen and Skyler Ray Benson Davis with stage directions (and a coyote howl) by Tamar Bolkvadze under the direction of Cody Goulder made the characters come to life.

You can watch it on YouTube from now until the end of the month.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Travel Day

I’m heading out to Valdez, Alaska, for the Valdez Theatre Conference.  This is my third trip there, and each time I’m more amazed by the people I’m with and the surroundings.

The play we’ll be reading is “Tucumcari Tonite!”  It’s a buddy comedy: Alex, a bail bondsman from Las Vegas, is taking Tony, a mob accountant, across country to his new life and identity under witness protection. They spend the night on the side of the road in the middle of the New Mexico desert among the dangers of the desert life, and learn some interesting truths about themselves and each other.

Because I will be very busy with the play and all the things that go on there, and that I’ll be four hours behind my usual time zone, things may be a little quiet here.  But I’ll be posting when I can.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Happy Friday

The Sugar Ridge Rag is now available on-demand, so you have no excuse for not watching it.  Plus, I get a cut of the gate, so yeah, there’s an ulterior motive for me to nag you to see it.

I hope you will watch it and let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Back In Tampa

I’m here for the second weekend of the run of The Sugar Ridge Rag at LAB Theater Project with two dear friends and fellow playwrights, Craig Houk and Doug DeVita.  There will be a talk-back after the show, which means that the audience will get to ask me questions about the play, and I’ll get to tell them about the playwriting process.

For those of you not here in Tampa, the play will be available on-demand from May 12-26.  Click on the link above for ticket information.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Happy Friday

A wild week, but I’m glad to welcome friends Doug and Craig who are coming to Florida to see The Sugar Ridge Rag with me in Tampa.  Craig is already here, and we’ll meet up with Doug in Tampa on Saturday.  Road trip!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Good Press

From the St. Pete Catalyst:

For decades, South Florida playwright Philip Middleton Williams had the germ of an idea in the back of his mind – a period drama about twin brothers, with opposite opinions on the Vietnam War, and the effect each one’s life choice has on the family.

The dramatic train started rolling in April 2020, on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy at Kent State University, when four students engaged in a protest were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard.

Williams, who grew up in northwest Ohio, was 17 at the time, and remembered his dread, hoping his draft notice would never arrive.

The memories provided the spark for The Sugar Ridge Rag, a powerful, engaging drama being produced – for the first time anywhere – by Tampa’s LAB Theater Project.

It tells the story of brothers Dave and Pete Granger, who live with their parents – it’s not Ozzie and Harriet, but it’s a reasonably typical American household – and who must each make a tough decision.

“I think the Granger family is a combination of a lot of my friends’ families,” Williams says. “Including my own.  My older brother by two years got his draft physical letter, but since he was still in high school, he didn’t get drafted. I was – and still am – a conscientious objector.”

The Sugar Ridge Rag, directed by Caroline Jett, is onstage Thursdays-Sundays through May 15.

According to the theater’s founder and artistic director Owen Robertson, Williams’ play ticked all the boxes. ”With every submission we get, the primary question we ask is ‘Is there a good story being told?’ And with Sugar Ridge Rag, we loved the story. And as we dug deeper, we saw the parallels to what we’re living in today. And we thought it was a really nice way to use events of the past to speak to us now, through a really good story.”

In other words: “Anybody who has half a brain in this age knows we’re living in a massively polarized political climate.”

Williams was in attendance when the production premiered last weekend. “I was amazed at the closeness of the cast and how well they worked together, as well as the complete professionalism that I’ve seen ever since I started working with Owen and Caroline.

“Everything about this production – the set, the lights, the costuming, the props, the sound effects, and most importantly, the portrayal of the characters – is what I thought of seeing on stage as I wrote it.  They are even showing me things about themselves that I didn’t see until they did it on stage.”

If you’re not in the area, you can see the play on-demand from May 12 to May 26.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Thursday, April 28, 2022

All That Really Matters

My play The Sugar Ridge Rag opens tonight at the LAB Theater Project in Tampa, running through May 15.  It’s been two years since I began to write it and six months since Owen Robertson, the producer at LAB, wrote me to tell me they wanted to add it to their 2022 season and have it directed by Caroline Jett.

My job as the playwright is to write the play and then entrust it to the company to make the story and the characters come alive.  I will see that happen tonight with this play that I feel is one that is closer to my own heart than just about any other of my works produced so far.  I know it is in good hands.  The process from page to stage has been thrilling to watch as Owen, Caroline, and the cast and crew have put the production together.  Located in a storefront in historic Ybor City along the old cobblestone streets, this small-in-square-footage theatre has been thoroughly professional and taking care of every detail.

One of my duties was to write a note for the program.  I’ve seen this in other plays and I’ve wondered what I would say about the play if I had the chance to write it.  Well, now I have, and here it is.

Every one of us has moments when our life changes course. How we deal with that moment says much about who we are, where we will go, and how it will touch those we love. For me, one such moment was May 4, 1970, when four students were killed at Kent State University in Ohio during a demonstration against the war in Vietnam. I was seventeen and lived just over a hundred miles from the school. The loss hit me hard because those students were not much older than me, and at least one of them wasn’t even involved in the demonstration; he was just passing by. The deaths further divided the country over the war, wounds which have yet to heal. For me, the war changed from being an abstract series of grainy images on the nightly news into something real that I would have to confront in four months when I would turn eighteen and have to register for the draft. The choice I made on that morning in May 1970 changed my life forever.

For a long time, I thought of writing about twin brothers going their different ways, each following what they believed was their calling and what their decisions meant to the people they left behind. When the fiftieth anniversary of Kent State came in 2020, I was able to hear the Granger family of Sugar Ridge, Ohio, tell me their memories about that time and how they dealt with it. What they told me wasn’t about politics or ideology or war vs. peace. It was about how each of them learned that something as simple as being able to sit in the backyard on a summer evening and listen to a baseball game on the radio was what really mattered, and how loving one another was the most important thing of all.

If you can’t make it to the theatre, it will be available on-demand from May 12 to 26. Enjoy the show.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Friday, April 22, 2022

Happy Friday

I’m back at the William Inge Theatre Festival, which faithful readers will know is my annual pilgrimage to honor a playwright in the town where he grew up.  This is my twenty-ninth trip here since the first one in 1991 — I missed 2002, and 2020 and 2021 were postponed — so it’s really good to be back.

Today I’m presenting a paper at the Scholars’ Conference portion of the festival.  The rest of the time will be spent hanging out with my friends, old and new.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Dramatic Past

Forty-five years ago tonight my first play was produced by the University of Minnesota.  Staged in the Experimental Theatre of the Rarig Center, it was directed by the late Stephen G. Hults.  It was my master’s thesis project.

I consider it to be my first pancake: used to test the griddle then tossed or fed to the dog.  I subsequently revised it and directed it at the University of Colorado in 1984.

This is the poster from the original production.

I was once asked if I would like to see it produced again.  My reply was concise: “Not even at gunpoint.”

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Dramatic News

A couple of shameless self-promoting items:

Tickets are now on sale for “The Sugar Ridge Rag” at the LAB Theater Project in Tampa.  The play will be performed live April 28 – May 15 (Thursdays-Sundays) as well as live-streamed and on-demand, so you don’t have to be in the area to see it.

“Can’t Live Without You” will be available in print and for licensing tomorrow, April 1, from Next Stage Press.

There’s no business like show business…

Friday, March 18, 2022

Happy Friday

Two years ago I was ten days away from seeing my play “Can’t Live Without You” open at the Willow Theatre.  Now I am happy to announce that it will be published by Next Stage Press on April 1.

Here’s a promotional video that was produced for that production in 2019.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Happy Friday

I got the news this week that I’ve been invited back to the Valdez Theatre Conference in Alaska in June.  My short play “Tucumcari Tonite!” will be read during the week.  This will be my third trip to one of the most beautiful places on the planet with some of the most talented writers and directors I’ve ever met.

Alex, a bail bondsman from Las Vegas, is taking Tony, a mob accountant, across country to his new life and identity under witness protection. They spend the night on the side of the road in the middle of the New Mexico desert among the dangers of the desert life, and learn some interesting truths about themselves and each other.

If you can’t make it to Valdez, you can request a copy of the script through my website.

Monday, February 7, 2022

First Read-Through

The first read-through, February 6, 2022

The LAB Theater Project is in a small space — 45 seats — but with a big heart and unlimited enthusiasm, not to mention professionalism at every level. They also have the passion to make it work on every level, and I was amazed at how the reading came together with the cast and the team working with them. I was also remembering that out of small spaces and high energy comes great work: Caffe Cino in New York in the early 1960’s was little more than a storefront coffee shop, but out of it came playwrights who honed their craft while they waited tables next to actors between their shifts at whatever jobs they could find to make their way onto the stage: people such such as Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard, Al Pacino, Bette Midler, and many others.

The point is that the best theatre is done in small spaces where the focus is on the work, not the star power, and the audience sees the talent, passion, and effort up close.

I am honored to have “The Sugar Ridge Rag” have its world premiere at a storefront theatre in Tampa, Florida. It’s better than Broadway.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Friday, January 28, 2022

Friday, January 14, 2022

Happy Friday

The arc of justice may bend slowly, but it just grabbed this guy by the ass.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, and 10 other members or associates have been charged with seditious conspiracy in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, authorities said Thursday.

Despite hundreds of charges already brought in the year since pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, these were the first seditious conspiracy charges levied in connection with the attack on Jan. 6, 2021.

It marked a serious escalation in the largest investigation in the Justice Department’s history – more than 700 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes – and highlighted the work that has gone into piecing together the most complicated cases. The charges rebut, in part, the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers who have publicly challenged the seriousness of the insurrection, arguing that since no one had been charged yet with sedition or treason, it could not have been so violent.

The indictment alleges Oath Keepers for weeks discussed trying to overturn the election results and preparing for a siege by purchasing weapons and setting up battle plans. They repeatedly wrote in chats about the prospect of violence and the need, as Rhodes allegedly wrote in one text, “to scare the s—-out of” Congress. And on Jan. 6, the indictment alleges, they entered the Capitol building with the large crowds of rioters who stormed past police barriers and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers running.

Authorities have said the Oath Keepers and their associates worked as if they were going to war, discussing weapons and training. Days before the attack, one defendant suggested in a text message getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River to their “waiting arms,” prosecutors say.

On Jan. 6, several members, wearing camouflaged combat attire, were seen on camera shouldering their way through the crowd and into the Capitol in a military-style stack formation, authorities say.

The indictment against Rhodes alleges Oath Keepers formed two teams, or “stacks,” that entered the Capitol. The first stack split up inside the building to separately go after the House and Senate. The second stack confronted officers inside the Capitol Rotunda, the indictment said. Outside Washington, the indictment alleges, the Oath Keepers had stationed two “quick reaction forces” that had guns “in support of their plot to stop the lawful transfer of power.”

But according to numerous mouths in the GOP, they were just tourists and happened to show up on January 6 to see the sights.

In other non-riot related news, I’ve added a collection of seven monologues to my website.  The poster is by Craig Houk.