THE FAMILY IS JUST A METAPHOR

May 22, 2016
Mostly recovered from bronchitis.
Weather: rain, still rain. I am so tired of the rain.

I thought this yesterday, while lying in bed.

 

SHEPHERDESS
(plucking apart a flower)

He loves me
He loves me not
He loves me
He loves me not

MESSENGER
Girl!

SHEPHERDESS
What?

MESSENGER
I walk by here everyday
And find you sitting on this rock
Beheading the hollyhocks.
Who has captured your heart so?

SHEPHERDESS
God, sir.
I just want to know
If He has forsaken me.

She plucks another petal.
She leaves.

 

I don’t like sitting down to write a play until I have too much material. Until I’ve crammed my internal organs with enough matter for several plays. Generally for me this is a combination of reading and life experience. The reading keeps it about more than myopia, while the life experience makes me tell it like it’s personal. Sometimes, of course, it is personal. Sometimes I think a good playwright is just a diarist and a liar.

Of course, if you slip into something too personal it becomes nearly impossible to tell. You need some emotional distance to keep the thing a game. Metaphor helps. Writing very fast helps too.

So I gather and I gather and I stew and then when the time is right, I write very fast.

I already know some things about the play I will write for the Wilma because it has been stewing in me for some time. I wrote a first draft of a first act a couple years ago. It was wrong. The language was wrong, the story was wrong; I wasn’t ready and writing it was like pulling my own teeth. I probably won’t look at that draft again.

But memory has a way of telling you what was important, and there are images, which I remember, that were right. There was an angry father. There were isolated shepherds. There was the countryside. There was Oedipus, and questions of belonging brought up by foundlings. There was drinking, partying, loving life, self-destruction, self-destruction masked as loving life, anger, and family.

Do you like plays about families? That’s kind of the American playwright’s specialty. I really think we overdo it. We’re always writing those, as well as plays about two couples sorting out some big problem over drinks in a living room. Why is that? Why do we privilege these forms?

I sometimes wonder if literary managers read things in this shape and then think, unconsciously, “Oh yes that looks like what plays have looked like for a while so it must be a good play, let’s do it.” Or maybe they just truly adore those plays. Or they think their audiences do. I don’t know – but these are the plays that get done the most and it can feel like pressure to conform. For people who fall outside mainstream conventions, it can also feel like a way to package your story in a non-threatening way, and/or to reassure yourself you too are normal.

It is possible, of course, that I just don’t want to write about family, not directly, because it scares me and is too painful and personal. It is possible that I don’t want to write plays set in living rooms because I have a built-in aversion to the domestic. Touché, realists. But also, guys, look at what happened to O’Neill. He was not ok.

In any event, I have reconciled myself to this American obsession with “the family play” by using the family as a metaphor for talking about the American political system. I did that with THUNDERBODIES and I’ll probably do it again with this play. The hierarchies and struggles for power that exist on the national scale are ones that play themselves out in our private homes, too. They also manifest themselves in our religious imaginations.

The Rise of Trump makes me reflect, urgently, on democracy and tyranny, force and manhood.

I never write charismatic, dominant men. I think it’s time I do.

Young Donald, in the role of Papa.
Young Donald, in the role of Papa.

BDSM OR COMMERCE: WHICH IS A BETTER MODEL FOR ART?

Wednesday, May 4th

Dear Fellow Victorians,

Yesterday at Happy Laundromat, coming out of the rain and into a conversation with my beau, I was blasted by an extraordinary gust of lover’s fear. My hands were shaking. My heart was a drunken bee. I worked hard to appear: fine. To anyone not wielding the microscope of intimacy, I appeared: fine. But if you peered at my innards, you would know that in that little moment, I was a terrible opera.

Beware the enormity of love.

I did not understand my feeling. I went home and tried to “sit with it,” as they say, on the Great Advice Column that is The Internet. So I did nothing, for a very long while. I pressed my hand against my heart. I waited. I prayed. (To whom or what, I don’t know. That’s another matter.) I watched the light on the wall. Eventually, a tiny misunderstanding was unearthed. Eventually the feeling transformed. Eventually it passed back into the territory of pleasure. While I endured it, however, it felt relentless.

And I thought: I want to share that, that trial by ordeal, with an audience; I want to write a relentless scene that pulls you through a gathering storm, keeps going longer than you think you can take it, and then drops you off at the unexpected next stop, mirth.

In classical drama, we watch characters try to ply one another with rhetoric. We watch and sometimes forget – their real designs are on us, the quiet watchers.

The last time I was blasted by an attempted lover’s persuasion was watching a scene from Dominique Serrand’s Tartuffe, while the company was still in rehearsal. They rehearsed in the basement of the Children’s Theater Company of Minneapolis. In a cheerful room with tiny chairs and paper garlands, Tartuffe laid out, with tongue and touch, his sinister desires on Elmire, Orgon’s wife. The room was too small for that much treachery. I was among the only audience. I was intimately engaged. I wanted to reach out and stop them.

There will be lovers in my play, I can promise you that.

Their arguments and actions will be, at times, uncomfortable. I want to torture you. This is art not commerce.

I want you to sit with the scene and your feelings until some small bough inside you breaks, until your hard-earned daily resistance collapses, until you pass through who you thought you were into a glorious field. Here, all your words are being washed clean in an effervescent brook. Here, all your feelings are hanging upside down among the clouds. Here is… love.

Why do I write?
To wake us both up.
I am often sleeping.

What is Pleasure?
Is it Serious?
Where Does It Belong In A Play?
How Long Can You Sit in Discomfort, In The Dark?

Check in next fortnight; let’s talk about democracy and tyranny.

Watteau, Pleasures of Love
Watteau, Pleasures of Love