Sunday, February 2, 2014

Freddie II: A 'Great' new play by Port's Joshua Faigen

Don't get tripped up by the title, or by the picture on the poster. “Frederick the Great,” the play, is not about Frederick the Great, the fun-loving 18th-century Prussian warlord, er, king and patron of the arts who wrote more than 100 sonatas for flute and a couple of symphonies, including some to glorify his conquests, like when he and his BFFs to the east sliced up Poland that time. Frederick the Second?” Joshua Faigen, the Merrimac Street playwright laughs. “No, no, no,” he says. “It’s not that Frederick the Great!” Okay, but before you laugh too hard, Mr. Playwright, it seemed like it might fit. This, after all, is a Joshua Faigen play, so you don't know what he’s going to throw at you, but a lot of the time they have something to do with music, like those cranky downstairs neighbors in “Zoltan,” the playwright’s last production, who are sick and tired of listening to the music of the Hungarian composer Kodaly from upstairs. Or, “Book of Snow,” which features three piano pieces written by a young Richard Strauss, with the music firing up the emotional tenor of the piece, and, in fact, actually adding something to it, like a character — in the same way as the playwright built his ironically named “A Very Simple Play” around Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbundlertanzes,” a glorious piece by a fabulously insane composer written to defend the Romantic movement against the classical thugs Schumann imagined lurking in the wings.

But this time out, music isn’t the thing — not exactly. But the dialogue and the pacing in “Frederick,” which gets its first spin around the literary block during the February meeting of the North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative, suggests music, like the patter of a smooth Prussian talker or Russian stalker or something. It’s usually always there if you listen for it. “Josh’s work tends to be motivated by rhythm,” says Leslie Pasternack, who will be directing the production.  “Lots of folks strive for the most realistic dialogue possible, the most ordinary talk, but Josh composes his plays with great attention to their total sonic effect. In this case, rather than the classical music he often weaves into a script, the writing of Henry James provides inspiration,” Pasternack says. “There is a heightened use of language, but it has a playful, teasing quality. And, of course, rhythms are sometimes the most fun when they are broken, so Josh uses some twists and oddities that keep you engaged as the story unfolds. The changes in rhythm both drive and arise from the changes in character.”

So, what’s it all about then, if not crazy, self-aggrandizing Old Fritz?

You mean, like plot? Phffft! A Joshua Faigen play … remember? So give up that ghost. His work resists synopsis. But you’ve got Frederick, a geezer of indeterminate age, but let’s say middle-aged, who is a little infirmed, and the much-younger caregiver who has lived with him for a number of years. Their actual relationship? Whether it’s nurse-with-privileges or what, is also something the audience will have to work out for itself, although it is clear they’ve been around the block together in some capacity. But, regardless, the caretaker wants to have a dinner party for him. And Freddie? Well, not so much. He doesn’t want to see his so-called friends because he doesn’t like his friends so much, and encourages them to stay as far away as possible. And the one “friend” who does show up was not actually invited and not especially welcome. It’s the ex. And no one is exactly sure who spilled the beans on that.

Not quite the conquest of Silesia or historical run-up to the Seven Years War, both of which worked out very well for the Prussian Frederick, but a drama on a very human scale — and an intriguing emotional battlefield for our Freddie. And, as always with Faigen, it’s not so much about the ride as it is the scenery along the way.

The reading features performances by Kimberly Holliday, Jack Rushton and Kathy Isbell.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative will present a reading of Port playwright Joshua Faigen’s new play “Frederick the Great” at 10 a.m. Feb. 8 at the Actors Studio, The Tannery, 50 Water St., Mill Building #1. Performing will be Kimberly Holliday, Kathleen Isbell and Jack Rushton. Leslie Pasternack directs. Tickets are $7. For more information, log on to

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