Category Archives: Plays
Bekah Brunstetter’s play I Used to Write on Walls seems to fulfill the dreams of any casting director looking for a contemporary play featuring women: the cast requires six women and only one man, and the women have fairly well-written speaking parts, some of them largely monologues.
The play features Diane, a 30-something cop; Georgia, a 22 year-old beat poet; and Joanne, a lonely 30-something. Also featured are 11 year-old Anna, two mothers (one to Anna and one to Diane, played by the same person), and Mona, a possibly crazy former astronaut. The synopsis on the back of the book describes the play as featuring the lives of these women and how they navigate their opportunities and their passions and fantasies. But as it happens, the thing all of these women are focused on is a man, which completely ruins the play’s fantastic feminist opportunities.
I Used to Write On Walls opens with young Anna on her eleventh birthday. Within five lines, she’s longing for her period. I took that in stride; plenty of eleven year old girls long for that first step into womanhood. It’s actually kind of cute that in her second scene, she makes a list of all the “womanly” supplies she’ll need: tampons, Pamprin, an overwhelming sense of joy. It’s not even too much that Anna asks her mom if Anna has begun to develop. But Brunstetter takes it several steps too far by giving Anna a vocabulary that’s obviously only there to shock the audience: instead of Anna asking her mother if she’s growing “boobies” or “breasts” or something along those lines, Anna’s line is, “That dress makes my titties look small!” She also talks about shedding her placenta (even though she doesn’t actually know what a placenta is), and repeats something she’s overheard about her mother recieving oral sex from the mom’s boyfriend. If a play discusses these subjects intelligently, or even just with a reason, I think that strong choice can be great. But Brunstetter seems to have written this just to make sure that we know that she’s an Edgy Playwright.
Then we meet Trevor. His character description reads as follows: 24. Sexy. Oh my God. Sexy. Stoned, oblivious. Philosopher, Surfer, Skater. When I first read this, I thought it was funny. It hinted at a candid, colloquial writing style that I tend to enjoy. But the fact that every scene that featured Trevor (nine out of the twelve) revolved around his hotness and the desperation for him being experienced by whichever woman happened to be onstage at the time made me a little ill. Even his cousin (who we find out at the end of the play is Anna) is romantically linked to him. The play fails the Bechdel test at every single turn, especially in moments like Joanne’s first conversation with Diane, when Joanne proclaims that she’s finally discovered her self-confidence and says it’s because “I met a boy. A guy. I mean a man-person.”
I almost stopped reading this play mid-way through, but kept going, hoping it would get better. Besides its potential to be a great almost-all-female cast, there was also a fantastic opportunity to show female relationships, namely mother-daughter ones, and especially the one between Anna and her mother. Anna is beautiful, so beautiful that her only-sort-of-pretty mother can hardly bear to look at her. There was such a great chance to subtlely reveal Anna’s mother’s jealousy and insecurity, but instead, these feelings are broadcast through lines such as, “I DESERVE TO FEEL PRETTY TOO” and, when she looks at Anna, “Ow” (because, you know, it hurts.)
i would write more, but it’d just be me complaining a lot, so I’ll leave it here. The play was disappointing. Ow (it hurts me that it was.)
“We met two months ago. The day I made up my new name. When I signed up for the poetry thing where we met. I go to write my name down, but I didn’t write my name, GEORGIA. I mean, fuck all names that are also secretly states or flowers or feelings.”
MOTHER: I don’t want to- but I have to bring up Robert and how-
DIANE: WE DON’T SAY THAT NAME. I don’t know that name. That name is a dead word.
MOTHER: It took a long time to cancel all the catering and flowers. There are still envelopes in the attic. I’m just asking, are you SURE?
DIANE: YES. WE HAVE SEX.
TREVOR: Where’s your husband?
TREVOR: What for?
MONA: Beating me up. And I have an MFA. You can’t beat on somebody with an MFA.
Leaves by Lucy Caldwell is an Irish family drama. After attempting suicide during her first term of university, Lori returns home to her parents and two younger sisters, Clover (15) and Poppy (11.) None of them know how to act around her. Her father David has no idea what to say to her. Her mother’s conversations with her all revolve around how she’s feeling. Poppy desperately wants to prove to her big sister that Poppy is grown up enough to talk about things. Clover is furious that Lori would even consider taking herself out of the lives of those that love her. Together and separately, the family tries to cope with the after-effects of the suicide attempt and wonders if they can ever go back to how things used to be.
Caldwell’s writing style is very much of the current time: fast-paced, overlapping dialogue and sparse action make up the play. Like many playwrights, Caldwell covers a heavy topic, but few do it so well as she does. She bravely covers the family’s feelings of betrayal and Clover’s unabashed anger. During one of Clover’s verbal lashings, Lori begs, “Please don’t do this to me.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” Clover snaps. “I forgot for a second that it was poor you. I forgot: You’re the one that swallowed a whole bottle of fucking sleeping tablets and almost died and I forgot that we had to be nice to you because of it.” Caldwell also doesn’t shy away from Lori’s struggles. In the first scene of Act II, Phyllis finds Lori outside smoking. She begs Lori to tell her where the parents went wrong and how they can fix things. “No, Mum,” Lori says. “Listen- you can’t- there wasn’t any- one thing– Mum. Look, Mum- I think- thinking about it- I think it’s always been there, inside of me- the sadness- like a shadow, you know- and you can’t- you can’t- lose- your shadow, you can’t- bundle it into a drawer you know? It’s not you, but it’s a part of you […] There’s nothing that you can do. There’s nothing that you or anyone can do, or say, or be, that will make things alright again. Just- don’t you see, Mum. Every single word you say make things work.”
Unlike some storytellers, Caldwell does not fall into the trap of feeling the need to please the entire audience. The play does not end on a happy note. The conclusion of the second act has the family gathered all together around a fire, singing old childhood songs. It could potentially be a cliched see-everything-will-be-all-right happy ending, but in the middle of laughing with her family, Lori suddenly becomes pensive. “I wish-” she begins, but can’t say what she’s thinking until finally she says fiercely, “I’d give anything- anything- to start again. Anything. I mean, if I believed in God or the devil, or- I’d give anything.” In the act that follows, the final one containing a single scene, we flash back to three months earlier, the day that Lori left for university. Just as David and Phyllis and their younger daughters have probably done a million times, the audience watches (or reads) the scene carefully, looking for anything, any sign of what might have warned them that this was coming. And just as it is in real life, there’s nothing. Lori seems happy- nervous but excited to travel from Belfast to London to start this new chapter in her life. Nothing points to her imminent suicide attempt.
A great part of the play as a whole- and perhaps the thing that might also keep it from being produced as often as it should- is how Irish it is. The subject matter and the family dynamic are universal, and they are written with dialogue that is very, very Irish. The characters use words like “Ey”/”aye” frequently and David is writing a book on Irish place names that seems to be written for an audience who is aware of said locations. The songs, too, appear to be written into the play to illicit nostalgia from the audience, but as an American, I had never heard them and so had little reaction. Obviously, plenty of plays and books are written with a specific readership in mind, but it pains me that such a powerful play might be avoided because it alienates part of its audience.
Despite the risk of it not being produced, however, Leaves is an incredibly moving, well-written piece. It speaks the truth about the repercussions of suicide (or suicide attempts) and doesn’t flinch in its storytelling.
PHYLLIS: It’s funny, isn’t it, but I can’t remember reading you this [story.] Did I ever read it to you, do you remember?
CLOVER: I don’t know, Mum. Probably not, no. Because it’s a true one, isn’t it, and we never liked the true ones much. It was the fairy tales we liked.
PHYLLIS: You’re right, Poppy. Get out of here as soon as you can. Go as far as you can. And never come back. You don’t want to live in Belfast. You don’t want to bring up children in Belfast. In fact, you don’t want to bring up children anywhere at all. Don’t bother with children, Poppy. Whatever you do, you’ll never be able to make things safe for them. One place is as fucked as another.
PHYLLIS: I’ve been thinking about it- when they were younger. It’s always Clover running after Lori, doing what Lori does, going where Lori goes, wanting what Lori wants. And now […] Lori’s been to a place where none of us can follow. A place where none of us can reach her.
LORI: I want to believe in things they way I used to believe in them, the way I used to believe in them without even thinking about it- without even knowing what I was believing. But I can’t, Mum, I can’t- and so I can’t see how I can go on- go on- living- because- because- I don’t think there’s any such thing as a future, Mum.
This month is going to be a crazy one for me. In addition to the acting work I’ve finally gotten, I’m also doing National Novel Writing Month.
If you don’t know what National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo to us participants) is, check it out here. I’ve been doing NaNo since 2008, my freshman year of college. I failed miserably that first year, getting only about ten thousand words out of my paltry plot. Since then, however, I’ve won every year, cranking out novels of varying quality. This year, my novel has transformed from a fictional account of a girl striving to become her own person after fourteen years of national fame to a less fictional study of the intense emotions I’ve been feeling since graduating. While it’s probably healthy for me to make these explorations, it unfortunately means that when I don’t feel like delving into my feelings, I avoid writing like I never have before. We’ll see how this goes. I’m not prepared to deal with the consequences of losing for the first time in four years.
In other news, I got a very exciting e-mail this past weekend. In the midst of shooting a film and performing in a staged reading, I found out that I am going to be making my debut as a playwright in Philadelphia this month! One of my short plays has been chosen to appear in a festival about Generation Y, and I’m really, really excited. I’m also a bit stressed out. Just last night, I got another e-mail with suggested revisions. Some of them are pretty serious, and while I’m free to ignore them, I know I need to make some of them, and I also know that they’ll help. I only have a few days to make the changes, which adds a little more pressure. However, as stressed as I am about this, it’s also cool to have this problem. It makes me feel like a writer, and that’s a nice feeling.
Crystal Skillman’s two-play collection is one of those lucky accidents for me; I picked it up in the Drama Bookshop, and, upon flipping through it, saw that it might contain a few good monologues. While these two plays do, in fact, include good monologues, they’re also just good plays.
The plays are sold together because they could be presented together or separately. Both take place in various locations in a bar- backroom, bathroom, bar, tables, etc. However, neither play relies on the other, and could be performed on their own.
In Birthday, Leila stumbles into the back room of the bar at which her co-worker’s birthday party is being held. Because she’s crying so hard, it takes her a second to realize that she’s not alone. Kyle, the owner of the bar, is listening to his music and it rather startled when Leila begins to pour out her life story to him: the lie from which she got her name, why she chose the beer she’s drinking (because she’s obsessed with farms, and guess what, once a horse bit her on the boob), how her dad made her play the guitar, how she had to buy an Easter egg piñata for the party, how she likes to write songs and once wrote one about a seagull flying in the snow, and how it’s her birthday today too and she’s twenty-nine but she hasn’t told anyone. Kyle listens patiently, compliments her singing, shows her pictures of his four year-old son as Leila decides not to tell him how horrific she thinks marriage is.
Of course, not everything is as great for Kyle as it seems. Though he owns what seems like a popular and well-off business, he’s not exactly happy. After all, he’s been hanging out in the back room for awhile, and tells Leila that his wife doesn’t know he’s there.
The two of them are well-suited for each other, at least at that moment, in that room, for that conversation. It’s nice to have someone there, and maybe better that they’re strangers. Which makes it even sweeter when Kyle lights a birthday candle for Leila and lets her make a wish for the birthday no one else knows about.
On the other side of the door, in the next play Nobody, six characters deliver a series of monologues. Kat, a proofreader, relives her best friend’s wedding and how it was never supposed to happen. Alex, a chef, is distraught over a package sent to him by his ex-girlfriend and reviews how horrible his life is without her. Kash masturbates in the bathroom and tells how he rode a bus that morning and saw himself in the crowd of elderly people sitting around him. Ilona, a waitress, confides to the audience her dashed acting dreams and her confusion that she’s not clinically depressed. Louise, a widow, is in the bar that her now-deceased husband once saw her enter in a dream before he had a heart attack. And Anna, a poet, finds herself unable to go to work because she’s a kind of sick she can’t put her finger on.
Both plays are poignant and provocative, written in a style that evokes Molly Hagan for its poetic nature and Jane Martin for its halting speech style:
She was sleeping.
Then a sound, like a whisper, sob.
She was shaking me.
Gently shaking me awake.
Asking if I…
The most basic of questions of what I had to give.
If I loved her.
As if after she heard that she would be changed in some way […]
I pretended to sleep, but I could heard her. I could hear her cry.
Which is funny because I didn’t hear her go.
Both plays give the reader a sense of desperation and claustrophobia, especially since the characters are so relatable. It’s almost uncomfortable to see yourself reflected in the characters, but somehow you want to keep reading, and that is the mark of two truly fantastic plays.
It’s so packed- it’s so full- no one can hear what you’re saying.
You’re like an ant.
There’s been all these birthday parties.
Everyone’s born in the spring I guess.
And just before we’re supposed to leave Greg takes me to the top, to the roof of the building.
The top of like a thousand floors.
We’d been there before.
I mean we’d go up there because at the front I have all the keys to everywhere and up there, it’s just like starting to stay lighter later and we can see the sun behind everything and it’s all shadows and that’s like what we are too, with each other.
I drank more than all of them.
And even though it seems like I’m letting go, it’s calculated. Me who tried to control everything, even planning in his mind where to have spontaneous sex when I get the chance.
And it gets so bad what I’m feeling.
Like something is wrong with me that no one can see.
Like when I’d look at my mom and know there was some reason she shouldn’t be left alone.
I decide to read.
And not poetry, actually sick of it.
I go through my books:
Philip K. Dick.
I’m obviously schizophrenic.
How could two girls who were never girls, never knew how to be happy, learn to be happy?
Though 31 Plays in 31 Days ended last month, I was crazy busy with moving and picking up a second job (oh, post-grad life…) and procrastinating to post about it. But here it is: the final entry on the subject.
Sadly, I was not “playwright enough” to complete the challenge; I wrote twenty-seven plays in 31 days which, while impressive, does not qualify for a win. Those that did “win” get to submit one piece for possible publishing in the 31 Plays in 31 Days anthology.
My final plays:
DAY TWENTY-ONE: Mr. Sealy’s Opinion. Babysitter Evelyn tries to find out how nine year-old Claire really feels about her baby brother.
DAY TWENTY-TWO: Friendly Advice. A woman discovers that her best friend has used the first woman’s personal life as an example in her advice column… and it’s not flattering.
DAY TWENTY- THREE: Fair Friends. Going to your town fair means running into a lot of people you grew up with and discovering that sometimes you don’t want to know them anymore.
DAY TWENTY-FOUR: Everything to Nothing. Written entirely sans action, a girl decides to leave everything she owns and knows behind and move on. To where? She doesn’t know.
DAY TWENTY-FIVE: A-B. While writing this play, I wanted to see if I could create a sort of play-palindrome: that the play was the same lines, growing from the middle out to the beginning and end.
DAY TWENTY-SIX: A Real Brother. After unexplained events, a six year-old boy tried to convince his older brother that he’s truly sorry.
DAY TWENTY-SEVEN: A Pair of Strangers. Inspired by the true events of this date twenty-two years ago, a college dean at the University of Florida breaks the news to two students that their roommates have been murdered.
I learned a lot during this process, namely how to turn off my inner editor. This project also made me brave enough to try ideas that had been rolling around in my head for a long time. While obviously I can write whatever I want, when I want, for some reason, the idea that I might try out an idea in ordinary life and it doesn’t work out is terrifying. With this project, a bad idea lasts one day. It’s strangely freeing.
Though I didn’t win, I’m really glad I did this challenge and plan on doing it again next year.
It’s 1913 and the women of London have been fighting for rights for what seems like forever. Sadly, their efforts seem to be getting them nowhere except Holloway Prison, where they continue to fight by going on hunger strikes. And even in the midst of this war, everyday life manages to exist: at the center of the play, Lady Celia Cain tries to endure her marriage to her childhood best friend for whom she no longer loves, and considers that perhaps a more erotic and questionable relationship with fellow suffragette Eve Douglas, might be worth fighting for.
Her Naked Skin, by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is yet another of my London finds. I’m a sucker for stories about women’s suffrage, and this one did not disappoint. The play starts with a bang, by showing Emily Wilding Davison readying herself for what seems to be a rally. As soon as she walks out the door, however, a film starts on an on-stage screen, showing the grainy footage of Wilding Davison’s death when she stepped in front of racing horses and is trampled. Quickly switching between Celia’s house, Eve’s small flat, gentleman’s clubs, the House of Commons, and the various rooms of Holloway Prison, this script works as tirelessly as the women whose stories are being told.
The two main characters are Lady Celia Cain and her young friend Eve Douglas. The women come from very different backgrounds: Celia continued her comfortable childhood life by marrying an old friend, with whom she has seven children. Eve is a seamstress with a tragic background. But Celia’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems. Her passion for her husband William peaked when they were children, and it’s obvious to him. Towards the end of the play, after being taunted about his wife by the men at the club, an inebriated William snaps at Celia that he knows that she doesn’t enjoy sex with him because she cries every time afterward. It is obvious that Celia’s lack of love for William hurts both of them, but William more deeply. Celia, who reveals that she’s had affairs before, has turned her attentions to Eve. After a history of sexual abuse, Eve gladly accepts Celia’s genuine love, however unexpected it is. But every relationship, conventional or no, must mature and develop, and such a change doesn’t always happen for the better. For Eve, twenty years Celia’s junior, her first experience with passion and attachment is a confusing and tumultuous one. “Love is just fear, I suppose,” Celia tells her. “Masquerading as a fever. Then you explore each other and suddenly you have license to become totally pedestrian. And ultimately abusive.”
There is a lot of debate about the heroism of the women who participated in these movements. While many commend them for their deeds, especially as they did eventually earn women the vote, just as many scorn the women for their extremist actions: breaking windows, going on hunger strikes, burning down buildings, and bombing railway stations aren’t supported by everyone, no matter their view on women’s rights. I fall into the former category, as does Lenkiewicz, if this play is any indication. While these women did go to questionable lengths to gain their rights, they were driven to those actions because nothing else was working.
The playwright handles every scene with skill and care, but also with unflinching honesty. Besides her look at relationships between both men and women (romantic and no), Lenkiewicz also had no choice but to include the prison force feedings. This practice was used on both English and American women who were imprisoned for suffrage movements, and it is truly appalling. Involving forcing a rubber tube down a woman’s throat through either the nose or mouth (usually requiring her to be held down by multiple people and the use of a steel gag to keep the woman’s mouth open) the method has often been compared and equalized to rape. The scene that covers Eve’s force feeding reads as one, and it is terrifying and graphic. After painfully removing twenty inches of tubing from Eve’s throat, the doctor slaps Eve across the face and tells her, “You must not be so stubborn.”
Whether one agrees that the suffragists’ actions were commendable or not, one must admit that their story is worth telling. And so Lenkiewicz does, with enviable flair.
GREY: Damn miracle the gal’s lasted this long.
ASQUITH: Bugger. There’ll be a major funeral, no?
BIRRELL: It’ll be women as far as the eye can see.
ASQUITH: Which should sound like heaven, but it doesn’t.
POTTER: What do you want?
CELIA: What I want is a crepe-de-chine nightgown and glass slippers. What I’m asking for are undergarments that don’t look and smell like someone died in them.
CELIA: File is an anagram of life, isn’t it?
KLEIN: You were placed in the hospital ward the last time you were incarcerated?
CELIA: My window loked out onto the girls in the exercise yard. Two of them were always laughing together. One was about eighteen, the other perhaps thirty. The girl’s hair kept blowing into her face and eyes and her companion kept brushing it away from her because the girl needed to keep her hands warm in her pockets. The friend understood that.
KLEIN: Is that what you would like? To be understood?
CELIA: To be loved, you mean?
KLEIN: Is that your definition of understanding?
CELIA: What I would really like is… is a cigarette.
KLEIN: So. I ask myself, what can we do for this new woman we see before us?
CELIA: Very little, I expect.
WILLIAM: Would you stop all of this, Celia? For me?
CELIA: You said you’d never ask me to.
WILLIAM: That was before it was dangerous.
CELIA: First of all you try and pronounce me lunatic. Now you want me to be a no-show.
WILLIAM: Better a no-show than a dead one, don’t you think? Who do you actually think you represent?
CELIA: You’re not twenty-one.
FLORENCE: And I have no desire to be such an age. All I remember of being twenty-one is crying like a loon.
CELIA: Desire is very strange. One shouldn’t try to pin it down.
WILLIAM: Where have you been? We’ve all been worried bloody sick. Telephoning the police stations. Hospitals.
WILLIAM: Is that it? ‘Sorry?’
CELIA: Please don’t go into the sulks. I’ve rather had enough of all that.
WILLIAM: I thought you might be dead.
CELIA: I probably was.
Frayn’s Tony Award-winning play, Copenhagen, explores the relationship between Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenburg, two of the most significant physicists—and indeed intellects in general—of the twentieth century. Together, the two invented quantum mechanics, a theory that revolutionized not just atomic physics or even subdivisions of philosophy but the manner in which people perceive the universe.
But Frayn does not principally concern the play with these; rather, he focuses on one aspect of the relationship between these two men. Once strong during a time of peace and scientific prosperity in the 1920s, their relationship strains and breaks due to the politics and ethics of World War II as Heisenberg works for Nazi weapons development and Bohr, who is half Jewish, lives in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Copenhagen delves deep into a 1941 meeting that purportedly ends their friendship. In it, Frayn relates the issue of ethics and physics research, most specifically the natures of fission and the development of an atomic bomb, using these to characterize the relationship of these two physicists, their shared brilliance and diametrically opposite methods of thinking.
Bohr is a steady, methodical mind whose close scrutiny of the implications of mathematics and ideas allows him to presuppose the scientific and ultimately the ethical and socio-political effects of developments in theoretical physics. Heisenberg is, by far, the better physicist whose inherent talent with mathematics allows him to plow through work at a pace difficult for the most gifted to follow, but in doing so ignores the potential consequences of his results. Frayn’s development of this is brilliant as he uses their metaphoric conversation about skiing to build their respective personalities. This image becomes an extended metaphor through the piece, allowing Bohr and Heisenberg to talk about different methodological approaches to physics and ethics.
Beneath the structure of their relationship and the artistry of quantum mechanics, Frayn gets at something far deeper. Heisenberg’s famed Uncertainty Principle and Bohr’s notion of the wave-particle duality together provide the perfect context for Frayn to discuss his notions of nihilism and fatalism.
He asserts through Heisenberg that we can never truly know a person and the things that the person has done at a given time and perhaps that we cannot know anything about the past, future, and those individuals within those contexts. And through Bohr, Frayn puts forward that we can only act and thereby live or think about acting and thereby die. This philosophy does not end with his concept of death-by-knowledge, either. As Frayn argues that premeditated action leads to inaction, he presents a world without causal relationships amongst people, reflecting in some ways both the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics and the anti-causality philosophy of David Hume.
Late in the play, Frayn grows far darker than before, asserting through all the characters a looming fatality and hopelessness. He suggests that before we can see the effects of our actions in life, we die, that regardless of our efforts, our mortality faces us with harsh reality. But he adds a small dose of optimism suggesting that each moment in the present is “precious” in part because of its uncertainty, of its well-defined place and poorly-defined meaning.
Beyond Bohr and Heisenberg, there is only one other character, Bohr’s wife, Margrethe. Her down-to-earth nature and common intellect make her far more relatable than the lofty personae of the physicists. She is the one who questions the personal motives behind the theories and mathematics, the one who compels Bohr to break down the complexities of quantum mechanics into a comprehensive layman’s tongue. Her insights and demands lend the reader a degree of participation and intrigue in the relationship between Neils and Werner, forcing their discussions into the harsh reality of Nazi-occupied Denmark and contextualizing the familial foundations of both men.
Beyond her link to the real world, Margrethe serves as the glue that holds the men together and the skepticism that forces Bohr and Heisenberg to rethink their relationship. That she plays such a powerful role in their relationship and their questions of ethics and physics indicates Frayn’s high opinions of the role of family in great minds and individuals and of the necessity of strong women in determining the development and future of profound ideas.
Well-written and highly provocative, Copenhagen uses the uncommon medium of quantum mechanics to discuss relationships, knowledge, and mortality in a manner that makes them interdependent. Frayn compares people to the apparently sentient elementary particles that make up the atom, suggesting a degree of uncertainty even in our own lives and relationships. Though it reads quickly, do take the time to digest the plethora of compelling lines Frayn includes. Here are just a few to entice you before you pick up the actual play:
“M: Physics, yes? Physics.
B: This is physics.
M: It’s also politics.
H: The two are sometimes painfully difficult to keep apart.”
“H: Mathematics becomes very odd when you apply it to people. One plus one can add up to so many different sums…”
“H: Otto Hahn wants to kill himself, because it was he who discovered fission, and he can see the blood on his hands. Gerlach…also wants to die, because his hands are so shamefully clean.”
“B: You live and breath paradox and contradiction, but you can no more see the beauty of them than the fish can see the beauty of the water.”
“H: You never had the slightest conception of what happens when bombs are dropped on cities….The whole city on fire. Even the puddles in the streets are burning. They’re puddles of molten phosphorus. It gets on your shoes like some kind of incandescent dog muck….All around me, I suppose, there are people trapped, people in various stages of burning to death. And all I can think is, How will I ever get hold of another pair of shoes in times like these?”
As a writer, I like to challenge myself. Partly it’s because I enjoy proving people wrong- including myself. Partly it’s because I like to see what I can do. And partly it’s because I’m a huge scaredy cat and like to find ways to break myself of that. That’s why I’ve decided to take part in 31 Plays in 31 Days.
31 Plays in 31 Days is ” is an opportunity for playwrights to flex their writing muscles by pledging to write an original play every day in August 2012. Participating writers will join an online community of other playwrights and those who successfully create 31 plays will be invited to submit their work for our online reading production […] The pressure of this goal will allow you to set aside preconceived notions of what you should be writing and how you should be doing it. You will not have time to overanalyze your work, you will just have to write, write, write and be surprised by what comes out of you.” (description taken from the website.) It was created by Rachel Bublitz and Tracy Held Potter, and I think it’s a brilliant idea.
It’s not the first of its kind- National Novel Writing Month has been around since 1999, and its sister event, Script Frenzy, began in 2007. I’ve participated in each of these (NaNoWriMo for four years, Script Frenzy for one), and have never regretted it. As the description above says, writing so rapidly gives you no time to consult your inner editor, and I value that in this experience. I spend so much of my writing time thinking, ‘You can’t write that! It sounds stupid/doesn’t work/will cause people to think you’re insane!’ But in doing NaNo and Script Frenzy, I’ve learned that writing with those censors gives you half the novel/play you set out to write. Slowly but surely, these programs make you fearless- or at least willing to make mistakes. My favorite rule of Bublitz and Held Potter’s is “Submit the work that you’re not happy with. We don’t care if your characters are believable, if your plot is plausible, or if your ending is satisfying. We just want you to write a bunch of stories in a fixed period of time.” It’s not the quality that counts- at least not yet. The wonderful thing about these projects is that they allow you to force your way through your insecurities and while you might not have a polished play in the end, you finally got that idea out on paper, and now you have the rest of your life to bring it to full fruition.
I’m excited. I started writing my first play around 12:30 this morning, and submitted it around ten a.m. It’s a stand-alone monologue, and I feel like there will be a lot of those this month. I’ll keep you posted on my progress once a week!
Kenny Barrett is the most feared/hated/anxious/not sorry person in his school. Sure, he did something bad, but can’t he just finish out his senior year of high school without all of these people staring at him? And worse, they’ve assigned him a mentor, like he’s the new kid or something, to get him “reacquainted” with student life, just because he threatened to take a few of those lives. He didn’t actually do it, so what’s the big deal? But despite his efforts to convince everyone that he’s fine, his mom fusses over him, his stepfather is desperate to win his affection, his sister just wants him to be normal, and the school is making him give a public apology. As if being a teenager isn’t hard enough.
Liz Flahive’s From Up Here is a wonderful contemporary family drama. Her writing is a study in naturalism, written with lines that overlap constantly and full of references to Facebook and homages to the teenage guys that write bad songs on their guitars. The play also examines sibling relationships, the struggles of a second marriage, and the arrival of a not-so-welcome aunt.
From the synopsis on the back cover, the reader understands that Kenny has done something bad, but Flahive never actually comes out and states what that is. Through hints in lines and action- such as Lauren mentioning a list and that Kenny “barely pointed it at anyone” and Kenny having his bad checked by adults- one can deduce what has happened, but it’s a wonderful choice of Flahive’s not to have anyone say it straight out.
I have to admit that, though Kenny is the focus of the story, I was more interested in two of the subplots: Mom Grace’s battle with new husband Daniel and Lauren’s relationship with Charlie. The parents’ struggles are ones that I imagine many adults in a second marriage go through: Daniel is trying to win over Grace’s teenage children, but he also wants to have a baby with Grace. Grace, however, wants none of it. Sadly, Daniel is sure that she’ll change her mind eventually, and it’s this that pushes Grace to spend the night in prison. To watch the pressure cooker of their relationship is fascinating.
The other budding bond is that of Lauren and Charlie. Charlie is in Kenny’s class and therefore two years older than Lauren, and she fascinates him. Besides being the younger sister of a would-be-murderer, there are (seemingly true) rumors going around that Lauren had sex with two guys at a recent party, rumors that Lauren makes no effort to deny (in fact, she says nothing at all.) It’s obvious that Lauren finds Charlie irritating, sometimes ignoring him and making fun of him at other times, including when they’re on a date, but this just seemed to make her more appealing to Charlie. He writes her bad songs and insists on dancing awkwardly and wonders out loud to her when they’re going to kiss. There’s something adorably puppy-like about Charlie, and eventually even the aloof Lauren finds something to like.
One of the most poignant exchanges in From Up Here happens between Kenny and Lauren at lunch. When no one else will sit near Kenny, his sister does it without a second thought. When they discuss his upcoming appointment with the school counselor, Lauren says, “What are you going to say when he asks why you didn’t do it?” “Uh,” Kenny stammers. “I guess I’d tell him I didn’t know if I’d be able to shoot myself afterwards… Because that’s what you have to do… You go in there and then, you know, you have to-“ “Shut up, you do not,” Lauren interrupts, upset. The scene flawlessy displays both of their characters as well as their love for one another.
Flahive’s script is filled with lines written in a style that dictate exactly when one actor is supposed to begin their next line. For example, one line reads Sort of, but / it’s… Aunt Caroline. I hated this; besides finding it incredibly distracting as a reader, I thought it was slightly offensive to actors and directors. The scenes are well-written enough that any performer or director worth their salt would realize how it’s meant to be presented, and the slashes that appear in sometimes every line are irritating. Sadly, this ruined some of the reading experience. It is a great play, though, and it has some wonderful monologues for both men and women, so check it out.
LAUREN: I love being small. Most people can pick me up.
DANIEL: You don’t want to get big and strong?
LAUREN: Yeah, I totally want to be a big strong girl. That’d be so exciting.
“Why can’t you draw a harp seal? I bet if you drew everyone their very own harp seal they’d chill out. Because harp seals are fuckin cute.”
LAUREN: Are you gonna name [your goldfish]?
KENNY: I’ll name it when it actually does something.
CATHERINE: It was just connecting the dots. Some nights, I could connect three or four. Some nights they’d be really far apart, I’d have no idea how to get to the next one, if there was a next one.
At face value, David Auburn’s Proof explores the authorship of a supposedly historic mathematic proof about the pattern of prime numbers. The nature of mathematics permeates the piece as three of the four characters are mathematicians. We hear about Germain primes and the number i, game theory and the significance of 1729. What makes Auburn’s play far more compelling are the depth and subtlety with which he explores relationships and the unnerving visage of madness and genius intertwined.
After the main character, Catherine, gives a key to her amour, Hal, she explains, “It’s a key.” Plain and simple, except that Auburn is getting at something more significant. We see that later when Catherine tells Hal, “I trusted you,” indicating that the key was a symbol of their relationship. At this point, however, Hal has failed to reciprocate her trust by refusing to believe that she has written the proof, which the key has unlocked. This proof serves throughout the rest of the play as a cathect for their relationship, a fact Auburn asserts when Catherine says of the proof, “It’s me.” While Catherine claims to have authored this proof, Hal is convinced her recently deceased father, a once brilliant mathematician gone mad, is its composer. Catherine is left to the whims of Hal’s scrutiny of the piece, his conclusions about its source the sole decider of the fate of their relationship.
Struggling in her helplessness, Catherine is left at home with her visiting sister, Claire, who is convinced that Catherine is insane. Before the introduction of the proof, Claire is convinced that Catherine is hallucinating Hal and presses her to produce evidence of his existence. Catherine cannot, which is one of the more glaring moments in which Auburn stresses that we cannot empirically validate the majority of our experiences.
The two sisters fight relentlessly about the proof, the legitimacy of either’s affection for their father, selling their father’s house, and even Catherine’s stability and sanity. Catherine’s despair, brought on by her father’s downward spiral and subsequent death and by Hal and Claire’s rejection of her authorship of the proof, causes her to succumb to Claire’s overbearing will and forceful personality. Because Catherine can offer no evidence to support her own argument, she is left subject to the demands of her older sister.
The true genius of the piece, however, comes with Auburn’s ability to craft the piece. He tells a gripping story rife with emotional turmoil and the difficulties of faith. Better yet, he leaves the truth unresolved, simply presenting us with evidence and allowing us to connect the dots.