dog ear

plays by Leon Martell

Leon Martell: Full-Length Plays

Bea[u]tiful In The Extreme

Colony Theatre Production

1809. Barely in his thirties, Meriwether Lewis, with his friend and partner William Clark, had led an expedition across the continent and back. He was a national hero, the governor of the Louisiana Territory, and he killed himself. "Bea[u]tiful in the Extreme", his own words to describe the prairie, follows Meriwether Lewis as he wrestles the demons in his mind. Between the time of his first suicide attempt on a flat boat down the Mississippi, and his final self execution in an inn on the Natchez trace, Lewis relives the triumphs and trials of his epic journey. With Thomas Jefferson, his mentor, Sacagwea the native girl as his guide, and William Clark, his friend, anchor and in many ways soul mate, he struggles to find meaning in all he has seen and done. A warrior faces evil spirits, broken dreams, and politicians in his final battle.

In the "Epic" style, the play mixes tragedy and comedy, asks for inventive theatricality, and a multiracial cast with possibilities for transgender and transracial casting.

Character Breakdown: 10 Either male or female

Set/Technical: Simple Unit Set
Running Time: 2 hours

Production History:

Colony Theater

Montana State - Bozeman


"This land we saw will never be the same, no matter what we do..." Playwright Leon Martell boldly harnesses that sentiment in a spellbinding exploration of Lewis and Clark’s 1804–1806 expedition — and Lewis’ own tormented personal odyssey... Martell seamlessly melds flashbacks and dream sequences, from President Thomas Jefferson’s (Kenneth Martines) tapping Lewis to lead the mission to heroic, hilarious and heart-rending events along the trail."

L.A. WEEKLY., Martín Hernández

"... The playwright makes effective use of Lewis's journals... Martell's taut script takes advantage of its opportunities for humor and their very sparseness and simplicity, appropriate to the spare pioneering style, gives director David Rose a chance to enhance them, which he does with astute timing. "

CurtainUp - The Internet Theater Magazine, Laura Hitchcock

"..Leon Martell's epic world-premiere narrative... sticks with us in a deep, complicated way... Martell has found and heightened a recognizable archetype: the lone American dreamer whose ambitions always outdo his achievements... Lewis didn't just make history--he unleashed it on an unsuspecting continent, and he quickly grew to hate what he'd done. ---Martell deftly weaves strands of back story, exposition, dates and names, longitudes and latitudes. This kind of time-splicing infotainment is a lot tougher than it looks, and Martell-- --pulls it off surpassingly well, skimping on neither the info nor the entertainment. ... The second act's rousing, climactic descent down the Columbia River to the Pacific Coast could not be simpler, more primal, or more exhilarating. In the end... We are all of us in that same tilted boat with Lewis and his crew."

Backstage West, Rob Kendt


A.S.K. Theater Projects

Minnesota Playwrights Center

The Road Theater

Theater of NOTE


Nominated for five "Robby Awards" including "Best Drama -2002", and "Best Playwriting. - 2002.

Finalist- L Arnold Weissberger Award for Playwriting

Finalist - Pen Playwriting Award



John Henry and the Shaker

A play with music Script and lyrics by Leon Martell music by Penka Kouneva

"STEEL" follows Willy, a hungry young man who arrives at the Big Bend Tunnel camp desperate for work. John Henry's assistant, his "shaker" is killed in an accident and Willy gets a job, but he must step into a dead man's boots. Neither the crew nor John Henry believe the young man can endure the grueling labor in impossible conditions, but once he proves himself he becomes John Henry's protégé. As the tunnel nears completion the Company Rep. reveals his plan to replace the crew with a new "Steam Drill". John Henry won't go without a fight and on behalf of the crew challenges the machine to a contest. In this ferocious battle, Willy must stand between John Henry's hammer and the mountain. The Company Rep. offers Willy a position on his team and John Henry gives Willy the chance to run off. Even though everyone is sure that before the contest is over, Willy will be dead, he chooses to stay with the crew that has accepted him. John Henry and Willy win, but instead of Willy, John Henry dies. The Company Rep calls the loss senseless but Willy knows he has learned more from John Henry than drilling rock. He has learned how to be a man, and that is something no machine can ever do.

STYLE: The piece is openly theatrical. It's the fever dream of a hungry young man; absurd, heartfelt, ridiculous, and desperate. The tunnel holds the ghosts of all those who worked there and all those the men have left behind.

Character Breakdown: 9M, 3F

Set/Technical: Single unit set 4 musicians. (some actors can double as musicians.) - Piano, guitar, bass, percussion, and recorded "industrial track." • 14 songs and underscored work and contest scenes. • Suggest multiracial cast. At least some characters should be African American.
Running Time: 2 hours


Nominated for seven Ovation Awards including "Best New Musical" and "Best Musical - Small Venue."

Winner - Ovation - Male Lead performance (Michael Shepard as John Henry) and Lighting

Production History:

Oasis Theater Company


"The Legend of John Henry, the steel driving man who gave up his life in a titanic clash of man and machine, would seem a natural for a musical... Leon Martell opts for an appropriate heroic interpretation of the legend... Martell understands the importance of those archetypes. His John Henry... is a legend incarnate- noble, sage, larger than life. Yet Martell wisely balances the legendary with a gripping coming of age story. that of young Willy, John Henry's "shaker," i.e. the young man who performed the perilous task of holding the steel rod steady for John Henry's pounding hammer...

L.A. Times, L.A. Times

"Steel" the Oasis Theater Company's new musical... is more than a fable brought to life. ... "Steel" is a sweaty, pounding chamber piece... a rich and exciting two hours.... The series is called "Hot Properties" and Oasis' "Steel" unquestionably belongs under that rubric.

Los Angeles Daily News, Evan Henerson

This year started out with some fine presentations and this one is sure to make many of the "BEST OF..." lists that always surface at the end of the year...


A.S.K. Theater Projects


The History of Fairfax - According to a Sandwich

Cowboy oil magnate E. B. Gilmore and "Gilmore" the lion.

What makes a neighborhood? Where does the story begin. in "the History of Fairfax - According to a Sandwich" the play starts in Cantor's Deli, the open 24 hours seven days a week landmark. Frequented by Hasidic Jews and heavy metal rockers a like the place is also haunted... Billy Gray, ghost of Fairfax past does his endless shtick... if only for Sadie the waitress. Cantor's waitresses, of course, can transcend time and space. Billy was a "headliner" now he's ignored. To support his argument of the world going to Hell, Billy tells the story of Fairfax.. .from the beginning, in the Labrea tar pits. 25,00 years of struggle, nobility, absurdity, and humor wend their way back to the present. The question arises, why is Billy playing in a deli? When all the accolades are over, he lives on, as "the Billy Gray Special" headlining the menu. The ghosts of the neighborhood never really leave.

Character Breakdown: 7M, 3F

Set/Technical: Multi-purpose playing area that can be transformed with a few props.
Running Time: 2 hours


Commission - Greenway Court Theater/ City Arts Grant.

Production History:

Greenway Court Theater

Reviews: excellent model for other neighborhood-themed plays. The Fairfax area might be more colorful than most neighborhoods - but maybe it just seems so because of the skill of playwright Leon Martell and a chameleonic cast...

Los Angeles Times, Don Shirley

While eating at Canter’s Deli, playwright Leon Martell noticed a menu item called the Billy Gray sandwich, named after the ‘50s standup who ran the Band Box on Fairfax Avenue. As a character points out in Martell’s artfully panoramic history play ..., the late headliner is now chopped liver. Martell uses the wisecracking Gray as a narrator who, with nine other actors playing multiple roles, re-enacts scenes that range from a mastodon getting stuck in the Tar Pits, to A.F. Gilmore’s discovery of oil on his cattle ranch at Third and Fairfax. Veronica Lake and Lou Costello also put in appearances, as does the L.A. Free Clinic in its violent, fledgling years during the late ‘60s... ...when you walk out onto Fairfax after the play, you can feel how Martell has enriched our appreciation of it with his ghost stories.

L.A. Weekly, Steven Leigh Morris


Greenway Court Theater



What makes a man? His job? His friends? His actions? Timmy, a mentally disabled man, is proud he has work, even if it is in a hell hole tannery, filled with rotting cow hides and toxic chemicals. He dreams of love in his life, but the object of his affection is already married to his brother. The only men he can turn to for advice are his coworkers, the notorious Hurley brothers. By the second act, his job is at risk, caught between corporate corruption and the efforts of the EPA. He is under the control of manipulative drifters and any hope for love is slipping away. How do you stand up when you're already in quick sand?

Character Breakdown: 4M, 2F

Set/Technical: Multi-purpose/unit set serving primarily as foctory.
Running Time: 2 hours


Drama-logue Award - playwriting

Production History:

The Road Theater Company


Leon Martell doesn't play it safe... It's a bold attempt to merge John Steinbeck's naturalism with David Lynch's magic realism. ... When "Mooncalf" plunges under the surface of working-class routine, the writing and acting erupt with potent theatrical effects. Apparitions emerge from steaming vats of toxic waste. A pet calf becomes symbolic of polluted nature.

L.A. Times, Richard Stayton

"As it is repeatedly suggested during the course of Leon Martell's stark drama... viewers may feel the urge to "wash off" after it's all done. For Martell's quasi-autobiographical play is definitely not afraid to get down and dirty ... and some of the grime and grit remains.

Drama-Logue, Elias Stimac

...riveting and poignant...I highly recommend "Mooncalf."

Entertainment File - KCLA - KLAS, KPRO, Gerri Garner


Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles

Workhouse Theater, N.Y.C.


Hard-hat Area

Hank's wife has run out of reasons not to be cruel. She declares him insignificant in every way. When he sees the truth in what she says, he makes a desperate attempt to revitalize. When the Company send him to Latin America, instead of his rubber stamp inspection tour of a reactor, he ventures into a "forbidden zone" and finds Al, an underworld figure who becomes his new mentor. Can Hank restore his relationship with the wife he once loved? Did his work ever have any value? Should he give in to the dark side of his subconscious? Or should he just take dancing lessons? "The evil that men do lives after them..." but does it have to?

Character Breakdown: 3M, 3F

Set/Technical: Multi-purpose palying area.
Running Time: 1hr. 45 min.


Drama-Logue Award - Playwriting

Production History:

Theater of NOTE, Los Angeles


Leon Martell's latest play is exceptionally imaginative and often as explosive as the plutonium carried by Hank, the central figure.

Drama-Logue, Bruce Feld

With chilling results, playwright Leon Martell delivers a well-written and surreal black comedy, exposing the dark side of science's efforts to benefit global corporatism under the guise of aiding the world...

L. A. Weekly, Martin Hernandez

Leon Martell knows droll...

Los Angeles Times., Kathleen Folley


Mark Taper Forum


Leon Martell: One-Act Plays

Feed Them Dogs

John makes the mandatory pilgrimage to his Godmother's trailer in the woods. John's cousin Donna is aching to get out, his Grandfather is preparing to die, and cousin Roger just wants the world to go away. Aunt Florence, his godmother, is just afraid to be forgotten. Meanwhile, J.J. the three year old from hell, does everything he can to bring on the Apocalypse. Seven dogs are chained to the trailer. Why does John comes back? A Dark Comedy in One Act.

Character Breakdown: 4M, 2F

Set/Technical: Single set - trailer/shack and surroundings
Running Time: 45 minutes


L.A. Weekly Award for Comedy Ensemble _ Theater of Note Production.

Production History:

Theater of Note- Los Angels, 1991


In "Feed Them Dogs" playwright-director Leon Martell leads a precise ensemble in a poetic, excruciatingly funny elegy to a lost American Past. On a break from electronics school, John pays a squirming courtesy call to his rural Vermont mountain cousins. There he is held hostage to the suffocating hospitality of his matriarch aunt, her chortling husband, and their inbred offspring. John eventually tears himself away, but not before recoiling in the horror and guilt of recognizing in this strange brood an essential, half forgotten part of himself. In the process, Martell underlines the deeper tragedy of an eccentric mountain family whose anachronistic embrace of Revolutionary American values, (the primacy of family, the sanctity of land)has left them grotesque caricatures, tragically out of step in a post industrial semiconductor culture.

L.A. Weekly, Bill Raden


Workshop - Padua Hills Festival - 1989


Hoss Drawin'

Russ has prepared a demonstration of a "draft horse pull" (aka "hoss' drawin'"), an arcane sport on which he is an expert. He has enlisted the help of Kathleen who both announces at these events and comes from a family with a long history with draft horses. Things start to go awry when she forces Russ to admit that he doesn't have any horse, for this demonstration, or anywhere for that matter. Russ proceeds to play all the drivers and all the horses in his lecture demonstration, with Kathleen reluctantly providing color. Issues of abandoned loves and lost dreams arise.

Character Breakdown: 1M, 1F

Set/Technical: A card table, a clip board, a bull horn and a bungie cord... some plastic pennants would be nice.
Running Time: 35 minutes


L.A. Weekly - Best Actor in a lead performance

L.A. Weekly - Best Actress in a lead performance

Production History:

Bay Area Playwrights Festival

The One Act Theater, San Francisco

The Padua Hills Fewstival, Los Angeles

The Powerhouse Theater, Los Angeles

University of Iowa


Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Sna Francisco

New Dramatists, NYC


Published in "West Coast Plays" Vol. 13

Published in "Plays from the Padua Hills"


Leon Martell: Ten-Minute Plays

Gingersnap and Scissors Face

Imagine being told, "This is "X", they're going to be your best friend and sole companion for life. See you later." This is what we do to our pets. Described by audiences as "doggie 'No Exit'" and "canine 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf'," it's lust, hatred, dreams, and bones, told in dog-speak and all in a tiny back yard.

Character Breakdown: 1M, 1F

Set/Technical: Simple playing area. Perhaps a fence.
Running Time: 12 Minutes

Production History:

Wilton Project, Los Angeles


Wilton Project


Bleeding Sergeants

When the founder of an old Hollywood hangout dies, his ultra hip daughter takes over. She comes in after clubbing, to deal with the night shift staff... some of whom she knows much better than others.

Character Breakdown: 2M, 1F

Set/Technical: A cafe table and chairs.

Production History:

Produced at "Company of Angels" in their "L.A. Views III" Festival.