“For the Page as well as the Stage, #3”

A review by Joey Madia

There’s nothing like a pandemic to adjust one’s perspective and beckon new ways of being.

Since April, I’ve added a few select, exquisitely written and constructed plays to my review list. All have been solicitations from the playwrights. Having a theatre company that is indefinitely mothballed as far as presenting plays for live audiences and being a playwright myself, I have great sympathy for these works without a home, without a mechanism to reach an audience, as well as for their creators.

So I am doing what I can to make a case that certain plays can offer almost as much to a reader as they can to an audience. After all, that is how good plays get produced… they are read by a dramaturg, director, or producer and, if the strength of their vision, the weight of their words, the complexity and authenticity of their characters, and the energy of their narrative are sufficiently compelling, the playwright’s work is lifted off of the page and onto the stage.

A reader can do this work of engaged, discerning reading just as well as most directors or producers because all you need is inherently already there. Continue reading

Falling Open in a World Falling Apart

“Growing Beyond the Practice”

A review by Joey Madia

As I type this review—my 198th—I do so in the midst of an America (and a world) in crisis. We are in day three of a contested, contentious election. England has locked back down for at least a month, and people were leaving Paris in droves ahead of a second lockdown because the pandemic is once again spreading at alarming, and in some places unmitigated, rates.

Colleagues, clients, and just about everyone I talk with feel a Pressure. A dark, invasive Cloud of Worry, Fear, and Stress.

We don’t yet understand the extent to which the world has changed in the past seven months. Let’s start with the hundreds of thousands dead, and those who have survived COVID-19 but will live with its effects for the rest of their (potentially shortened or diminished) lives. How about the many industries, businesses, and livelihoods that have been irreparably damaged or people displaced from their homes? How many twenty-somethings have moved back in with their parents, their lives put on hold, as have our son and his closest friend?

We must have something New. New Voices and Visions. New Stories. The stakeholders of the current Systems, which are slowly bleeding out and dying, are screaming out their stories through a handful of International Multimedia Companies and massive manipulation. Continue reading

Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder

“Hardboiled History”

A review by Joey Media

Somewhere between the fast-paced action of a 1940s noir and detailed, methodical read-by-the-fire novel, Shamus Dust is a well-researched, engaging exploration of London post–World War II (when “eggs were powder, bread was on ration, and bacon wasn’t even a rumor”), where the bombings and disruptions of the war have opened the gates to all manner of subterfuge and cash-grabs.

According to her biography, Janet Roger cut her thriller and mystery teeth on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and it definitely shows. But, as I said, this is more than just a trope-filled whodunit, although fans of the genre—myself included—will not be disappointed. If you are familiar with Hugh Laurie’s The Gun Seller, it has the very same layer of intelligence.

As a writer of historical novels who loves to do research and create highly detailed descriptions of the worlds in which they happen, as well as a playwright who has penned two audience-chooses-the-endings murder mystery musicals and an Escape Room based on my 1940s Manhattan gumshoe Dirk Manzman, I am well acquainted with the immense amount of work that goes into combining the two as Roger has accomplished.

The historical research really is exquisite, from the Roman presence in Britain at the turn from BC to AD and onward for hundreds of years to the German V-2 rocket launches. There are references to an RKO newsreel and film of the time. It helps to know your history when Newman references “Dickie Mountbatten” (the popularity of The Crown, and Charles Dance’s portrayal, should help) and another character says, “[T]hey charged at Balaclava and were chums with General Gordon in China” (George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series, anyone?). There’s even a reference to a 1927 chess match. See if you can find it. Continue reading

The Blood of Squirrels

“For the Page as well as the Stage”

A Review by Joey Media

Some days, it is splendid to be a reviewer.

Most days, honestly. But the days when a little gift is delivered to my email in-box in the form of a book—or a play—that is in need of some attention, some publicity… those are the best for me.

Of the nearly 200 reviews I have written, roughly 180 of them are of fiction and nonfiction books. I have also reviewed music and videos. And also some plays.

Plays are interesting to review. An argument is often made that teaching Shakespeare as literature instead of theatre is detrimental. Well, of course you are missing the performance element, which is what the plays were expressly written for… but more people have probably read those plays than seen them, so overall it’s been helpful.

And here we are, five months into the pandemic, with Broadway shut down until at least 2021 and regional and small theatres struggling and closing. As a result, (millions of) people are watching plays on cable: Hamilton comes to mind, as well as the Danny Boyle–directed Frankenstein from the National Theatre starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch that was available on YouTube several months ago. Continue reading

Loose Canon

“Different mirrors; different reflections.”

A review by Joey Media

“Loose Cannon”: an expression that derives from the danger posed by an unsecured cannon on the deck of a ship.

Irish poet Michael McNamara’s newest collection plays on this definition. If he is the first to do so, I applaud him. The implications of this homonym certainly fit and the implications are profound.

Edgar Allen Poe said that a novel is a cannon, while a short story is a rifle. But what of poetry? We might say that a collection is a cannon, while the individual poem is the rifle.

Inserting the homonym, this loose canon of collected poetry can certainly do some damage: to the established canon and to our perceptions of time, place, and death.

These themes, prevalent in McNamara’s work, are the primary reason I am deeply engaged with it. I recently reviewed his collection, This Transmission (Argotist Ebooks, 2019), a complex work on the amorphous nature of identity. As founding editor of newmystics.com, I have promoted McNamara’s work through his author page and recently had the opportunity to read an as yet unpublished piece of his that is Gregory Corso–esque in its ruminations on death.

In Loose Canon, which features the poet on the cover, photographed with what appears to be a thermal-imaging camera, McNamara takes us around the world, looking at love, identity, death, and art. His image on the cover is done at a Dutch angle, cuing the tilt that will set that unsecured can(n)on—the poet—in motion. Continue reading