Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Elinor Teele: Playing the 'Waiting' game

Elinor Teele thought she was finally done with old English literature years ago — and we are talking really, really old English literature, pre-Norman conquest, the language of Beowolf, which they call English, but barely resembles it — years ago, when she locked up the doctorate from the University of Cambridge, England. Her thesis was on the "Heroic Tradition in the Old English Riddles," a collection of evocative and bawdy — okay, let's just say dirty — poems in the so-called Exeter Book. But, as the Brits might say, there you go: The playwright, who had lived on three continents before returning to what had been the family's summer home in Annisquam, is at home, rifling through the old books and papers she thought she had "put away for all eternity" after her brain "all but imploded" from the sheer academic weight of her studies. But no. She's apparently not quite done with Seventh-Century England yet. She was happy to get away from the academic part of it, but the period "still fascinates me," she says. "Such incredible characters, such incredible stories ... " That's why she's writing a play set in that period. But that's not the point of this conversation. We're here to talk about "The Waiting Room," a new full-length play that gets its first spin around the literary block with a staged reading this weekend at the North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative.
"The Waiting Room" takes place in the present, in the "most god-awful, depressing place" she could think of — a doctor's waiting room — where Jayleen, a completely over-the-top, in your face, indiscreet force of nature, runs into — runs over, really — Florence, a tight-ass borderline anorexic whom she has never met, but immediately pumps for personal information while spilling her own life story. They spar, uncomfortably, at first, then get to know each other as they wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. And eventually, after much initial discomfort, reach an understanding. The piece has shades of Godot and a taste of the surreal, the absurd, but also elements of farce. In a full production, there would be three doors, which would be opened and slammed shut at regular intervals and through which all sorts of unexpected characters show up and spin the story line in different directions. ("It's funny what can come through a door if you're willing to open it," says Teele. "You never quite know who you're going to see.") In this format, however, the focus is on the play, not the production. There’s no blocking, no movement. There are no doors to slam.

There are no neat real-life connections, other than the universal frustration from hanging around in overbooked waiting rooms for the guy whose time is far more valuable than yours to finally get around to you — or, at least, move you to a different room to wait. Jayleen "just spilled out of me one day," says Teele. "She knew who she was and where she was going. She knows her goals and what she has to do to get there." And, yes, she's kind of obnoxious. "She's the kind of person who squeezes all the juice out of the orange, she lives life to the fullest and the hell with everyone else. But she's not malicious, her aggressiveness is not mean in any way, but she doesn't make any apologies. Florence is exactly the opposite. I adore both of them."

"The Waiting Room" is as different from her current project, the piece set in the jolly olde world of her academic studies, as it is from, say, "The Baby," the strange, surreal short staged last November at the Actors Studio and Blackburn Performing Arts in Gloucester as part of "Fall Shorts," a festival of short plays by North Shore writers. That 10-minute piece looked at a post-apocalyptic battlefield as three female soldiers discover a live baby on the battlefield and have to decide what to do with it. The issue is never resolved. She's also the author of "The Doll's Head," a novel for girls that she published online. "The Yard Sale," a short story for kids, has just been published by Highlights Magazine. Her short story "The Covenant" has been recorded for The Drum, a new literary audio magazine. But she makes her living as a copywriter, writing for wildlife control suppliers, food companies, New England craftspeople, non-profits, automotive leasing companies, banks and legal firms. She also writes for McDougall Interactive, a Gloucester marketing firm, and regularly performs with the  Cape Ann Shakespeare Troupe, most recently in "Measure for Measure." 

"I like to mix it up," she says.

The "Waiting Room" reading will be directed and narrated by Judith Muss'ells. Astrid Lorentzson and Maureen Daley will play Jayleen and Florence. Adrienne Montezinos will read the roles of Kristen and Tulla. David Frank will be playing Napoleon and Jefferson Rowland will be playing the Chicken ....


No, sorry, that would be telling.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: North Shore Readers Theatre Collaborative will present a staged reading of Elinor Teele's "The Waiting Room" at 10 a.m. June 12 at the Actors Studio, 50 Water St., the Tannery. A talkback session follows. Reservations are strongly recommended. Suggested donation is $7. For more information, call 978.465.1229.

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