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The cast of “The Taint of Equality.” Back L-R: Juan Carlos Diaz, Rehmat Qadir, Jon Rentler, Roberto Alexander, Colin Godwin, David T. Zimmerman, Shawn McLaughlin, Adam Samtur, Derrick Bryant Marshall, Marvin Riggins Jr., Joe Fanelli. Front: Alan McNaney, Mark-Eugene Garcia.
Duncan Pflaster’s pair of Planet Connections plays twist and turn
BY MARTIN DENTON | How lucky mortals are, that they can weep!
I have been known to test your love for me
By flirting lewd with randy mortal men;
With Theseus and Hercules, and more,
Those brawny muscled heroes of our time.
I hoped to spur your jealousy, so you
Would love me all the more, and show me so.
I need not do so: I have been a fool.
So says Titania in “The Thyme of the Season” — Duncan Pflaster’s sequel to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Written entirely in verse, much of it iambic pentameter, “Thyme” turns many of the events and themes of Shakespeare’s original on their ear — infusing this merry fairy comedy with a touch of the Ridiculous (Charles Ludlam’s brand of Ridiculous, that is) while staying entirely true to the lighthearted tone and spirit of the Bard’s classic.
It’s the kind of hat trick that Duncan pulls off time and time again. In “The Starship Astrov,” he re-imagines Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” on a futuristic spacecraft a la “Star Trek.” In “Amazing Daedalus,” heroes from Greek myth gather together to slay a spoiled overgrown child named Andrew who lives inside a Labyrinth. In “Wilder & Wilder,” Holly Woodlawn (from Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side”) is a disco-era Alice in Wonderland.
Audacity, erudition and an advanced sense of the absurd, the theatrical and sheer fun converge in the works of this prolific craftsman. Just 38 years old, Duncan has already written more than two dozen plays, many of them produced in the profusion of theatre festivals that crowd New York City’s stages every summer.
His work has been seen in Spotlight On, Fresh Fruit, and the Midtown International Theatre Festival. This June, he will have not one but two new plays at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
“The Empress of Sex” — which won the audience favorite award at the last MTWorks’ NewBorn Festival — will be directed by Glory Kadigan. Duncan will himself direct “The Taint of Equality.” Both shows will be at The Theaters at 45 Bleecker, home to this year’s Planet Connections Theatre Festivity (May 30 through June 24).
The first Duncan Pflaster play I ever saw was the delightfully titled “Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants” (subtitled, “A Big Epic Ridiculous Naked Shakespearean Fairy Tale Play for Adults”) — in which a gay prince finds true love with a commoner.
I didn’t fully appreciate how good the script was until I published it in Indie Theater Now, the online theater library that I founded and curate. It’s joined there by four more of Duncan’s plays, including both of this year’s Planet Connections entries. Check out this casting note from the script of Prince Trevor to understand the surprising, frank, humorous sensibility of this artist: “In any case, the actor with the longest penis in the cast should be the one to play Peking Trunk.”
I’m intrigued by the two new pieces he’s bringing to Planet Connections this year. “The Taint of Equality” turns the debate about gay marriage inside out, centering on a gay couple who have been together so long that everybody figures they’re married, though in fact they are not. “When they realize they’ve never actually opened up their open relationship,” Duncan explains, “they decide to each go out and get laid, with hilarious and erotic results.”
“The Empress of Sex,” meanwhile, offers a neat twist on Marivaux’s famous comedy “The Triumph of Love.” In that play, you may recall, a young prince has been raised to eschew love in favor of intellectual pursuits. In Duncan’s take on this idea, a broken-hearted young princess finds a deserted island and, setting herself up as its ruler, decrees that there shall be no love allowed in her domain, only sex.
Expect happy endings, with some astute social commentary thrown in. And expect sex and maybe even nudity. I asked Duncan about the nudity in his plays, which is fairly frequent. He smiled and simply said, “I like nudity.” Both “Empress” and “Equality” contain orgy scenes.
Duncan hails from South Florida, where he spent several years working as an actor and playwright, especially at Florida Playwrights Theatre. He came to New York City about fifteen years ago and has found a comfortable home here within the indie theater community. In addition to writing (a lot!), he also frequently directs plays and sometimes acts. He produces many of his shows through his company (Cross-Eyed Bear Productions). And he writes theatre criticism for the website Broadway World.
He’s definitely held in high esteem by his colleagues. One of them, actor Heather Lee Rogers, took the time recently to compose a brief appreciation of Duncan. In it, she explains why this artist is consistently able to attract the most talented collaborators: “What if we take a selfish, tragic hero (the dashing-yet-flawed man we’re so used to accepting) and make the character female? What if we take an all-forgiving wife role and make it the husband? What if we make the hero prince gay and not interested in princesses at all? This is why actors clamor to do Duncan’s plays, because in them we get to play roles we usually don’t get to try.”
There will be nearly three dozen shows in Planet Connections this June, but Duncan is the only playwright who wrote more than one of them. Audiences in search of wit, daring and a cockeyed world view are advised to check out “The Empress of Sex” and “The Taint of Equality” at the festivity, to find what they’re looking for.
Martin Denton is the editor/producer of nytheatre.com. His latest project is indietheaternow.com.