Plays God, from Whom All Blessings Flow

Well, if there really is a full-time position for the god of playwrighting, it would have to be a job-share arrangement between Melpomene (for tragedy) and Thalia (for comedy). This odd couple sometimes needs an interlocutor–someone deft enough to sound the depths of the long period yet familiar with the iconoclastic bent. Comedy and tragedy, as categories  independent of genre, remain historically relevant and emotionally powerful…but these days there is more intercourse between them than there was, I think, in ancient Greece. It’s probably healthy.  Oddly, you hear the expression “dark comedy” much more often than “light tragedy,” which goes to show that there’s work yet to be done.

Which brings me to my first full-length play, The Whistler.  I recently brought it to a more settled state that I can share with Cincinnati theatre folks in a couple weeks through the good offices of Tim Waldrip, an acting coach and director there who invited me to come see his production of the play that made John Malkovich famous. I hope to have a table reading of The Whistler while I’m in Ohio; at any rate there’s a dinner in the offing with some very talented actors, teachers, and at least one well-established playwright. I’m reading or watching everything I can get my hands on by the folks who will be around that table.

Meanwhile, my second week in residence at the lovely Weymouth Center was fairly productive. I worked on six projects in six days, forgetting by the end what I’d been up to at the beginning. Ah, the joy of re-discovery! I have some three-minute plays drafted for an upcoming slam; a couple ten-minute plays that I’m finally becoming really happy with (though I blush to say how long I’ve been working on them); a 15-minute play that, because of its length, doesn’t fit anywhere but which is loads of fun. (It’s about Mephistopheles seducing and blackmailing a Tea Party politician.)  Finally, there’s a story that wants to become a play but that needs more background reading and plotting.

To this last point, it’s been a hard lesson for me to learn that I have to steep myself in research, live with my characters, and fully craft a story arc before I seriously try to write drama. Or rather, it’s okay to take a stab at monologues or even full scenes before I’m really ready to Make the Script, as long as I plan on throwing it all out. To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, once you’ve done all the hard work, all that’s left is just writing dialogue.

I ended my writing retreat by heading on up to West Jefferson, NC, for the Ashe County Literary Festival, where I heard funny and touching readings by novelists Wayne Caldwell and Darnell Arnoult, took a nice long ride with my old friend and mentor Georgann Eubanks, and read my essay “My Father, My Son, and Me”, which pretty much reduced the crowd to tears, so it was a good day.

Ashe County Literary Festival
Potato wins a prize for creative non-fiction

While in the mountains I lunched with mystery writer Mark de Castrique, whose new book The Sandburg Connection disappeared the moment I got home only to resurface in my wife’s hands as she boarded a plane this afternoon. Another mystery solved.

This week we workshopped my 10-minute play Conversation Piece, hosted by the Greensboro Playwrights’ Forum, which was quite helpful both in finding its weak points and in convincing me that it was juicy enough to be worth more work. Greensboro is a small city with a great heart. As arts funding continues to decline nationally, such towns and such venues (the forum is sponsored by the city’s parks and recreation department) will become more and more creative and more and more important to our intellectual lifeblood, I think.


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