Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Althea Thurston

This week we bring you an unknown playwright who was based in the weirdest state in America my home state and who attended the worst university in the whole goddamned world my alma mater.

Utah birthed this tool:

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The University of Utah flag, stained red by the blood of past memories…or by a horrible police department.

Not only was Althea Thurston prominent locally, but in 1921, her one-act play The Exchange was included in a book of contemporary one acts with such famous playwrights as Barrie, Gregory, Chekov and Strindberg. Not bad company at all. Let’s see what The Exchange is about.

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The Plot

Like many shorter works, The Exchange is based upon a simple, yet entertaining and dramatically/comically fruitful supposition: in some realm beyond, there is a judge and a judge’s helper, an imp.

People who are dissatisfied with their lot in life may approach the judge for an exchange. For example, a vain woman wants her developing wrinkles to stop. After being given several options, she decides to exchange an aging body for deafness.

A poor man wishes to be rich, but at what price? Indigestion, naturally. Let’s take a look at our cast of people who are unhappy with their lot in life and what they exchange it for. This sort of exchange goes on for several unhappy people.

Note: I’ll intersperse some photos of a 2014 reading at Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan throughout the article. Thank you to Amani Durrani for the photos.

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You can totally see it listed 2nd on the poster in back.

Characterization

The characters are based upon archetypes (vain girl, poor man, rich idiot) but are broadly drawn with comedic flair.

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Poverty does indeed suck. At least the dude isn’t a criminal.

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Perhaps “poor” refers to his decision-making skills. Be prepared to enter the Twilight Zone, Poor Man.

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On a scale of 1-10, Vain Woman is about 1,000 on the Unlikeability Factor.

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Clearer.

The Judge tries to help:

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“You don’t want me to be unhappy, do you?”  (Actually, I do)

And thus, Vain Woman is cool with being deaf.

The Rich Citizen shows up.

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“Day and night.” Rough life, bro.

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Lack of introspection. Surprisingly, the Rich Citizen doesn’t want to be a bartender. I also like that apparently many bartenders have exchanged their occupations.

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He could have a whole show based on himself if he were a bartender.

Dramatic-Reading

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“By Jove.” Here’s what milk production looked like in British propoganda at that time.

 

Themes

This is where The Exchange really rises to the top (and I believe deserves a spot aalongside those other contemporary plays). The theme seems to be stated right at the beginning (just like they teach you in creative writing class).

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“misalliance” may be an allusion

I like the “defective heart” and “lazy liver” bit. But the true theme is people want to change their miseries, but not their vices. And people minimize their own shortcomings while maximizing others’.

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After the exchanges, The Former Poor Man and the Vain Woman have this exchange:

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Be careful what you wish for.

The fun part is, everyone returns to the exchange, trying to recover their former problems, but it isn’t so simple. The Judge is gone and has sent this letter:

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They’re stuck with their new problems and I can’t say that I feel sorry for them.

The singular drawback to this play would be the stereotypical portrayal of the Vain Woman.

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The Exchange was originally performed in 1919 and published in 1922 in Contemporary One-Act Playsedited by B. Roland Lewis, who just so happened to be Thurston’s playwriting instructor at the University of Utah.

The play later appeared in University of Utah Plays in 1928. It is head and shoulders above the other plays by University of Utah students. These other plays will be profiled in an upcoming post.

However, in the 1928 publication Thurston had a second one-act play, the allegorical And the Devil Laughs.

This play isn’t as good as The Exchange but it has its moments.

The Plot

In some bizarre allegory-land, several folks cross paths:

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The humans are all looking for the Safe Road, though invariably end up on the Forbidden Trail.

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Do you think Thurston knew that 90 years later people in Lahore would enjoy her play?
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The allegory is obvious: “Safe Road” = 9 to 5 job. “Forbidden Trail” = world of playwriting.
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Production in Utah from 1931.

Characterization

The characterization is much thinner in this piece.  The most interesting character seems to be The Girl, though the protagonist and catalyst for everything is The Youth.

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He said “Hell” –

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If all it takes to impress women is taking the Forbidden Trail, I’m there.

Doesn’t Forbidden Trail sound like an oater from the 1930s?

There was another one from the ’20s.

The Youth is supposed to be some kind of punk, but The Girl is the one doing her own bit of rebelling – or trying to.

The Manshows up:

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I’m just gonna point out that even The Youth – whom The Girl seems to have an interest in, simply treats her like any man in a 1920s Utah-written allegory would: “You go do girl stuff. Now!” He doesn’t deserve The Forbidden Trail.

I like how The Man acts like a pastor who just got caught reading a pornographic magazine “for the articles.” The temptation of The Forbidden Trail is too much.

The kids notice this:

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I appreciat the fact he can say “That will do, young smarty” whilst being angry.

“I have read of its wickedness…”

 

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The Young Men’s Advice League sounds exciting.

And they’re not sexist: there’s one for the women, too!

But here’s where the Girl’s character really shines through:

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Hehe.

Next a Husband and a Wife enter. They are looking for The Safe Road.

And of course they strive to protect the Youth and Girl from the horrors of the Forbidden Trail.

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Great, The Girl has a savior complex. She’s exchanged her love of forbidden adventure to a love of socially acceptable daring-do.

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Yes, I know this page comes earlier, but the Husband and Wife are just annoying here as anywhere.

“I wasn’t married…” Excuses, excuses.

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Commadnly. Bristling. Indignantly.

The play gets a serious case of the weirds and it simply ends with everyone slowly being sucked into the Forbidden Trail by a laughing devil. The Girl is the last to submit:

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I want to thank The Book Garden for actually having a copy of this.

About the other plays in the anthology, we’ll cover them fairly soon.

About Ms. Thurston, she seems to have been a college student a bit later in life. And she married a rich dude.

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And for permission back then, we learn Ms. Thurston’s address:

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She lived in the Avenues, which is still very upper-middle class artsy in Salt Lake City.

Thanks to the magic that is Google maps…

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It’s a very shy house, built in 1901.

Here’s a newer video trailer for The Exchange:

 

I haven’t been able to find her other plays. However, I did find a spring “pageant” of hers which I will put here in its entirety.

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Here is a poem she published in 1921:

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For more playwrights, click here.

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For more about Althea Thurston, here is The Exchange in its entirety.

Here is that reading in Lahore.

A production from 1950.

The premiere of The Exchange in 1919.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: Crazy by Mindy Jones

What is it with mental illness and monologues? So  many seem to be about “crazy” people. We’ve even featured at least one explicitly about mental illness. And there have been others that hint at it, as well.

Whatever the reason, this one entitled Crazy by Mindy Jones. I can’t find much information about the author. It’s about a woman who [maybe] set fire to her home, killing her two kids. Or she just neglected to “hide” all the matches. Fun stuff.

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Meh.

Here’s a link to the monologue in that bastion of knowledge known as Yahoo Answers.

Someone is asking what play it’s from and someone else gave this hilarious answer:

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Mr. Z seems cool.

The monologue was written for “Woman” but that didn’t stop a few fellas from trying.

AND HOLY MACARONI!!! There are 67 monologues!!! Edit: #62 is in Zulu!

What do you think? Is it a good monologue? Which actor is most arson-y?

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Congratulations!!!! You made it to the end. Join us next week for another Monologue Monday and on Thursdays, we always feature some unusual playwrights.

For a full list of monologues, click here.

Cheers!

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Geographical Plays by Jane Andrews

[Full disclosure: I had a 4,000 word post ready about a living playwright but at the last minute said living playwright had second thoughts. Thus, I am up at 2 a.m. writing about a dead playwright and feeling like one, too]

Geography!!! I have a long history with the topic. So imagine my pure joy and horror when I discovered this gem from 1896:

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Much like a Talking Heads song, it could be really terrible and amazing at the same time.

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The only likeness I could find of her.

It seems earlier editions were printed in the 1880s.

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Boston, 1896.

Let’s take a gander. Here a stranger enquires about how to travel from Boston to San Francsico. Boston is home to several of our playwrights, including Greg Hovanesian, Martha Patterson and the late, great Angelina Weld Grimké.

 

The kids answer:

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That’s pretty cool. And it shows exactly the route the train would’ve taken. Hint: I was born in one of these towns (not the suspension bridge).

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Train and engineer at Niagara Suspension Bridge before 1886.

But then it comes to Europe boasting about their colonies:

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Go F yourself, Holland. There’s a reason why Indonesia changed the town’s name from Batavia to Jakarta (because Batavia is just another word for Holland).

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Entrance to the zoo in Batavia, 1896.

In the play entitled “World Commerce” Cuba mentions how fun it is to be a Spanish colony with Chinese laborers:

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“Strangely enough.” Sigh.

Manila must boast as well and then Java gets its turn:

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Now for grade school kids, this is actually a decent description of Dutch economic policy in the Dutch East Indies. The play forgot to mention the forced labor aspect of it, but selling cash crops to the Dutch overlords at a fixed price, which the Dutch government then exported overseas for a profit. They then supposedly gave a surplus back to the native Indonesians. Somehow I don’t think it worked as prettily as described, but it is neat that the play goes into so much detail regarding the economics on Java in the 1890s.

[it is now 9:41 a.m. I did sleep a little bit  (30 mins?) and had a dream my friend lost an insane amount of weight and my other friend’s wife kept trying to talk to me alone. It was kinda weird]

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Calle Palacio in Manila in the 1910s.

The book of plays begins with….

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“Perhaps we are not so old nor so wise as some other countries…”

Understatement of the year right there.

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Massachusetts is right about the cities on the Merrimac: textiles, textiles, textiles.

And Lawrence would later have a very famous, very violent strike. But for now…

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Whoa!!! Hold on there, southern states

Massachusetts is all like “Let’s not have another war, please.”

Then the “western” states get in on the action.

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I just hope New York doesn’t think Philadelphia is a western city.

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Not another city-measuring contest. Sigh.

A couple of things here.

  1. The playwright goofed. California delivers this line over a hundred pages before Washington Territory ever shows up. And that’s in the Commerce of the World play.

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BTW, Maulmain is now Mawlamyine in Myanmar.

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Mawlamyine has a neat pagoda. This photo is from 1895. I doubt Seattle had a better one.

 

But PiL never made a song about Mawlamyine:

Maybe that’s a good thing?

The common theme among the American states is that they’re a bunch of whiny braggarts:

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Insecure Texas, always trying to show off. I think it’s fun the Alaskan gold rush hadn’t happened yet. The Wikipedia page claims the “legacy” of this is North to Alaska, but I don’t know if they mean the song or the movie. If you watch the movie, you can see John Wayne’s wig fall off. It’s pretty funny.

As entertaining as an insecure, yet severely dysfunctional family like the United States can be, it’s time for us to move on to Europe, that one place in the 1890s where everything was going fine…

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Yours for only 75 clams.

Oh, more colony-measuring here…

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Holland owns half of St. Martin. Don’t you forget it.

And Denmark calls St. Croix by its Spanish name.

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“Venice of Northern Europe” Broooo.

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Amsterdam in 1899.. I guess they’re doing Dutch stuff.

If anyone is up for alcohol, there’s this:

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Meanwhile, poor Spain gets nostalgic for its empire…might wanna lock up the sherry.

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Ah yes, Spanish Guinea, where I set my thriller play that’s never been produced (English here, Spanish here).

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Spanish Guinea in 1890.

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Someone calls out Austria on its BS regarding Poland, only to get mansplained by Prussia and their king (who doubled as German Emperor). We all know how that turned out.

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Did you know you can wear an emoji?

Love that burn on Russia…because Russia totally had a thing for Turkey.

As we prepare to leave Europe, we have a positive message from Kazan:

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Let’s see where the plays are going to next:

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I bet they’re going to Asia. I like the descriptions of how one would’ve traveled back then.

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“To Bagdad, did you say?”

“And Bassora, too.”

Japan seems pretty happy about its relationship with America.

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Do you know what’s worse than Commodore Perry‘s gunboat diplomacy?

It led to another John Wayne movie.

Japan seems very eager to learn from its friends. The epitome of this knowledge-quest seems to be when someone discovered Tom Tom Club‘s Wordy Rappinghood.

This was the result:

And we learn about Japanese dental customs.

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I guess facelifts were in their infancy, so would could be the cause of the “surprised look”?

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Ouch. Except this was banned in 1870.

Now it gets a case of the weirds. The next play is South America and Africa, because of course it is.

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“My vanilla is bigger than your India rubber tree!”

“Yeah? I can touch the Mediterranean.”

They’re portrayed like children, similar to the US states.

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“I am here by the right of colonization.” You do you, Cape Town.

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Cape Town, 1896.

Africa is so proud of its European towns. Sadly proud.

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BURN!!!

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I LOVE Liberia calling the US out over slavery.

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To be fair, Ashmun Street looked like a long lawn back in 1890 Monrovia, Liberia.

 

Liberia, the West African country colonized by the US, with a really interesting history.

Check out that flag:

It also makes for an interesting play.

The next play is about islands and Australia. Because I’m kinda close to near-collapse, I just found the most pathetic island. Pathetic because it’s so lonely.

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The last play involves commerce. It’s quite funny:

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Vera Cruz and Naples, know thyselves.

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Vera Cruz around 1890.

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And really, opium is definitely the best companion drug for ginger.

In summation, theatre would be an excellent method to teach geography – but it would need to be cleansed of this “pro colonization” mumbo jumbo. And it should mention Utah. And Idaho.

[Note: this post was about 90% done before I collapsed from exhaustion around 530 pm. I had a dream about kids from high school. Kids I didn’t even like. It was like a foretaste of Hell. I woke up around 1030 and now will post the blog. Sorry for the delay.]

The author

Jane Andrews was born in 1833 and died in 1887, meaning this copy of the plays was published well after her death. She was the daughter of a minister and grew up in Massachsuetts. As a teenager, she taught night classes to the cotton mill workers where she lived. Her reference to these cotton towns is a bit more poignant.

She was the very first student at Antioch College when it opened, but had to withdraw due to a “spinal affliction.” She was an invalid for six years.

She opened a primary school where one of her future students was future feminist Alice Stone Blackwell. Poor health forced her to close the school after 25 years.

Her children’s books were very popular, being translated even into Japanese and Chinese. They were still used 50 years after her death.

For our other paywrights, please check here.

Some of her works can be found here, including our plays.

A sketch of her life by her sister.

A memorial sketch by someone who knew her.

Her Wikipedia page is here.

Her sister describes her school.

Join us Monday for more hot, hot monologues and next week for another dead playwright!

 

 

Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: Ferret Envy by Tara Meddaugh

Hi everyone and Monologue Monday is back…with ferrets!!!!

In case people aren’t familiar with ferrets, this is a ferret:

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For some reason, people keep them as pets:

 

And you know that ferrets are basically monologue gold, right? Well, that’s what prolifically talented author Tara Meddaugh did when she wrote Ferret Envy.

If you wanna check out another Meddaugh monologue (about a drum major leading a teddy bear army) check out March in Line.

Sometimes you see Ionesco‘s name thrown around with Theatre of the Absurd. Same deal with Albee. Nah, Meddaugh is where it’s at.

Picture this: You are SO jealous of your friend’s ferret that you (probably) killed said ferret because…you want to be your friend’s ferret!!!!

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I can relate.

This is a fun, funny goofed-up piece of theatrical brilliance. Before we see the vids, you can order this monologue straight from the author. I hope she sells a million. And thanks to all the brave performers out there. It’s harder than it looks.

Who is the best ferret murderer?

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And there you have it: the A to Z of Ferret Envy.

For a complete list of monologues, click here.

Thanks!!!!

Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: Coffee Slave by Gabriel Davis & A Girl’s Guide to Coffee by Eric Coble

This week we continue with our coffee thing. First up, we have Coffee Slave – a monologue ostensibly about coffee and barista-ing but it has a deeper philosophy and serves as an idictment against retail/service industry culture in these United States. It’s a strong role for a female.

The play has echoes of Merchant of Venice….maybe we can call it Barista of Venice.

We’ve reviewed two other Gabriel Davis plays before (here and here). The monologue for Coffee Slave can be found right here.

After these clips, we’ll profile yet another coffee-themed monologue – A Girl’s Guide to Coffee – so please keep scrollin.’

Who was the most determined barista?

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Our next monologue comes from something called The Girl’s Guide to Coffee by Eric Coble. It’s gotten great reviews.

Here is the synopsis (from the author):

All of life’s mysteries will be revealed in the Steamed Bean Coffee House, at the hands of barista extraordinaire Alex. She is the master of her mellowing parents, tensing roommates, imploding bosses, and desperate regulars. But what no one but Alex seems to get is that our jobs, our world itself – nothing is constant. And if it’s all moving at the speed of espresso steam, what is there to commit to? The trick is to just touch perfection… and move on.
Except… there is this boy… silver artist Christopher… who may, just may, be worth a “yes” instead of a “maybe”… but what would that do to the delicate ecosystem of the coffee shop?
Not to mention Alex’s quest for the holy grail of dark roast… The Perfect Latte…

The monologue has one of the best images I’ve heard in recent dialogue: A portrait drawn in coffee of Che Guevara that winks at you.

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Yeah, I Googled it and I’m glad I did.

Another interesting female role.

You can find the monologue right here. The author’s New Play Exchange page is here. I suspect more and more actors will be using this soon.

 

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Thanks for checking out our coffee-soaked monologues. See you later this week for an Unknown Playwright and next week for more monologues!!

For a complete list of monologues, click here.

Thanks!!!