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Zap: A Play by Paul Fleischman
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Zap: A Play (2005)

by Paul Fleischman

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I get the feeling that, like most plays, you really need to see this one to get the most out of it. ( )
  JenJ. | Mar 31, 2013 |
Imagine trying to provide the chance for high school actors to experience several genres of drama at one time. Imagine focusing on having parts for as many actors as possible. What happens when you interweave genres from the avaunt-garde play to the English mystery, from the comedy to Shakespeare’s Richard III, and from performance art monologue to Southern drama? Then, use common plot devices like a dead body and allow the characters to blur their performances between the play's characters and the actors (also characters) who play them. Then, just to keep things moving, grant the audience permission to switch from play to play using a device similar to a television remote to zap the action forward. The result is a hysterically funny mash up of seven different plays. Readers will find themselves laughing out loud while reading Zap as the characters respond to sound and prop catastrophes by switching roles and appearing to improvise. Mr. Fleischman’s writing is flawless and very, very funny. This play should be included in libraries and drama repertoires of every high school. Grades 9-12 ( )
  Irishdart | May 19, 2012 |
This is a very odd little play written by a young adult writer of some note. Fleischman explains at the beginning that he had noticed high school drama departments doing Romeo and Juliet and Grease and not much else, and so he set out to write a play for production at the high school level that would be original, inventive, and humorous.

The title, Zap, refers to the use of a remote control that would allow audience members to "change channels," from one genre of drama to another, at any time. Of course the whole idea is a conceit, as the play is carefully scripted, but the idea would appeal to students. Fleischman describes the play as a "collision" between genres--as many as the audience can keep straight--and he decides on seven:

Shakespearean history (Richard the Third)
English mystery (a tribute to Agatha Christie)
Brooding Russian drama (think Chekhov)
Tennessee Williams--type southern drama (vanished fortunes, dwindling morals, drunkenness etc.)
Neil Simon-style comedy (a sort of Odd Couple)
Modern theater of the absurd (Samuel Beckett)
Performance Art monologue by an angst-filled teenage girl who hates her parents

The play literally zaps between each of these conventions while playfully blending characters, settings (there is only one unchanging set), and dialogue. I sort of have the feeling that I should be more impressed with Fleischman's effort than I am, but I just didn't get it. I think if high schoolers were to produce this play, they would do well with it if they had an accomplished teacher who could help them to understand the different genres (which I do, but it still didn't work for me), and I think young audiences would appreciate the humor, which doesn't just show up in the "comedy" parts but throughout. However, a student simply reading the play would have a difficult time imagining it well enough to enjoy it.

Meant for high school drama departments due, mostly to fleeting references to sex and alcohol. Not appropriate for middle schools. ( )
  katielder | May 12, 2012 |
Paul Fleischman’s Zap is a clever play, built upon a unique conceit: what if audience members in a theater could “change channels” and switch back and forth between theatrical productions? This concept gives Fleischman free reign to toy with traditional theater conventions and provide a text composed entirely of satire and non-sequiturs. By reveling in its own irreverence, Zap becomes a play that brings new life to the dusty old traditions of the theater.

In Zap, Fleischman skewers many of the archetypal high school genres: the English “whodunit” mystery, the Neil Simon-esque New York City neurotic romantic comedy, the disgruntled “real” performance monologue, the Chekhov-inspired Russian drama, the bourbon-soaked familial dysfunction of Tennessee Williams, the avant-garde Beckett absurdist comedy, and (of course) the requisite Shakespearean classic. It is rather impressive that Fleischman has managed to capture the essence of these genres in such a meticulous fashion, although the audience does feel shortchanged at times because none of the seven plays is ever fully fleshed out. The one time that this actually works in Fleischman’s favor is the running gag in which Shakespeare’s Richard III hardly gets any time on stage before it gets “zapped” to a new play. Obviously, this is Fleischman having fun with the traditional dislike/resentment of Shakespeare common in many (all?) high schools.

The rising action of the play tends to be slow and bogs down the momentum of the piece; of course, trying to introduce seven different storylines in a succinct fashion is no easy task, so Fleischman should be applauded for his efforts (regardless of how flawed they might be). Despite this slow build-up, the frantic last section of the play is where Zap really comes alive: characters “break” the fourth wall and (pre-planned) “mistakes” contort the seven sub-stories into one messy sequence. It is at this point in the play that Fleischman is clearly having fun, and one can only imagine how intriguing it must be to see this last section performed live.

The target audience for Zap is most likely today’s high school drama geek, someone familiar with theater conventions and classic plays (like those of Tennessee Williams, et al.). So much of Zap relies upon allusions to famous playwrights that to really “get” the play, one needs a wide range of knowledge to catch all of Fleischman’s clever allusions. Because of this, Zap certainly is an antidote to the traditional high school theater production, but it definitely is not a perfect text by any means. Although Zap has the potential to be a truly brilliant play, the lack of wit tends to overshadow the original, unique concept for most of the text. Of course, the sheer hilarity of the mixed genres and characters allows the opportunity for actors to bring their own creativity to the show. All in all, Zap is a unique foray into untraditional theater, but it may be inhibited by its own lack of genius.

ADDENDUM:
Last night, I went and saw a high school production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park, and I think that I might have been overly-harsh in my review of Fleischman’s Zap. As I watched the production, I couldn’t help but think that so much of the play’s success relies upon the performance of its actors: talented young men and women on stage can really bring out the hidden humor and subtext in a playwright’s work. That being said, I would really like to see a production of Zap… perhaps it might be enough to convince me to change my (show-)tune. ( )
  farfromkansas | Nov 21, 2010 |
Zap was a very funny play to read through. I can only imagine that the actual performance would be hilarious. Fleischman has given the actors playing characters back-stories that bleed into the onstage performance. I would highly recommend this play to high school students and drama teachers. ( )
  dcastillo | Apr 18, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0763632341, Paperback)

"Zap offers a new intriguing option for young adults tired of the usual fare performed in high school auditoriums." — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY


"High-school theater departments willing to experiment with something new might try this as an alternative to the same old reruns of GREASE and ROMEO AND JULIET." — KIRKUS REVIEWS

"A wildly innovative play that fuses seven different dramatic genres to get the audience thinking, and laughing." — PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:14 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

What play could possibly suit the point-and-click attention spans of kids born with remote controls in their cribs? A nonstop farce that juxtaposes seven different plays--performed simultaneously: as characters from one play end up on the set of another, their befuddlement, exasperation, and brave attempts at improvisation are truly priceless.… (more)

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Candlewick Press

Two editions of this book were published by Candlewick Press.

Editions: 0763627747, 0763632341

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