The latest by John O’Hara

Playwright John O'Hara, between actors Kelly Ann Quirk and Sonja Robson.
Playwright John O’Hara, between actors Kelly Ann Quirk and Sonja Robson.

And by “John O’Hara,” I do not mean the drunkard from Pottsville who wrote about his fellow Pottsvillian drunkards in books like Appointment in Samarra, Pal Joey, and Butterfield 8, the last one of which involved Elizabeth Taylor playing a drunk Pottsvillian.  I didn’t see it, but it’s a John O’Hara novel, so I know she wasn’t playing a dancing penguin.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned more than once on this blog, this John O’Hara is a Philadelphia-area-based playwright.  I know him from the Brick Playhouse days, when he would chortle and belittle plays by untalented playwrights and challenge all newcomers to wheelbarrow races in the alley behind the theater.  As far as I know, he writes mostly children’s plays, so it was a real treat to see him last Tuesday at Plays and Players and see what he’s been working on.

Let me say that this wasn’t my cup of tea.  Yeah, I know I said that about Jacqui’s play last week, and I probably say that a lot about a lot of plays, but it’s not my fault that nobody is writing about a plucky band of misfits barricading themselves inside an abandoned sex toy shop against a band of marauding, starving otters.

John’s play is called Twelve Chairs and involves twelve short scenes, spread between 1971 and 2015, that tells the story of a mother and daughter.  Actually, it’s not so much “a” story as twelve short stories, which is my biggest problem with it; there is no all-encompassing arc that ties the stories together, so there is no climax that we’re building toward or 44-year-old problem that needs to be solved.  And I suppose that’s fine…there are plenty of other plays that do this sort of thing and, to be honest, John does a much better job with this than most.  He’s a real talent with a feel for differentiating characters.  The play only has two actors who play the mother and daughter as well has a host of supporting minor characters, and even without the benefit of costumes or a stage, I never had trouble differentiating who either of them was at any moment.  And, at times, the play was genuinely touching.  I just wish it had more otters.

I’ll just take a moment here to suggest that John change his first name into a sexy nickname to prevent confusion with his early-twentieth-century counterpart.  Some off-the-cuff suggestions: Drag Race O’Hara, Zipline O’Hara, and, in honor of the snowstorm that just passed through our fair city, Treacherous Stoop O’Hara.

And now I’ll take a second moment to remind everyone that the first of the Drake readings is tonight at 7.  The playwright is Jeffrey Stingerstein, whom I don’t know at all, but I’m looking forward to meeting.


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