Local writer Melanie Greenhouse publishes book of short plays
“Read My Shorts,” a new collection of short plays by Melanie Greenhouse is guaranteed to make you smile — and more likely laugh out loud — as you engage in the unorthodox adventures of her inventive cast of characters.
The playwright and poet has been actively involved in the region’s theater arts scene since she moved to Mystic in 1978. After her third son was born in 1984, she moved to Noank — the inspiration for her full-length plays “Point of Land” and “The Duchess of Noank.”
About half the plays in this collection were written in the early 2000s, when Greenhouse was a member of the Writer’s Round Table that met two Sundays a month in the students’ lounge at UConn Avery Point in Groton. Many of the plays were performed in local venues that included the UConn Avery Point mansion, Hygienic Art Gallery, the Hoxie Gallery at the Westerly Public Library, and the Arts Café, Mystic, where Greenhouse led the literary series from 1994 to 2004.
In 2010, the Mystic-based Emerson Theater Collaborative produced Greenhouse’s autobiographical play, “Chestina Vinessa Poulson,” about a post-Holocaust family that settled on the eastern shore of Virginia.
In 2008, Greenhouse developed “Gray Dawn Breaking,” a program that uses poetry to enhance memory and cognition in the elderly. She currently facilitates that program at StoneRidge Retirement Community in Mystic and Crescent Point assisted living facility in Niantic.
She talked to The Day about writing plays, and specifically short plays, in the following interview.
Q. You’ve written full-length plays, but what is it you like about writing short plays?
A. I like compression of language, and I think that must come from my poetry background, to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. I like the idea of compression of time and space, but also expanding it within the parameters of the play.
Q. And what are the challenges of writing short?
A. How do you achieve any level of believability in such a short period of time and space? That is the big challenge. With a longer play, you have the luxury of fluidity and languor, but in a short play, you have to jump right into the action — medias res (Latin) is the technical term in theater. (It means) the entry point is right in the middle of the action. You don’t have luxury of back-story or reminiscing or leading up.
Q. Your sense of humor is fabulous. Can you talk about where that came from and how you see the humor, often dark, in everyday experiences?
A. Who knows? It may come from my Jewish background, being the daughter of post-Holocaust Jews — seeing everything in the light of pathos and humor mixed up. Sometimes it’s really hard for me to find the humor, and I struggle, but if I have characters that guide me in that direction, I’m very grateful to them.
Q. Did you study theater/playwriting in college?
A. I majored in psychology and minored in theater. I was encouraged by my mother to do something practical. I got a masters degree in special ed and taught kids in my early career. Then I started having my own children, and I started taking classes — poetry and children’s literature at Connecticut College. I took my first official playwriting class at the O’Neill (Theater Center) with Ernie Schier back in the early ’90s and studied directing with Richard Digby Day, who was an important figure there for many years. I don’t think any of this would have happened had it not been for the O’Neill. It’s been a Mecca for the big playwrights — like Lin-Manuel Miranda and August Wilson. It’s a sanctuary for creating new work and has inspired so many offshoots. The local playwrights are siphoning off that energy the O’Neill created.
Q. A lot of your plays take place locally, and I would think the inside joke is especially enjoyable for people who live in the region — for example, eagle watching on the Connecticut River in “Bald Eagle”; the two casinos, Foxden and Mohegan Moon, in “Deuces”; the crooks in “Breaking and Entering” who grew up in Brooklyn, Connecticut. and then moved to Brooklyn, New York. in high school. Inspiration is literally all around you, isn’t it?
A. The casinos are ever present (Re: “Deuces”). I would hear little snippets about gamblers positioning themselves at one particular slot machine. I’d hear about gamblers leaving children in cars. I was trying to give voice to the characters (although) it may not earn me any friends from the casino. (Re: “Bald Eagle”) I went eagle watching with a friend and was just imagining this scenario between a newlywed couple and how eagles must feel being infringed upon, and having commentary coming out of the voice of a national symbol. What would a bald eagle say about this couple intruding on its space?
Q. Speaking of talking eagles, can you talk about personification? You use it so well — in “GPS,” for example, when the GPS is saying a lot more than how to get from point A to point B, and in “Conversation with an Ordinary Glass of Water.” Is it fun to go into this world of pure imagination — and take people along with you?
A. I see the potential in certain human events, and the reason they’re called plays is you can play around with things like inanimate objects speaking. It’s not to create reality; it’s to create surreal reality. That’s what I think plays should do is slip out of the actual moment and go into another realm. And it requires a lot of imagination by the audience. In “An Ordinary Glass of Water,” the audiences gets to use their own imagination to actively picture what’s going on in that glass of water. Engaging the audience to have them more active and not have everything fed to them creates a synergy between actors and audience.
If you go
Who: Melanie Greenhouse will be among the featured authors at the second annual Local Authors Festival
Where: New London Public Library, 63 Huntington St., New London
When: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.m Saturday
For more info: (860) 447-1411 or online www.plnl.org
What: A performance of Melanie Greenhouse's short play "GPS, followed by "Ghosts, Saints, and Faeries," a night of stories, poems and songs
When: 7 p.m. March 17, doors open at 6:30
Where: Westerly Arts Café, 7 Canal St., Westerly
Who: Performers are Michael Vernon Davis, Bob Gwin, Priscilla Moore and Emma Palzere-Rae
Admission: Free, donations accepted
For more info: (401) 596-2221, westerlyarts.com
About the book
“Read My Shorts: Twelve Short Plays” by Melanie Greenhouse (Gray Dawn, Noank, CT) is $18.95, softcover. It will be available for purchase at both events. The book is also available on Amazon.com or by emailing Greenhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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