Tag: adams

Painting the Colors of the Universe

When given the opportunity to return to an absurd, gleefully dark galaxy, artist Phoebe Titus jumped at the chance. After drawing last year’s first instalment of Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Titus again puts her pencils and brushes to use to create images from Adam’s words.  

“Drawing, painting, and creating are funny things.  They take a lot of time and a lot of work.  Actors probably have a similar experience when they’re in a role; you inhabit your work while you’re doing it, so it invades your whole life.  It’s fun to have a project where all the images are imaginative and fun…There are also some unique challenges to making images that get projected live behind people.  Brush strokes, movements, and colors look very different in that context and it’s fun to see it all come together,” said Titus.

Though all rules are bent in Adams’ Galaxy, it is the limitations of the medium that make the story powerful, and also give Titus the inspiration to paint.

“One of the best things about doing this project is trying to come up with what everything and everyone is going to look like.  How do I really get the character of Majikthise across?  What’s so magical about his thighs? What about the couch that comes alive?  What sort of couch comes alive? Is it cushy? Ratty? Modern? These are fun questions to ask!”

With these questions in mind, and many more, Titus creates the art of Adams’ Universe. It is a time and place reminiscent of the Twilight Zone if it were written by Monty Python. Hitchiker’s is an absurd look at reality through the guise of satire. By allowing the listener, or the reader depending on your favorite version of the story, to laugh at the banality of the Galaxy we are better able to laugh at ourselves.

To Titus, the genius of Douglas Adams’ writing is that he’s able to turn everything on its head:  Eternity is a joke, people are people, aliens are fundamentally flawed in the same way people are, and time plods on no matter where you are in it.

“Nothing and everything matters.  It’s comforting, almost cozy.  Then there’s the wonderful way he drags everything to its absurd logical conclusion, like the creatures who evolve several times a day because they’re so impatient, and how inconvenient that is for them.  The common theme is that everyone’s lives are annoying, full of idiots who don’t know what they’re doing, and destined to end at any moment.  Yet somehow he makes that all seem hilarious and endearing.”

Titus was first attracted to the “gleefully” dark humor of the material. “They get flung all over time and space while this planet or that gets exploded yet they’re all hung up on bickering with each other and trying to get a drink.”

Philosophy, stupidity, and the mundane mix as Adams’ worlds collide, reconfigure, and expire. With odd characters at every turn and clever turn of phrases lurking in every narration, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is bound to entertain young and old.

“My kids saw Part 1 last year and have been familiar with the stories for years, so that cat’s out of the bag; however, if I was to try to pinpoint what I’d like them to take away from this I’d want them to know that they shouldn’t bother trying to figure out the meaning of life and just focus on living.  Then I’d remind them to make sure they keep their phones clean and sanitary.  It’s the little things, you know?”

In part two, the characters visit the legendary planet Magrathea, home to the now-collapsed planet-building industry, and meet Slartibartfast. Through archival recordings, he relates the story of a race of hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings who built a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Ford and Arthur find themselves trapped on primitive Earth as Zaphod makes a run for it.

 

Adams to Adams: Elements of Comedy

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” –Douglas Adams

There are six elements of funny, according to cartoonist Scott Adams: naughty, clever, cute, bizarre, mean, and recognizable, and for a joke to land it must have at least two of these elemensts. For example, if we take a cartoon like Garfield, then we, usually, have two animals, Garfield and Ottis (cute), and one of them can talk (bizarre). If we would like to push it a tad further, then we could say that Jon represents the recognizable, a middle-aged man going through life with a troublesome cat.

Now, if we take the theory of one successful cartoonist, how can we apply it to the humor of a novelist? Douglas Adams created one of the most absurd, and delightfully witty radio shows/”trilogy in five parts” ever written.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—running at a small Volgonian watering hole near you from January 13 through the 29, is assuming they have not destroyed your planet, yet—is a savory satire on life, existence, and banality.

Arthur Dent, is a delightfully droll young man (recognizable). He is then swept across the galaxy (bizarre) into surprisingly familiar and yet tastefully odd Universe.

Actor Mark Swift put it, “I think Arthur is a tragically dragged about individual. This is what makes him so fun to play, he’s hapless and trying to gauge just how insignificant he is with every mind boggling bit of information thrown his way. Honestly, I think that the Earth’s destruction was freeing for Arthur in many ways, as he didn’t really have many prospects there.”

So this everyman from nowhere, and even when he had a somewhere its nowhere now, becomes the center of our comedic Universe and his utter lack of any heroic skills make him the perfect foil on which to hang our towel.

“Last year when I played Arthur, there was constantly a balancing act of being amazed and horrified by every event that transpired. It was really fun to play someone desperately trying to grasp the concepts being thrown at him,” said Swift.

This childish since of wonder—although, how else would one act when faced with the reality that humans are, 1) not alone in the Universe, and 2) things are vastly more complicated and yet equally trite—puts our everyman in bizarre situations.

It is this use of the commonplace and the wondrous that sets Adams apart.

Douglas Adams – Master Jokester  

 

By Allison Bloechl

Douglas Adams is by far one of the funniest authors I have ever experienced and certainly one of my favorites.  His works are filled to the brim with wit, satire and humor.  One would think this would get boring over the course of radio plays and half-dozen books comprising his most famous work The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  And it would, if it were just one style of joke.  But Adams was a master joke-teller and never let you see where the joke was going.  He was particularly adept at deadpan, satirical, and absurdist humor as well as the classic bait-and-switch.  As a towel-toting fan, here are some of my favorites of each.

Deadpan humor is just how it sounds – delivered mater-of-factly and without emotion.   The Hitchhiker’s Guide is chock-full of it. One of my favorite lines from both the radio plays and the novels – the creation of the universe.

“In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

Another example would be the overzealous man who disproves God and goes on to prove that “black is white and gets killed on the next zebra crossing”.

 

Satire mocks specific humans or humanity in general.  It is meant to point out flaws and weaknesses.  More often than not it has political or social ramifications.   One of the most obvious examples is that of Lady Cynthia Fitzmilton, and obvious dig at Margaret Thatcher.   We can tell how Adams felt about the former PM by making Fitzmilton ignorant, offensive and oblivious.  In the first fit (or radio play) she commends a construction team for bulldozing a town in front of the very people whose homes are being destroyed.

“And I must say immediately what a great honour and a great privilege I think it must be, for you, the people of Cottington, to have this gleaming new motorway going through your cruddy little village. I’m Sorry, sorry, your little country village of cruddy Cottington. I know how proud you must feel at this moment to know that your obscure and unsung hamlet will now arise reborn as the very splendid and worthwhile Cottington service station. Providing welcome refreshment and sanitary relief for every weary traveller on his way.

Absurdist (or surreal) humor is the deliberate violations of causal reasoning, producing events and behaviors that are obviously illogical.  Throughout the story, our heroes travel by the infinite improbability generator which makes the extremely improbable into reality.  Arms melt off, people become couches, and, perhaps most famously, missiles turn into sperm whales and bowls of petunias, keeping readers always guessing as to what the hell will happen next

And finally, we come to the bait-and-switch, my favorite type of humor employed by Adams.  The bait-and-switch requires the author to set up and the audience to invest in one particular narrative, where, at the end, the author reveals not what the audience expected.  Adams uses this technique frequently and to great effect.  In my favorite joke in the entirety of The Guide, our heroes travel across the universe to “the far side of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet of Preliumtarn, which orbits the star Zarss, which is located in the Grey Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine” to see the last words of God inscribed on the mountain for all to see in thirty foot tall fire.  And they are “WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE”.  Adams sets up the narrative of an impossible quest for truth, knowledge and glory, and then pulls the rug out from under us and gives us a sign found frequently on out-of-order toilets.

Thers are, of course, just a few of my favorite examples of the wit and humor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide.  For more examples, come see Hedgerow’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy: Part Two this January!

Top Ten: Allison Bloechl’s Top Books

WideEyedStudiosHedgerowOrFarceFirstHigh-10Books are our gateway to the world. At Hedgerow, after 92 years of theatre we’ve amassed a lot of books, from original manuscripts from Eugene O’Neill to Executive Director Penelope Reed’s collection on leadership.
As we continue to work on our new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles and we bring Or, back to the stage tonight, we bring you some of our favorite books. Today, we peer into company member Allison Bloechl’s Top Ten books that shaped her world.
1.  “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut
2.  “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut
5.  “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
6.  “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer
7.  “I am the Messenger” by Markus Zusak
8.  “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen
9.  “The Last Dog on Earth” by Daniel Ehrenhaft
10.  “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

Blog: Chickabiddy–Wait, What?

Chickabiddy at JalopyDirector of Or, Aaron Cromie is a man of many talents. He’s a designer, a puppeteer, actor, and when not confined to the theatre, he’s on the stage as a musician. His band, Chickabiddy, has been gaining accolades lately in Philadelphia. With Emily Schuman on vocals and guitar, and Cromie on vocals and mandolin, this band brings folk music to the Philly stage:
Hello friends,
I am happy to announce that my duo Chickabiddy has been selected to perform in a Singer/Songwriter Showcase at Philly’s famous Trocadero on March 12, 5.30pm for a 5-6 song set, along with several other up and coming bands.
Emily and I are hoping that you’ll come and see us perform in such a beautiful and storied venue. Tickets are $16 and are available from Emily and I directly, as each ticket we sell, we see a return on – we have a personal goal of tickets we’d like to distribute, and we hope you’ll come on out and support us. You’ll get to see a lot of music, and it won’t be too late a night!
For those working in theatre that day – we’d be playing right at 5.30pm (as Aaron is in tech for a show and is playing on his break!) so you could catch Chickabiddy between your shows.
Additionally, we’ve been busy writing a bunch of new material, and will shortly begin to record our first EP, and have plans to do a short tour outside of Philly in the summertime.
Also, for those who haven’t yet seen, Chickabiddy submitted a video (shot by www.plate3photography.com) for the NPR Tiny Desk Concert Competition – it is attached for your viewing pleasure – we hope you enjoy it!
If you are interested, we ask you get your tickets sooner than later, please. Email them at chickabiddytheband@gmail.com
To experience all of Cromie’s talents, check out the remaining shows of Or, listen to his music here, and buy tickets to the upcoming production of The Servant of Two Masters. 

Blog: Give Yourself In To Pleasure and See Or,

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Kittson O’Neill as Ahpra

“Pleasure,” is the one word actor Kittson O’Neill uses to describe the “heart” of Liz Duffy Adams’ Barrymore Recommended production of Or, in which O’Neill plays the pioneering female playwright Aphra Behn (1640-89) a wise-cracking poet with men and women under her thumb.

Or, is the second Hedgerow winter show in a row to be Barrymore Recommended. Last year’s On the Verge received the same accolade, which also featured O’Neill as the director, Aaron Cromie, director of Or, as scenic designer for Verge, and Brock D. Vickers, who played multiple parts as The Man.

“We are very pleased to receive this recognition,” Artistic Director Jared Reed said. “It’s a testament to the hard work, art and skill of this team, the second year they’ve been so honored, and to Theatre Philadelphia’s acknowledgement of Hedgerow as a professional theatre.”

Adams’ witty farce is set in the late 1600s, after King Charles II (Vickers) had been restored to the throne following the Cromwell era. It follows a day in the life of Behn, a poet who served as a spy for the king, whose failure to pay her lands her in debtors’ prison. Following her release, she has a chance to launch a career as a playwright, but only if she can finish her first play by the next morning. That job is made difficult by a nonstop string of visitors: her royal lover, the king; cross-dressing actress Nell Gwynne (Bloechl); and former lover, double-agent William Scot (Vickers), who may be involved in a plot to kill Charles. She’s faced with the challenge of trying to save the king, resisting Nell’s charms, winning William a pardon, and meeting her deadline.

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Vickers as William Scott

It’s very rare as an actress to play a character who is driven by her sexual desires and ultimately triumphs because of them,” O’Neill mused. “She’s basically the anti-Blanche [from A Streetcar Named Desire]. Liz’s take on Aphra dives deeply into the dilemma of being a woman who loves her life, her lovers, and her freedom, but lives in a world that is constantly boxing her into a role she just doesn’t fit. That’s a recipe for tragedy, but in this play it’s a farce.”

Behn (b. c.1640, d. April 1689) is a figure shrouded in mystery.  Next to nothing is known about her early life, which is possibly a direct result of Behn intentionally obscuring her own past from the public and from history.  Biographer Janet Todd said of Behn that she “has a lethal combination of obscurity, secrecy and staginess which makes her an uneasy fit for any narrative, speculative or factual. She is not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks”.  Born to a baron or a barber, a colonel or a cooper, what we do know about Behn is that she worked as a spy for King Charles II, and shortly after became the first English female playwright of renown.  

Asked to describe the play, O’Neill said, “‘Or,’ is smart and entertaining. It gives you a belly laugh and turns on a light bulb. If you bring a sense of fun and curiosity to the show, which is exactly what Hedgerow’s audiences bring, you will love it. It reminds us that new plays are fun, history is fun, ladies are fun. Comedy is the secret weapon of big ideas. If I told you you were going to see a feminist play about a 17th-century woman playwright you would probably fake a stomach ache. If I told you you were going to watch a sex-farce crossed with a political spy thriller you would hop right in the car.”

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Allison Bloechl as Nell Gwynne and O’Neill as Ahpra

The year 1666 came during a time of turmoil for Behn and for England itself.  In September of that year, the Great Fire of London burned for four days, resulting in the destruction of over 13,000 homes and nearly 100 churches and cathedrals.  Two years earlier, Aphra lost her husband during the final outbreak of the Great Plague in London, though there is reason to suspect that she separated from him and took advantage of the high death toll to recreate herself as a widow instead of a divorcee.  In 1665, the Second Anglo-Dutch War broke out – one of four wars fought between England and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries – and Behn found herself hired by King Charles II to work as a spy in Antwerp under the pseudonym “Astrea”, with the intention of turning the British expatriate and son of a regicide William Scot into a double agent for the crown.  Though exact details of the events that surrounded “Astrea” and “Celadon” (Behn’s pseudonym for Scot in her correspondences) remain murky, there is evidence that Behn’s attempt at intrigue failed, and Scot betrayed her to the Dutch.

As for the “Merry Monarch”, King Charles II.  After the execution of his father Charles I at the end of the English Civil War, Charles II was declared king, but was quickly denied power as the Commonwealth of England seized it, leaving England without a monarch for the first and only time in its history.

The Cromwell Regime ran the Commonwealth from 1653-1659, beginning with Oliver Cromwell being named Lord Protector of England and ending at the overthrow of Cromwell’s son, Richard, in 1659.  Though Oliver Cromwell served as leader of a supposed English Republic, he was afforded many of the same luxuries as the royals that predated him, living in the same palaces and holding sole power over the government – even being offered the title of King, which he turned down.  

Cromwell’s rule over the Commonwealth came along with many reforms based in his Puritan beliefs, which included stricter observances of Sunday, greater punishments for swearing, and making adultery a capital offence. Further acts were passed to punish actors, minstrel performers, fiddlers, and other “vagrants”, as well as gamblers with the severity of rogues and thieves.  No stores or manufacturers could do business on a Sunday, and even travel was forbidden without a writ from a justice attesting to its necessity.      

In 1660, Charles II was reinstated as king, and the reformation period began.  It was under his rule that Charles reopened the theatres that Cromwell had closed, allowing the King’s and Duke’s companies to form, and allowing both companies to hire women.  Nell Gwyn was a young daughter of a brothel madam, who sold oranges at performances at the King’s Company theatre.  Within a span of a few years, Gwyn became the lead actress and most famous comedic performer in the country at the time.  Her fame earned her the attention of the King, eventually becoming one of his many mistresses and bearing him two illegitimate sons.  Gwyn is hailed as something of a folk heroine, an embodiment of rags-to-riches, having been born poor and fatherless under the strict Cromwell regime only to rise to fame and money through her talent as an actress, and later by becoming lover to the king himself.

 

Podcast: How did you do that?

WideEyedStudiosHedgerowOrFarceFirstHigh-18We get the question all the time, “How do you memorize all those lines?” In Or, by Liz Duffy Adams, Fellow Allison Bloechl takes the answer to another level. In her role of Lady Davenant, Queen of the Duke’s Company, Bloechl unfolds a three page monologue and lays the comedic cornerstone of the piece. We sit down today to talk to her about how she pulled off this impressive feat.

Blog: The “Merry” Monarch


charlesThe “Merry Monarch”, King Charles II,
had a strenuous rule.  After the execution of his father King Charles I at the end of the English Civil War, Charles II was declared king. However, the Commonwealth of England seized his power, leaving England without a monarch for the first and only time in its history.

The Cromwell Regime ran the Commonwealth from 1653-1659,  when Oliver Cromwell was named  Lord  Protector of England and ended with the overthrow of Cromwell’s son, Richard, in 1659.  Though Oliver Cromwell served as leader  of  a  supposed  English  Republic, he was afforded many of the same luxuries as the royals that predated him,  living in the same palaces and holding sole power over the government – even being offered the title of King, which he turned down.

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Brock Vickers will be playing Charles II in Or,. Photo from On the Verge

Cromwell’s rule over the Commonwealth brought about many reforms congruent with his Puritan beliefs, which included stricter observances of the Sunday Sabbath. No stores or manufacturers could do business on a Sunday, and even travel was forbidden without a writ from a justice attesting to its necessity. He instigated greater punishments for swearing, and charged adultery as a capital offense. Further acts were passed to punish actors, minstrel performers, fiddlers, gamblers, and other  “vagrants”  with the severity of rogues and thieves.

Despite the severity of the acts passed, much of the more drastic legislation went heavily ignored.  Juries refused to convict adulterers, and it is unlikely any capital punishments for the offense were ever handed down.  This resulted in Cromwell’s establishment of the Major-Generals in 1655; police magistrates whose purpose was to suppress crime and immorality in their respective districts.  Major-Generals achieved these goals by ending bear-baiting by killing the bears, or cock-fighting by wringing the necks of the roosters.  Though the Major-Generals were disassembled two years later, their acts had revitalized the new administration, which acted under Cromwell’s legislature for the rest of the Protectorate.

In 1660, Charles II was reinstated as king, and the Restoration period began.  It was under his rule that Charles reopened the theatres that Cromwell had closed, allowing the King’s and Duke’s companies to form, and permitting both companies to hire women for the first time.  Nell Gwynne, the young daughter of a brothel madam, sold oranges at performances at the King’s Company theatre.  Within the span of a few years, Gwynne became the lead actress and most famous comedic performer in the country.  Her fame earned her the attention of the King. Gwynne soon became one of his many mistresses and bore him two illegitimate sons.  Gwynne is hailed as a folk heroine. She embodies the rags-to-riches character who was born poor and fatherless under Cromwell’s strict regime, only to rise to fame and money through her talent as an actress, and later by becoming lover to the king himself.

Blog: Pleasure, Pomp, and Play Writing

Koneill14“Pleasure,” is the one word actor Kittson O’Neill uses to describe the “heart” of Liz Duffy Adams’  farce Or, in which O’Neill plays the pioneering female playwright Aphra Behn (1640-89) a wise-cracking poet with men and women under her thumb.

The play is set in Restoration England in the 1660s, after the Puritans were pushed out of England, the theaters reopened and women were finally allowed to pursue careers as actors. The wit and high comedy of aristocratic manners created during this reconstruction of English theatre came to be known as Restoration comedy, and out of this sensation came the first female playwright, Aphra Behn.

The madcap rush of antics, gender bending, and passion takes place during one night in the life of Aphra: poet, spy, and libertine. Behn is sprung from debtors’ prison after a disastrous overseas mission, and is attempting to write a play for one of only two London companies, despite interruptions from celebrated actress Nell Gwynne (Bloechl); her complicated royal love, King Charles II (Vickers); and her very dodgy ex-love, double-agent William Scott (also Vickers)—who may be in on a plot to murder the king in the morning.

It’s very rare as an actress to play a character who is driven by her sexual desires and ultimately triumphs because of them,” O’Neill mused. “She’s basically the anti-Blanche [from A Streetcar Named Desire]. Liz’s take on Aphra dives deeply into the dilemma of being a woman who loves her life, her lovers, and her freedom, but lives in a world that is constantly boxing her into a role she just doesn’t fit. That’s a recipe for tragedy, but in this play it’s a farce.”

Asked to describe the play, O’Neill said, “‘Or,’ is smart and entertaining. It gives you a belly laugh and turns on a light bulb. If you bring a sense of fun and curiosity to the show, which is exactly what Hedgerow’s audiences bring, you will love it. It reminds us that new plays are fun, history is fun, ladies are fun. Comedy is the secret weapon of big ideas. If I told you you were going to see a feminist play about a 17th-century woman playwright you would probably fake a stomach ache. If I told you you were going to watch a sex-farce crossed with a political spy thriller you would hop right in the car.”

O’Neill is a Philadelphia based actor, director, and dramaturg. She last appeared behind the scenes here as the director of the 2015 Barrymore Recommended production of On the Verge, and has since worked on The Winter’s Tale for Shakespeare in Clark Park, and Three Christs of Manhattan for InterAct (co-directed with Seth Rozin). Up next she is directing A Knee That Can Bend and is reviving her performance in Being Norwegian for A Play, a Pie and a Pint! O’Neill has worked as a dramaturg for both Playpenn and The Kennedy Center and is the Artistic Associate of Interact Theater Company,  a graduate of The Shakespeare Lab and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s internship program.

“I actually directed a reading of Aphra’s play The Rover for the Philadelphia Artists Collective.

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Photo from The Body of Lautrec

O’Neill recalled. “It was incredibly useful to dive into her theatrical brain and it really gave me some insights into her world and her survival techniques. Some of those insights will definitely show up in the rehearsal room. I’ve been doing some research about her and this tricky point in English history. I like to start rehearsal with all the “what does this mean?” questions answered so I can focus on playing.”

Adams’ history-based fiction occasionally takes liberties with the facts, but rolls through 1666 England with cartoonish, yet deeply fleshed out characters, and an eye towards a love of theatre. Her mastery of language rivals that of Behn herself, her characters are full of spark and life, and her story interweaves biography and wit through each scene.

“I did a reading of a different Liz Duffy Adams play at the Jean Cocteau Repertory in New York,” O’Neill related, “a now defunct victim of gentrification. It was a mad wild play about lady pirates called, We, Or Isabella the Pirate Queen Enters the Horse Latitudes. I loved it and have been a fan of Liz’s work ever since. I try to read everything she writes.”

An intricate play such as Or, (the comma is part of the title) will be in the hands of a capable director, as friend, and fellow artist Aaron Cromie takes the helm of the production. O’Neill pitched the play and the director to Artistic Director Jared Reed after the success of last year’s production of On the Verge.  

“Aaron and I performed The Body Lautrec in the Fringe two years ago and it was a huge hit,” O’Neill said. “I ended up doing a lot of the puppetry, which included a full body doctor puppet who did a live dissection on stage. It’s a strangely intimate act, to animate another person’s artwork and he and I discovered that we were real art partners. He designed the set for On the Verge last year and created a massive bear puppet for my production of The Winter’s Tale this past summer. He has never been my director before and I’m very excited to explore this sexy-mad play with him!”

Adams’ play premiered Off Broadway at Women’s Project Theater and has been produced numerous times since.

 

Podcast: Aaron Cromie

aaronDirector Aaron Cromie sits down with Brock Vickers after rehearsal to talk about inspiration and the most important lesson to pass on to young artists. Previews for Or, by Liz Duffy Adams begin January 28 with opening night set for Saturday January 30.