This monologue is about a guy named Ben, whose crutch has been stolen. He’s asking to borrow his friend’s crutch. He also blames his friend for injuring him for encouraging him to jump off a trunk to impress some girl. That’s quite a relationship Ben and his friend have.
Ben needs the crutch to try out for marching band. This isn’t the first marching band-related monologue from Meddaugh we’ve covered. Please check out March in Line about a young lady leading a marching band of stuffed animals…to their doom.
The first play of Greg’s that I read was Monologue for a Woman. The play is only two pages long, so you can read it here:
This is an interesting discourse about honesty, but also about the banalities of life. The unseen interviewer(s) ask questions, but none of them contain any relevance. In fact it is the irrelevance of the unheard questions that provide the play’s relevance (and satire). But the character in the play can see through this irrelevance and calls them out on it in her own way.
The writing is sparse with a well-laced use of repetition in the “Good. Great. Good” progression.
Monologue for a Woman has had readings at Centastage’s Write On! and Playwrights’ Platform, both in the Boston area.
Greg did have a full-length production of a “Tinder meets vampire” play entitled Thirsty in Boston. The entire play is on Youtube. The beginning is here:
Apparently both the evening and matinee shows were recorded. Here is the matinee:
The second play I read was Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera. I read it because it has an awesome title. No, it’s not about my high school reunion. But about the porn industry in an alternate reality, dominated by women. The summary follows:
Sue has some problems. In a world where women, as opposed to men, run the internet porn industry, she’s a successful producer. But that success has bred enemies: the courts, the FBI, and of course, her own son. As her world unravels, and as people who she loves become irrevocably damaged, the cameras continue to roll, capturing scenes of love for millions to see. There may be only one thing that can save her, and everyone else, from the madness…an act of violence, a piece of salvation, for all the world to see….
Now the amazing thing is, this play is not a comedy. The story is universal enough that it transcends the setting – this is a play about someone whose lifetime of bad choices catches up to her.
The scenes involving Jake (a lad in his 20s) are interesting because sometimes they play out like the beginning to a porno:
This pretty much reverses the male/female power trip of the American patriarchy. Sue can be just as creepy as any dirty old man. Is it the beginning of a sex scene? You’ll just have to watch and find out. Hovanesian tempers the drama with humor.
Run, Jake, run! Sue is in her 60s or 70s and tells herself that everyone is “family.” A very dysfunctional, incestuous family. All the people she works with treat Jake pretty much how you’d imagine male pornographers treat young women: as a commodity.
Sue (and the “family”) convinces herself that her company sells love, not sex. Towards the end, as their world closes in around them, Jake decides to turn the tables on Mary, a company gofer in her 40s or 50s.
Some realities suck. This is an interesting play with well-written characters. There are three great roles for female actors here and one for a guy. By flipping the gender dynamics, Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera indicts American society to its core.
Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera had a reading at Playwrights’ Platform this year.
This is normally where I drone on about some dead playwright, but with living playwrights, we have the benefit of talking to them in the here and now. Greg has been kind enough to answer a few questions. Let’s learn about Greg and his craft in his own words:
How did you start playwriting?
It’s sort of a long and convoluted story, but I guess it goes like this: I’ve always liked to tell stories and write creatively. In high school, I took creative writing classes. And then I just sort of stopped for 15 years or so: I was writing a lot, whether it be academic history papers in college or pseudo-pop culture analysis on my blog, but not stories. In 2015 I pushed myself back into writing. In a way it was to add some meaning to my life: I felt sort of stuck in a rut and needed to fill a void in my life. I wrote a few screenplays because I love movies, but I realized that not being in Hollywood is a huge obstacle to successfully doing that. And there were other things about screenwriting that depressed me. Ultimately, I wanted my stuff to be heard. So I started writing plays. When I wrote my first plays I was going through a very difficult time in my life: my first 4 or 5 plays, and my first full-length, a play called PLATTSBURGH that takes place in a supermarket, were very self-therapeutic to me. My life was a mess, things were out of control, and the only way to make the world feel okay was to write plays. They were my medicine.
What are your influences?
I think everything in life influences me. Conversations I hear on the street, movies I watch, music I listen to, strange occurrences that I’ve witnessed while I’ve been living on this planet. Music and movies are huge influences: I could go on and on about the bands and directors who have inspired me, the list is too huge. In terms of writers, Michael Crichton was probably the biggest influence on me as a child: when I read Jurassic Park, I learned not only that I love to read, but that I could write. I was a huge Crichton fan as a 10 or 11 year old. More recently, other writers, such as Chuck Klosterman and Bill Simmons, opened my eyes to ways in which to read into the normalness of pop culture in ‘non-normal’ ways. Cormac McCarthy is my favorite novelist ever: his Western stuff, the stuff that takes place in Texas and Mexico, is amazing. Michael Herr’s Dispatches is probably the most jarring book I’ve ever read, and it still influences me today: I read it while living in Vietnam, where I was a teacher for four years. Kafka holds a place near my heart, and I’ve recently started reading some of Joyce’s short stories from Dubliners, and I think they’re amazing. As far as playwrights go, well, just about everyone I’ve read influences me in some way or another, and I’ve tried to read as many playwrights as possible for the last three years or so. I think I’ve read plays by over 100 playwrights at this point. Some of the top influences would be Suzan-Lori Parks, Henrik Ibsen (because he tackled big issues fearlessly), August Wilson (the greatest monologues ever written), David Mamet (people love to hate him these days, but his dialogue in the ‘80s was fire), Annie Baker, Sam Shepard, and others I can’t think of now. But my playwright hero is Harold Pinter. Pinter’s at the top of the mountain for me.
What is your most memorable production and why?
Probably my first production ever, which is a one-act called WATER. I wrote it in February of 2016: it was at the height of the heinous situation with the water in Flint, which of course is still ongoing: the government says the pipes are clean, but people are still drinking bottled water. There was something so egregious about everything that was happening: to me, it transcended politics. It was about right and wrong, not left and right. So I wrote a play about it. I was very new, so I didn’t know what to do with it. A few months later, I found out that the playwrights group I had just joined, Playwrights’ Platform, had a festival. So I submitted it and it got accepted. The festival is very DIY: it was like, ‘Congrats, you’re in! Now find a director and actors.’ I didn’t really know many people yet: I had no idea how I’d find a director, and then I reached out to some classmates from a screenwriting class I had taken, and lo and behold, someone responded that she was a director. And I was incredibly lucky: I still work with that director today. We’ve been a creative team for over 2 years. Anyway, the whole production was a circus: we couldn’t find actors for the male roles, everyone was out of town on vacation. So one day I just said, “I’ve taken 11 acting classes…I’ll do it!” And she was like, “Yeah?” And I was like, “Yeah.” Then we rounded out the cast with one of my childhood friends, who had never acted but had done a lot of stand-up. We were a rag-tag team and had no idea what we were doing. And it was out of control from day one: everyday it was a new crisis. I was pretty much having a heart attack for an entire month. But we rehearsed the hell out of it, and we got up there on stage and did really well. We won three awards. So I would have to say that was probably a high point.
What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
I can’t really say that I have a least memorable production of something I’ve written. But there have been two I couldn’t attend: one was a monologue in New York, and the other was a one-minute play in Dubai. I got to see some pictures, but it’s not the same. I wish I could have been there.
What’s your funniest theatre story?
Probably something that happened in rehearsals. In addition to being a playwright, I’m a pretty active actor and producer, so I’ve been in my share of rehearsals. I don’t know if one thing sticks out: usually someone muffs a line really badly, and it comes out totally horribly, but it ends up being hilarious, and everyone laughs. That might be something some playwrights have nightmares about! It’s usually stuff like that: funny little moments you don’t remember later. But there is actually one thing that comes to mind as a funny moment. The second full-length I ever wrote was a play called THIRSTY. As soon as my director and I had one play under our belt, we were like, “Let’s do a big one!” It was a pretty crazy and ambitious thing to do; we had no idea what we were getting into or how much work it would be. It was an exhausting project. Anyway, THIRSTY was a pretty wild play about vampire-like beings and online dating, and the apps both they and humans use for dating. And so late in the play, there was a fight scene with a dildo. I can’t take credit for the idea: originally, I wrote a golf club as a weapon. And my director was like, “No, too dangerous.” So I rewrote it with a wiffle ball bat…and she was like, “Mmmm…how about a dildo? Since this character, Micah, is a sort of a sex fiend. He’d probably have one.” And I was like, “Yeah!” So I rewrote it, and then during rehearsals, I bought the biggest dildo I could find on Amazon. So one night during rehearsals, the lead actor had the dildo and was sort of playing with it without realizing it: slapping it on his back, swinging it around, that kind of thing, during some downtime while the director was talking. One of the actors took some pics of him and we all kind of laughed because it was pretty hilarious at the time. So yeah….maybe that’s my funniest theatre story…but I don’t know, really.
What are your writing habits like?
I’m a weekend warrior. I work during the week as an ESL teacher, so I have zero time to write during the week. On Saturdays and Sundays, when I’m writing, I wake up early: 6am is perfect. I make my coffee, eat breakfast, listen to some NPR, drink my coffee, read some news, and then bang! I’m writing. I like to write for a few hours: usually I finish by 11am or so. Sometimes I’ll go past 12. Eventually, I’ll hit a wall, and then I know to stop writing. At that point the quality starts to dip. I just leave and come back the next morning.
What advice do you have for new playwrights?
First, read plays. Lots and lots of plays by lots and lots of playwrights. Read lots of variety. Go to the Wikipedia page for Pulitzer Prize in Drama, then go to your local library and check some of them out. Read short play anthologies and long plays. Once you feel you’ve read enough plays so that you have a feel for it, start writing. And don’t look back. Write, write, write. Once you have some plays written, find a playwrights’ group and join it. Very important. Plays need to be heard, not just written. They need to be test driven by actors. And actors are the most important people playwrights can meet. Actors know scripts: they know what makes scripts good, and what hurts them. They are your allies. They want to help. Meet actors through playwright groups, and start to create some relationships.
Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
It’s a difficult question to answer, because I think it’s tough to find the writers who are out there and aren’t getting the attention they deserve. You have to work hard and search for them. The main place to look is on the New Play Exchange, known as NPX, which is a sort of social networking site for playwrights. Recently you posted a list of NPX writers on your FB page who you think deserve more attention, which is really cool. Some of the playwrights I’ve read and enjoyed on NPX are Jennifer O’Grady, Jordan Elizabeth Henry, Lee Lawing, and Asher Wyndham, and of course yourself, Bryan Stubbles. I’m hoping to be able to discover more playwrights that I enjoy soon, and maybe, through the process of word-of-mouth and reviews, I can help them to become more recognized.
What are common themes in your work?
In all honesty, I’m not really sure. It’s funny: before I was writing this stuff, I would watch a lot of movies by the same director, and search for recurring themes. But I don’t really think about themes when I write. That being said, I do think there are recurring themes that I tend to re-visit, somewhat unconsciously. A lot of my plays have a touch of the supernatural: I don’t think life is as normal as most people think it is, and I like to play with that idea, the supernatural just below the surface. I’m not sure if I’d call them ghosts, but ghost-like people show up in my plays from time to time. I’m a huge fan of the films of Guillermo del Toro, in particular The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. I also love The Seventh Seal and the first couple seasons of Six Feet Under. They all have a lot of mixing of those two worlds, the dead and the living, the supernatural and the real, and I like that. I also like to write plays that happen in an alternate universe, a place similar to what we know, but distinctively different. I think those places are interesting worlds to work in. They give you a lot of freedom to go wild and say whatever you want, whether factual or not, while staying on a plane that is easy for people to understand. And I also like to write about technology from time to time: I love The Twilight Zone and the old Black Mirror episodes, the British ones, before they became not as good in the 3rd season. I think it’s almost impossible for technology not to come up in writing these days, at least in the stuff I write: it’s everywhere and it’s always changing. It’s fascinating and scary.
What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
I think the point of starting out is that you don’t know much. When I started doing this, I knew zero anything: I had read a book on screenwriting and taken a screenwriting class. That was it. But that made it kind of fun: I just jumped in without knowing anything about anything, and knowing zero people. It’s been fun to learn on the fly.
In Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera, a lot of dialogue is repeated. Is there any special meaning behind that?
A lot of my plays have repeated dialogue. One playwright in particular, who I respect greatly, has told me a few times at readings that she wishes I wouldn’t do it as much. But I enjoy doing it. And I think I’ve gotten it from a lot of playwrights I’ve read: I love when I’m reading a play, and there’s a lot of this between two people: “Wait.” “Huh.” “But you said.” “Wait.” “Huh.” “Uh-huh.” Things like that, just back and forth with repeated dialogue. It happens a lot in plays by Albee and Mamet. In the early plays of Suzan-Lori Parks, there’s a lot of circling back and forth between repeated words and sentences. There’s a lot of significance there. And then writers like Ionesco and Beckett, back in the ‘50s, they were taking it to the extreme, probably in order to challenge the establishment of what theatre was defined as back then. Anyway, repetition, as a writer, it gives me a little space to set things up, set up a scene, without using a conventional conversation, which can keep an audience on their toes. But it also gives certain words a sort of significance, that otherwise wouldn’t be there. In FAT UGLY PIGS ON CAMERA there are certain words that are repeated, that maybe wouldn’t usually be spoken a lot in ordinary conversation: shark, sushi, action, etc.. If repeated a few too many times, there’s probably a reason for that, something I want the audience to think about. I’ll leave it at that.
What gave you the idea to write “Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera” and “Monologue for a Woman”?
MONOLOGUE FOR A WOMAN was written first, and it’s a companion piece to a monologue called INTERROGATIONS, which was written for a man. Both monologues are heavily inspired by Pinter: I was reading a lot of him at the time. INTERROGATIONS is more sinister in nature, but I wanted both to sort of unhinge an audience: the actor is talking to an unseen person, but in the process the unseen person becomes the audience. Both have weird turns and are at least a little paranoid in nature.
FAT UGLY PIGS ON CAMERA was something I had wanted to write for a long time, in response to internet porn in general. Porn is a weird thing: it’s something many human beings are drawn to, because at heart we are animals, and our animal instincts are aroused by what we see on camera. But we are also human beings, and so many things in the world of internet porn just trample on everything good about being a good human being. The titles of some videos are horribly de-humamizing and almost always degrading towards women, and that’s where the name of the play comes from. The way I wrote it was the only way I could think of writing something about internet porn that would pack a punch, but also wouldn’t be a lecture or take one side too strongly.
How do you use humor in these two pieces?
It’s funny with humor: I think I’m a pretty funny guy in person. Or at least some of my childhood friends might say that. But really, none of my plays are ‘comedies.’ That being said, humor leaks into just about all of them. I think dialogue is too deliciously funny not to include some humor. In MONOLOGUE FOR A WOMAN, I think the humor depends a lot on the actor reading it: I’ve seen it read ‘funny’, but I’ve also seen it read dark, with virtually no humor. The humor that’s there rests in her questions and responses: whoever is interviewing her seems to be something of an idiot, at least in her eyes, and some of her statements subtly express that.
As for FAT UGLY PIGS ON CAMERA, when I wrote it, I was really worried that I had written my bleakest play. I stood back and looked at it and shuddered, because really bleak plays make me do that: I respect plays that are really bleak, but they’re not always my favorite. So anyway, that’s what I thought I had: a humorless, bleak play. But when it had a reading, in Spring of 2018, the people in the audience were really, really laughing, in particular during Act I. That may have been because the acting was stellar: every actor who read was fantastic, and the actor who played Jake actually took off his shirt during certain scenes and moved around, despite the fact that this was just an unrehearsed reading without a director. It was amazing to watch. But I was really surprised by the laughter: I didn’t see it coming. People told me afterward it was the funniest play of mine they had heard. I was sort of shocked. So, I guess that the humor just seeped out, especially early in the play, without me really realizing that it was humorous.
Are there any allegorical elements to “Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera”?
I think there may be. I always like to put things like that in my plays: I learned how to use symbolism, whether allegorical or not, when I read INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison in high school. Ever since that book, I’ve always tried to look at things not for what they are, but for what their meaning is: what do they symbolize? So, to answer: yes, there probably are! And they’re there for a reason…if they’re there.
What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.
Question: Do you listen to music when you write? And if so, what kind?
Answer: Sometimes! I love music. It inspires me. I listen to all sorts of music: Arvo Part, The Stooges, J. Cole, Neil Young, Baby Huey, and on and on and on. But when writing, if I’m listening to music, it has to be without lyrics. And it can’t be too complex, no DJ Shadow stuff: if it’s too intricate and wild, I’ll get distracted. There’s a J Dilla playlist that I really like, his stuff is really dreamy but not too out there, it’s perfect. Sometimes Aphex Twin does the trick: one time I listened to Track 3, aka Rhubarb, from his Selected Ambient Works Volume II album, over and over and over again on repeat on my headphones while writing a monologue. Lately, though, I’ve just been going silent while writing. It depends on how I’m feeling on that particular morning. Also: when I need a break, I throw on the headphones and usually listen to a hip-hop song with lyrics: stuff by Raekwon, Jedi Mind Tricks, Kanye, that type of stuff. All those lyrics are good during a break. But I only allow myself one song per break when writing: I’m very strict with myself, and after one song, it’s back to writing, no matter what.
Greg has been very busy lately. In 2016 his one-act play Water won Best Play at the Playwrights’ Platform’s 44th Annual Festival of New Plays. His monologue The Look was published by New World Theatre in 2018 as part of A Solitary Voice: A Collection of Epic Monologues. He self-produced his full-length play, Thirsty, in 2016 with his company, Ya Bird? Productions, and in June 2019 he will again be self-producing a play, this time his one-act play Wilderness at the Players’ Ring Theatre in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Greg is also an actor who was awarded Best Actor at the Playwrights’ Platform’s 44th Festival of New Plays in 2016. He is the President of the Playwrights’ Platform, where he also serves as Director of the Actors-In-Residence (AIR) program, and is a member of StageSource and the Dramatists Guild of America. When he has spare time, he likes to read poetry he’s written at open mics and slam competitions around Boston. On October 26th and 27th his one-act play A BEDTIME STORY will be produced by River’s Edge Arts Alliance in Hudson, MA.
Hello everyone! This week’s monologue comes to us from the play Iphigenia in Splott. For those who don’t know, the play’s title is an allusion to the Greek play we covered last week, Iphigenia in Aulis, which concerns a king’s plan to sacrifice his daughter to placate a deity.
The play is a solo show, thus making it ripe for….monologues! Actually, the show is a 75 minute monologue. It takes place in Splott, a suburbs of Cardiff, Wales.
The play has received very positive reviews. For those wanting to delve into this as a possible monologue, here’s a piece from theatremania.com.
“Granted, the story of Effie’s eventual sacrifice feels like an excuse to make a heavy-handed statement about the deleterious effects of austerity on Britain’s social welfare. Owen doesn’t shy away from this contrivance, which makes his work more admirable than that of certain writers who have trod this territory before: The British have a long tradition of poverty-exploitation theater, from Edward Bond’s Saved to Anna Jordan’s Yen. While those two plays dress up shock as social consciousness, the equation is reversed for Iphigenia in Splott. Effie’s behavior becomes less shocking and more sympathetic as the play progresses. By the end, we even come to see her as noble in certain ways, an impressive feat for the kind of character most of us would cross the street to avoid.”
Naturally, this being set in Wales with a Welsh character, whoever performs it should at least try some sort of Welsh accent.
Before moving on to the monologues, I found this bit hilarious from the same theatremania article:
“Her thick Welsh accent is seasoned with Valley Girl inflections, California’s most ubiquitous export.”
Umm, theatremania, please give Melville more credit. She’s Welsh, playing a Welsh character. Oh, and she’s a trained actress. Maybe those “Valley Girl inflections” are actually part of a Cardiff accent?
Here’s a video covering the play when it was at the Edinburgh Fringe:
Here’s Ms. Melville discussing the character:
Now on to the monologues. These all seem to be different monologues.
The play was adapted into Spanish and re-set in the Madrid neighborhood of Vallecas:
And also in Italian:
Join us next Monday as we profile yet another monologue from the depths of drama.
Meanwhile, the theatre in London’s mainstays were becoming less popular. While people are unsure of the reason (it could be that people’s tastes simply changed over a generation – how many people remember Kim Cattrall from Porky’s vs. that one show).
Carving out a living as a playwright was just as precarious as now, it seems. There were a few ways one could make a living as a playwright. One was to be the resident playwright with a yearly contract. John Dryden did this. Another was to get the elusive commission. Thomas Shadwell had a couple of these.
The other way was to simply submit the play to the theatre. This still didn’t guarantee payment, as the play had to run three performances before the writer got paid – from the profit of the third night. After the theatre’s expenses for that night had been cleared. In the beginning of the Restoration, they were paid ONLY on the third night. However, by the 1690s they had negotiated payment on every third night. One imagines they would’ve pressed their friends to go, kinda like when one’s playwright friends in New York send you a Facebook invite you to their play when you’re in, say, Bekasi.
After the play’s initial run, the play entered the theatre company’s repertory. Residuals and copyright fees were totally not a thing. All chances of making money from a new play died after the final curtain of the final performance. How depressing.
I should also mention that nearly all plays were written by dudes and the theatre, as with society, was dominated by men. True, women were allowed (gee, thanks) onstage after the Restoration, but their presence provoked more lurid rape scenes and of course the breeches role. Naturally, by the 21st Century everything is peachy in modern English-speaking theatre.
Mary Pix seemed to have the cards stacked against her simply by being born at that moment in history in 1666 in Buckinghamshire. As if living in a creepy, rapey, pre-electricity England wasn’t bad enough, her headmaster father died when she was “very young.” According to the gossip rag known as Wikipedia, she was courted by her dad’s successor, Thomas Dalby, at the school, but he left due to a smallpox epidemic one year after the schoolhouse mysteriously burned down. Slut-shaming Wikipedia was on the scene:
“Rumour had it that Mary and Dalby had been making love rather energetically and overturned a candle which set fire to the bedroom.” (You can seriously read the original here.)
Because, you know, banging dad’s replacement and burning down schools when you’re a teenaged girl go hand in hand.
I reckon she probably got pissed at creeper Tommy and burnt the damn thing down to be rid of him – or at least so he can’t have a work/creep-place.
Mary married (hehe) a merchant at age 18. She had a son who died young. The couple moved to London, had another son and BOOM Pix burst upon the literary scene in 1696 at the age of 30 when she published her only novel, The Inhumane Cardinal and two plays, Ibrahim, thirteenth Emperour of the Turks and The Spanish Wives.
Sadly, The Inhumane Cardinal isn’t an expose of birds committing war crimes.
But with success comes hatred, and for women, a particularly virulent, penis-having hatred. The success of these three ladies provoked a play, The Female Wits, which attacked them. Pix was portrayed as a fat, ignorant yet kind, oaf named Mrs. Wellfed. Things were less subtle back then. The play was written anonymously, because male bravery knows no bounds.
Pix was connected to The Theatre Royal (currently owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber) until that theatre produced The Female Wits, after which Pix took her talent to the theatre at Lincoln Inn Fields. She seems to have been mentored by the great William Congreve.
In 1697, Pix sent her play The Deceiver Deceiv’d to The Drury Lane Theatre run by rival playwright George Powell. Note to self: Do not send plays to rival playwrights. Second note to self: Find rival playwrights.
He rejected her play and totally produced a play with the same plot. Plagiarism, anyone? There was much “anonymous” letter writing to newspapers and a mini-scandal occurred. However, Pix’ reputation remained intact. But after that, she only attached her name to one other play, though we think she published seven more.
The first play we’ll review is the awesomely-titled Ibrahim, the thirteenth Emperour of the Turks.
Imitation Maltin summary: Spoiled brat/psychopath (and Ibrahim’s favorite mistress) Sheker crushes on stud-soldier Amurat who in turn loves winsome Morena. Sheker unleashes a wave of violence upon everyone in the story, including the titular Ibrahim.
You can also learn about the real Ibrahim. Never a good sign when historians dub you “the Mad.”
Relatively well-written female characters for the era.
Morena, despite being put upon a pedestal by Amurat, is more or less a fleshed out character, albeit a victim.
Satanic spitfire Sheker is a consistently evil character with clear motivation – she has more depth than the infamous Iago in Othello. She loves and she hates. Almost like a real person. And she ruins people’s lives, almost like my old boss.
Sheker’s slave (and apparently only friend) Mirva and Morena’s slave/buddy Zaida/Zada/Zayda (nobody used spell check back then) serve as brief foils to their mistresses – even they have a bit more depth than what one is used to seeing in the era.
Dialogue and pacing
In general, speech feels more natural than one would imagine. Much of the dialogue is effective – here is Amurat telling his friend Solyman how much he loves Morena, but also senses Sheker’s danger.
Oh Solyman! forgive the frailty of your Friend,
Forgive the follies that Imperious love creates,
Here the Mufti writes, that on earnest business
He craves my presence, if he hath discover’d
The Adoration that I pay his beauteous Daughter,
And then forbid it, how lost a thing is Amurat,
For I know well, though her poor Slave shou’d suffer
A thousand wracks, she’d tread the rigid paths of Duty,
And let me die, rather than forfeit her obedience.
Here is Sheker, all butthurt that Amurat has rejected her advances and left. Mirva is her slave and Achmet is Ibrahim’s eunuch.
Gone! O Devil!
Keep down, thou swelling Heart!
Or higher rise, that I may tear
Thee with my teeth! Mirva!
Break all the flattering Mirrors!
Let me ne’er behold this rejected Face again!
Have I seen Scepter’d Slaves kneeling
At my feet, forgetting they were Kings,
Forgetful of their Gods, calling alone on me;
Passing whole days and hours as if measur’d
With a Moments Sand, and now refus’d
By a Curst Beardless Boy! my Arms too
Open’d, all my Charms laid forth! (for
The Joys of Love are double, when our
Sex desires) heedless and cold he flew
From my Embrace; swift as I will do
To form his ruine—Achmet! I come!
‘Tis he must raise this raging Tempest higher,
Though cold to me, his Bosom’s sure on fire.
Finally, this is Solyman dishing it out to Ibrahim (who has done something terrible to Morena). Solyman truly is a great friend to Amurat. I love the simple stage direction at the end: “Fight.”
Traytors are ever loud—
And to colour their own detested sin
Rebellion; with impudence, and calumnies
Bespatter the Throne, they dare attack.
Was there a Slave throughout thy wide
Dominions, whom blind fate had cursed
With Wealth: His forfeit—Head
Pay’d for his crime: Whilst his extorted
Treasure fill’d thy coffers, and supply’d
New Luxury. Did vertue Reign in
Any Man, a life Austere; or active Valour
Like our great Progenitors: Strait you,
And your Minious thought, this lookt
With a Reflecting Eye on your Debauches:
Dispatch’d the pious Wretch, and sent him
To his Friends above; then Women
You monopoliz’d—let her be Wife
Or Virgin, fair as Heaven, or monstrous as Hell:
Witness your Armenian Mistress; all serv’d
As fuel to that consuming fire your Lust;
Nay, even the Relique of our late glorious
Emperour, was not free from your Attempt,
But that her Lion Resolution made your
Coward Heart shrink back.
Is there none to secure this Traitor?
I tell thee, Lost degenerate King,
There’s not a Soul will move a Tongue
Or Finger, in thy Defence; thou standst
Forsook by Heaven, and Human Aid—
Think now upon the fair Morena!
And if thy heart of Adamant unmov’d
Cou’d hear an Angel pray; if the angry Powers
So punish’d her spotless Innocence: What
Horrours must remain for thee; who bend’st
Beneath the weight of thousand thousand Ills?
Come on, thou Rebel!—
No Souldier sure thou art!
Thy Tongue’s thy sharpest Weapon—yet
If thou wer’t; and did thy acts excel the
Foremost of my Royal Race; thy Ignoble
Tomb must blush to hold thee, the name of Rebel
Wou’d blot out the H•ro, and leave thy Fame
Detest’d, to the honest World; as thou
Hast Represented mine!
My injur’d Friend, and that unhappy Beauty
Whom thy Lust hast ruin’d, gives Iustice to
My Javelin’s point, and sends it to thy heart!
Combined with well-placed dialogue, the action moves quickly.
The characters express their emotions well. I was going to include examples here, but I feel the above dialogue examples work well. It is a very emotional piece.
Even though The Merchant of Venice continues to be produced, for better or for worse, Ibrahim is basically “old English people pretending to be Turks” and as such would rightly be deemed offensive by pretty much everyone. However, considering its dramatic, tragic and emotional strength as well as historical significance, there are at least two ways the production could be successful.
Go all out on the Turkish/Islamic/Ottoman culture. Go find a cultural consultant and modify the Hell out of it to suit the 21st Century.
Re-set it somewhere else, for example amongst Mormon polygamists. Note to self: totally write “Ibrahim, 13th Emperor of Utah.”
The ending. The ending is harsh. It’s a tragedy and ends like a tragedy.
The title. It makes me want to see 12 prequels and a possible sequel.
There’s a weird song in the middle of the play, because. Just because.
The second play I planned to read was The Beau Defeated. This play was so impressive that the Royal Shakespeare Company thought it was the bee’s knees this year, so they renamed it and you know the rest. Except I tried to read The Beau Defeated and Bryan Defeated or TheBlogger Defeated would be more apt titles. You know those plays that are just people talking? Yep, it’s one of those. I’m assuming they chose the play because it’s been regularly produced elsewhere and it is rather tame – it’s like if Quentin Tarantino wrote an episode of Murder, She Wrote and then everyone would just watch that episode instead of True Romance. Anyways, I couldn’t finish The Beau Defeated. It finished me.
The Innocent Mistress is a multiplot play with several interwoven love intrigues. Sir Charles is married to an older woman, Lady Beauclair, supposedly a widow, who is very different from the witty heroines of other Restoration plays. In fact, she is presented in the Dramatis Personae, together with her daughter Peggy, as “an ill-bred woman”. Her marriage to Sir Charles cannot work since it is just the product of socio-economic interests. Being Sir Charles a younger brother with no estate, and Lady Beauclair a wealthy woman, Sir Charles’ friends and family induce him to marry her. At the end of the play, we learn that the marriage is not valid for two reasons. Because it has not been consummated and because Lady Beauclair’s first husband, Mr Flywife, is alive and back to London after several years of voluntary exile in Jamaica. The re-encounter of Mr Flywife and Lady Beauclair makes Sir Charles free to marry Bellinda, his niece’s friend, whom he has been courting throughout the play. Bellinda, whose real name is Marianne, lives at Mrs Beauclair’s (Sir Charles’ niece) under an assumed name after having escaped from a forced marriage. Mrs Beauclair, presented in the dramatis personae as “an independent woman”, fulfils and updates, together with Sir Francis Wildlove, the “happy couple” stereotype of Restoration comedies. The plot turns around Mrs Beauclair’s attempts to reform Sir Francis from his initial rakishness to his final “faithfulness”. His reform process is slow. The rake only changes his attitude and reveals his true feelings for Mrs Beauclair when, due to a misunderstanding, he thinks she has married another man. Another couple is formed by Beaumont and Arabella. The former is, like Sir Charles, a character with an “incorruptible” morality, whom Bellinda’s father has sent to find her after her brother’s death. Arabella, her father thinks, has her fortune and person controlled by Lady Beauclair and her stupid brother Cheatall. Once Arabella is liberated with the help of Lady Beauclair’s servant Eugenia, she can marry Beaumont. There is yet another marrying couple at the end, Lady Beauclair’s “ill-bred” daughter, Peggy, and the social parasite Mr Spendall, who tricks both mother and daughter into believing he is a man of quality with a fortune to inherit. Once Mr Flywife comes back and Peggy’s fortune –the only reason for Spendall’s interest in marrying her– fades away, Peggy is punished with a lazy husband with no fortune. Likewise, Mr Spendall must deal with an ill-bred girl with no properties so far. Finally, even the servants Eugenia and Gentil marry just the way their “betters” do, thus following Roman comedy tradition. Only Mrs Flywife (the mistress of Mr Flywife while in Jamaica) is left outside the marriage fair. We learn that both have been living together, but Mr Flywife, after his first experience, prefers not to marry again. Thus, when they are back in London, the former has to live with Lady Beauclair again, and the second becomes the odd one out in the comedy happy ending.
This play is beyond funny. It’s kinda like a 17th Century pervy sitcom taking satire pills. That is the beauty of this work – it comes on the heels of the anonymous attack on Pix, Trotter and Manley. A heck of a punchback against the misogyny of the theatre. In punching back, it cranks the hyperbole up to “atomic” and KA-Boom! The bombs fall.
The dialogue carries the play. Especially put downs and what have you. Here are some examples of the dialogue.
This is a dialogue between Sir Francis Wildlove and Beaumont when they first meet up. Subtle it ain’t.
Get me some Small Beer, and dash a little Langoone in it; else ’twill go down my burning Stomach ten degrees colder than Ice: I should have met my old Friend and Collegian Beaumont,who came to Town last night, but Wine and Women drove it clear out of my Head.
Sir, he’s here.
Welcome dear Friend, I prithee pardon my omission, faith ’twas business that could not be left to other hands.
Women I suppose, and that excuse I know a Man of your kidney thinks almighty.
Even so well by my Life, I am heartily glad to see you, why thou hast been an age consin’d to barren Fields and senceless Groves, or Conversation stupid and dull as they: How canst thou waste thy Youth, happy Youth, the very Quintessence of Life from London,this dear Epitome of pleasure?
Because excess of drinking cloys my Stomach, and Impudence in Women absolutely turns it; then I hate the vanity of Dress and Fluttering, where eternal Noise and Nonsence reigns; this consider’d, what should I do here?
Not much in troth.
But you, my Friend, run the Career your appetite directs, taste all those pleasures I despise, you can inform me what humour’s most in fashion, what ruling whim, and how the Ladies are.
Why faith there’s no great alteration, the Money is indeed very much scarcer, yet what perhaps you’l think a wonder, dressing and debauchery increases; as for the Damosels, three sorts make a Bushel, and will be uppermost: First, there’s your common Jilts will oblige every body.
These are Monsters sure.
You may call it what you please, but they are very plentiful, I promise you: The next is your kept Mistress, she’s a degree modester, if not kind to each, appears in her dress like Quality, whilst her ogling eyes, and too frequent Debauches discovers her the younger Sister only to the first.
This I shou’d hate for Ingratitude.
The third is, not a Whore, but a brisk airy, noisy Coquette, that lives upon treating, one Spark has her to the Play, another to the Park, a third to Windsor,a fourth to some other place of Diversion; She has not the heart to grant ’em all favours, for that’s their design at the bottom of the Treats, and they have not the heart to marry her, for that’s her design too Poor Creature. So perhaps a year, or it may be two, the gaudy Butterfly slutters round the Kingdom, then if a foolish Citt does not take compassion, sneaks into a Corner, dies an Old Maid, despised and forgotten. The Men that sit those Ladies are your Rake, your Cully, and your Beaux.
Here’s another bit between husband and very unhappy wife:
Well, well, thou art a good Boy, prithee no more wrangling Fubby;I vow and swear to morrow I’ll be as great a Slattern as ever was, if that will please you, so I will.
Ay, and want to go out to day, for all the gazing Fops to ad∣mire, tho’ I have told you, I can’t appear till I have enquir’d into my affairs, then to morrow, if you stay at home with me, Sackcloth will serve turn.
Lord, you are so froppish, if I was your Wife, sure Fubby,you would not be so jealous.
My Wife quotha! no, no, I was once bewitch’d, but I found such a Plague, that—No more Wives, I say.
Well, I’ll be any thing to please Fubby;Will you go in? Our Breakfast will be cold.
Note: “Bottle of hay” seems to refer to a bushel. The phrase is used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well.
Finally, there’s this joyous bit of dialogue. Lady Beauclair is angry at Mrs. Peggy.
Ye ye, ye damn’d Quean, he is here,—ha!—and his Minion with him!—let me come at her—
Leaps, and catches hold of her.
Hell and Furies! my Wife!—Madam, why all this Rage? Don’t you see my Neice? the other is a Friend of hers, a Woman of Honour.
Your Neice is a Pimp, and she’s a Whore! I’ll mark her—Sirrah—Villain! Oh, oh my Fits! my Fits!
“Your niece is a pimp” really isn’t used so often these days.
If pervy humor and insults aren’t your bag, then I don’t recommend the play.
Characterization and plot take a back seat to dialogue and humor – the plot seems to be a series of complicated situations thrown together to stir conflict and humor.
There’s a mystery that’s bugging me. The play mentions an Indian woman who is variously named Mrs. Bantam/Banter/Bantum – and who, it is implied, runs a brothel called the India House. To add to the confusion, one character has been away in “the Indies” for a long time. Now this usually referred to what is now Indonesia and thereabouts. And Banten is a city on Java. Where cute little bantam chickens come from.
Despite (or because of?) her notoriety, Mrs. Bantam/Banter/Bantum NEVER appears. A sequel, focusing on the adventures of an Indian madam in 1690s London might be pretty cool.
I’d love to see a modern production of this complicated, yet hilarious play. Here’s a trailer from a modern production with Pachelbel, too!
Mary Pix succeeded in a world much more difficult than our own. She beat each and every odd to give us a strong canon of plays, poetry and a novel. She should be admired and remembered for her skill as a writer as well as her tenacity.
Her plays deserve to be remembered, studied and performed just like that one dude whose plays seem to have a stranglehold on English-language theatre four centuries after his death. Instead of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, maybe we can have the Utah Pix Festival. Ibrahim couldn’t be any worse than what they’re doing. (Note to Utah Shakes: It’s 2018 and the only play you figured you could produce is an anti-Semitic English play from a time when Jews weren’t even allowed in England? Cool story, bro. Check out Mary Pix, please).
What do you think of Mary Pix? Would you like to see more of her work?
Our first modern playwright hails from North Carolina, USA. Andy Rassler has acted, directed and taught theatre for decades. In the last few years she’s begun to see success as a playwright.
Generally her plays are humorous, positive and carry a message. However, they are by no means saccharine. Rassler’s years as a theatre teacher has informed her understanding of what Theatre for Young Audiences entails and she excels at it.
The first piece we’ll study is Dante’s Inferno Six. Despite focusing on youth plays, this 10 minute play is set in the reception area of the sixth level of Dante’s Hell. This is where heretics end up.
Uberti and Cavalcanti are the two secretaries and basically they are each other’s Hell.
This is from the midst of one of their flare-ups:
Like many American workers, they actively hate their customers/clients, as exemplified here:
Now that I think about it, people going to Hell might be kind of annoying and I would probably grow to hate them. Anyways, this Satanic version of the Battling Bickersons meet their match when their next victim, the heretic Margaret, is totally okay with going to Hell.
Needless to say, Rassler’s Dante’s Inferno Six is a fun play for those who think Hell would be a fun thing. It also highlights something Rassler is adept at: dispelling stereotypes and upending expectations. We, the audience, have been taught to fear Hell (unless you grew up in this church) – yet Margaret is pretty nonchalant about facing that flaming tomb. Ironically, these same flaming tombs have lent themselves to an Xbox game. Here’s a vid of the performance.
Clothes Minded is a witty, honest one-act that expertly dissects prejudice in America.
The plot pretty much mimics real-life, except with fabrics in a washing machine. All the whites are getting washed together (as they do) when a sock of color shows up. The white fabrics lose it and freak out. However, unlike many real-life scenarios, this play has a happy ending.
Here is a choice moment:
This really reminds one of racists’ arguments that they just want “the other” to follow the law, no matter how intrinsically stupid said law may be.
Since all this is set in a washing machine, there are numerous references to swimming, which harkens to not just the past and stereotypes about black people swimming but also the recent spate of “white people calling the cops on black people for living” – most famously Pool Patrol Paula and ID Adam.
This interaction and Colored Sock’s mini-monologue here is effective.
That line “We’re not bad people” is rich. We’ve been hearing it oh-so-often.
The play is peppered with racists’ go-to talking points.
“Jacked-up” is right.
“Some of my best friends…” is a hilariously bad argument. Even Hitler protected an Austrian Jew he liked, so keep that in mind before you start with that argument.
Ah yes. The siren call of eugenics. This is an extreme example of “following the law” – albeit a “natural law” that someone just made up.
Beware, the rag pile. Hehe. Labels can be some dangerous medicine.
So far in this blog, I haven’t talked much about my personal life, but I will share my own experiences growing up in Utah as a non-Mormon (that’s a label!) – the labels I was given ranged from “non-believer” to “Satan worshipper.” [insert about 1,001 other negative experiences here]
Much like the parents in Rassler’s play, this idiocy started with the parents. I heard “My mom says I can’t play with you” more than once. In this way, Rassler’s play spoke to me. The Colored Sock character is way too nice to the neighbors. Lucky for them.
Oh man. This hits the nail on the head. The way some white people will speak in hushed tones about someone who married/had a relationship out of the race.
I was at a museum in Utah once and the lady working there was yapping on about Orrin Porter Rockwell and his multiple wives and at the end she whispered “and his Indian wife.”
And then (gasp!) tragedy happens.
Eventually things work themselves out. This is a well-written play with a positive message and good roles for kids. The play was recently published by YouthPlays.
Now is a chance to learn more about Rassler from the playwright herself:
How did you start playwriting?
I started writing about 10-12 years ago. My theatre class always competes in the 1-act play festival in NC. We were having a really hard time finding a piece that we connected to, so the kids said, “Why don’t you just write one?” So…I tried it. And I loved it so much. We used the piece I wrote (called—pretentiously enough—‘Minor Paradox’)!
What are your influences?
For the cadence and style of dialogue, I attribute my style to Neil Simon, mostly. I don’t know that I’d call any other playwrights ‘influences’.
What is your most memorable production and why?
Of my own pieces, the most memorable was the one-act version of ‘In the Jungle.’ This play was inspired by my twin sister, Annette, who has cerebral palsy. The students who embodied the characters were so dedicated to the piece and when we performed it at the contest, there were many, many audience members in tears. I was approached multiple times afterward with meaningful and thoughtful words—it was magical.
What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
My least memorable? I don’t remember…lol. No, I can barely remember a 10-minute piece I had produced at a local community theatre. Just didn’t work.
What’s your funniest theatre story?
Of all time? Hmmm…It was not funny at the time, but one of my students pushed me to use actual profanity. He had missed an entrance and I was in the back of the auditorium watching his classmates try to cover for him. I rushed out of the theatre, back to the dressing room, and there he was just yakking it up with his home girls! I said, “You’re on! Now!” and he kind of sauntered toward the door—so I grabbed him (literally) and said, “Get your <$*& butt out there!”—Now, I just shake my head.
What are your writing habits like?
I’m sporadic. Sometimes, I’m writing every free chance I get—then there might be weeks where I don’t write a word. When there’s a deadline looming that I want to submit, I’m gangbusters. I will do all my chores and other things in life, then sit down and dedicate 2-4 hours just to get the words out on the ‘paper’. Outline, write, write. Re-outline, write, write. Rewrite.
What advice do you have for new playwrights?
Don’t be intimidated that there is magic to this craft. There isn’t any magic or specialized something you need to get started. You have a story: tell it. Then you can use all the resources you can find to fine-tune that story.
Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
How about—Bryan Stubbles?! I have not had the chance to read many ‘unknown’ writers. Sorry.
What are common themes in your work?
Handicapped people, outcasts, people on the fringe.
What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
I wish I knew how important it was to have a network of people to support your work. I feel pretty isolated, but I’m working on building connections.
In regards to Dante Inferno Six, why is Hell so funny?
If it weren’t, it would be devastating. It makes me think of those awful times when you’re not ‘supposed’ to laugh, but if you could, it would help everything.
Please describe the process that created Clothes-minded.
A local community theatre put out a submission opportunity for 10-minute plays with the theme ‘Diversity’. I thought about that theme and all I could think of to write were things that were so corny, or cliché, or I had no business writing them because I know very little about actual diversity. I thought about the concept of segregation—separating by color—and it segued into ‘What else do we separate by color?’=laundry! Ta-da!! Someone at the 10-minute play commented on how weird it was that there were only 3 items in the load, and I thought, “Hey, this would expand to a one-act in a pretty cool way.” Ta-da!!
How are the kids and audiences responding to Clothes-minded?
My students LOOOVED performing it and the audiences were greatly amused. It’s been produced by two other groups (besides mine) already in just a few months, so I’m hopeful it will go places!
What has the feedback from People of Color or other minorities been like?
The cool thing at the very start of this is that I had a person of color playing a white sock. It was wildly cool to have discussions at rehearsal—and audience members were trying to wrap their brains around that concept. I’ve honestly had nothing but positive feedback from everyone who’s seen or been in it.
What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.
Question: What is your ultimate goal as a writer?
Answer: To get productions of as many of my shows as humanly possible and to leave a legacy of meaningful work behind when I go. I know I won’t know it happened, but I’d love for a production of my show to happen 250 years down the road and it’s just as relevant and meaningful as today.
Before I list her productions, do our readers have any questions for Andy? Please comment below.
This week brings us to the exciting world of Korean theatre. The reason Jo Jung-hwan’s name is written three times in the header is because there are a couple of Romanization systems for Korean. “Jo Jung-hwan” is the one preferred by South Korean government.
“Jo” is the family name and “Jung-hwan” is the given name. For those who are really interested, 趙重桓 are the Chinese characters that make up his name. We’ll get back to Mr. Jo in a bit, but let’s take a brief look at the history of Korean theatre.
Apparently as early as 1,000 BCE Korean shamans were singing and dancing, which brought deities from the heavens to the earth. Shamans (mudang/무당) are still active in Korea, despite the efforts of the South Korean government in the past.
There are some decent Youtube videos covering shamanism and their performances better than I can explain it.
This is looking at the life of a shaman:
This dance started as an exorcism ritual but now is just considered as a cultural performance:
This is a shamanistic ritual for the dead…note the blending of shamanism with traditional instruments…
Much later, masked dances (talchum/탈춤), which had started as something religious, became secularized and a vessel of social satire and comedy. These are called narye (나례) and they look something like this:
Sadly, the masked comic characters only appeared briefly in the above video. For a more ritualized masked dance, there’s this video:
This evolved into an art form called sandaegeuk (산대극)which I think is a bit more well known. This involved the masks, but had a range of stock characters, such a pervy Buddhist monks, greedy government officials and dancing girls. A bit of sandaegeuk from Gyeong-gi Province can be seen below:
Around this time, Korean puppet plays appeared. Their origin is obscure and the haven’t had the staying power of the other forms of traditional Korean drama, but try telling that to the monks and ladies in this play:
There weren’t a whole lot of Youtube videos featuring Korean puppet plays, but that one was awesome. And yes, the lascivious monk trope seems to as old as monkdom itself.
During the Joseon Dynasty two other major forms of performing arts emerged:
Pansori is an intense art that makes opera look like a bunch of Cub Scouts. It started in the 17th Century.
Pansori is storytelling with simply a singer and a drummer. And they go for a long time. Since this was an oral tradition, many stories were added on to. These stories were codified in a way in the 18th century into a pansori cycle. The stories became so long that they lasted 10 hours. In fact, as late as 1969, a famous performance of the renowned Chunhyangga lasted 8 hours. Modern pansori sadly doesn’t go that long.
There aren’t a whole lot of pansori videos on Youtube with English subtitles, but here’s the finale of Shimcheongga with English subtitles:
“I sold my daughter for nothing” has to be one of the more painful lines delivered in theatre.
If you want to see a full, modern pansori, there’s always this:
And for those with a hankering for five hours of nonstop pansori, we got ya covered:
Our final traditional Korean performing art form is changgeuk, which evolved from pansori – it’s like a full-on operetta with pansori models of storytelling.
Here’s a modified version of the same story. Putting it here because it has English subtitles:
All of the above information isn’t intended to be exhaustive – it’s intended as a jumping off point. If you knew nothing about traditional Korean performance art, now you know slightly more than nothing. Hopefully.
And finally, because Korea has a thing for fusion stuff, apparently there was a changgeuk put on in Singapore of The Trojan Women mixed with K-Pop and pansori because Greek and Korean tragedy mix well with a genre that sounds like what would happen if plastic surgery became music.
Supposedly these art forms were all in decline at the end of the 19th Century. Long known as The Hermit Kingdom, the US signed a trade agreement with Korea in 1882. Japan was a bit more direct and simply took the country over.
With various (forced?) cultural exchanges through the elites and mostly filtered from Japanese translations and Lamb’s book, Western drama became known in early 20th Century Korea. Again, this focused on the elites of the day [Huh, theatre really hasn’t changed…snark, snark].
With the increasing influence of Japan over its colony, Western drama filtered through. This was modified by Japanese (and then Korean) sensibilities as shinpageuk.
This was a result of several factors, but the forced “modernization” carried out by the Japanese government had some effect.
Here’s a quick chronology of the introduction of Western-style theatre in Korea:
1902:The first Western-style indoor theatre was Heopyeulsa, opened by Korean court officials who had served overseas. Changgeuk evolved here.
1906: Heopyeulsa is closed for violating public morals.
1908: A new theatre is opened on the site by 이인직/Lee In-jik, a court official who had studied in Japan. He introduced a play, The Silver Age, based on a local corruption case. The acting style was still similar to pansori.
1910; 임성구/Im Sung-gu opens a shinpa-style theatre. 혁신단/Hyeok-shindan. Shinpa literally means “new wave” and comes from Japan. That country was inspired by the realism of Western drama and sought to replicate the same.
1911: Im produces a play entitled Undutiful Must be Punished, which was an adaptation of a Japanese shinpa. This was common at the time. Hardly anyone shows up, but Im discovers advertising and his next play is a success.
Much of this information comes from a wonderful paper by Lee Mee-won, which will download if you click here:
1912: The very first published Western-style play script, Three Sick People (병자삼인) is published in installments in the 매일신보Mae-il shin-bo newspaper. That’s our play.
Fortunately the play is a comedy. It was written about and for the emerging “educated” classes that were attending Western-style schools, attending Western-style physicians and slowly adopting Western-style religion.
The plot concerns three men who are outshone by their wives. Jeong Pil-su (정필수) is a guy who attended teachers’ school with his wife, Kim Won-gyeong (이옥자). He failed the teachers’ exam. She passed. She works as a schoolteacher and he works at the same school as what the play calls “servant” (하인) – kinda like a janitor. He resents not having passed the exam and his wife treats him as a servant at home too. He has to cook. OMG.
The second man is Ha Gye-sun (하계순) who is a traditional Korean doctor, but supposedly not a very good one. His wife Gong So-sa (공소사) is a renowned Western-style doctor.
The third man is Park Won-cheong (박원청). He’s the school accountant. His wife Kim Won-gyeong (김원경) is the principal.
The plot kinda runs like a sitcom. Jeong stays home and must cook all by himself. He flirts with the lady delivering his rice. It seems she feels sorry for him more than anything. His wife Lee sees the rice lady leaving and Jeong catches hell for it. Later Lee tries to teach him Japanese, but he gets so frustrated that he feigns deafness. She makes him go to the doctor (Ha) who gives diagnoses him as deaf. The women kinda know something is up. When Ha’s wife Gong (the better doctor) interrogates her husband about the diagnosis, he pretends to be mute.
Finally there is the school accountant (Park). He is confronted at work one day over an unpaid gisaengbill by the owner of the house. I’m making a very, very rough equivocation, but gisaeng were kinda like Japanese geisha. Anyways, the owner of the gisaeng house comes to collect last month’s bill. He doesn’t want to pay. She promises him a letter from his favorite gisaeng Mae-hwa in exchange for payment. He pays using school funds. His wife, the principal, confronts him about the missing money. And the letter. Suddenly he goes blind. Doctor Gong threatens to cut out his eyes and everything goes haywire.
The men try to escape/rebel against their Amazonian overlord(esse?)s and reclaim their freedom and manhood. The women chase them. A fight ensues. The women end up in a ditch or in the sewer (if that was a 하수 back then). A policeman shows up and the women accuse the men of doing horrible things [much more horrible than what they actually did]. The policeman can’t believe his luck and threatens to detain the men, but then the women have a change of heart and beg him to release their husbands. The women admonish their husbands to not act stupid again [like that ever works] and everyone holds hands at the end. So it’s better than that one show….
[KIM] What’s the difficulty? Stop complaining and do it. If you disobey the order, you’ll be fired.
(하릴없이 뒤로 돌아와서 어깨를 주무른다. 이때에 하인이 들어오는지라 박원청은 머뭇머뭇한다.)
(He has no choice but to go behind and rub her shoulders. Now the servant is hesitant to enter)
[하인] 지금 여기 공소사께서 오셨는데 교장마님을 잠깐만 조용히 뵈옵겠답니다.
[SERVANT] Kong So-sa is here and she’s waiting quietly to see the principal.
[김] 그러면 이리 들어오시라 하려무나— 그런데 어깨는 왜 안 주무르고 가만히 있어.
[KIM] Then ask her to come in —- Why doesn’t she get her shoulders rubbed?
Ah, the blind masseuse trope…which leads us to reason #2:
2. The women definitely rule over the men.
When Park pretended to go blind, his wife asked for a massage! And then her friend (Kong) showed up…and Kong should get a massage, too!
Quick culture note: the play was written in 1912. In 1913 the Japanese rulers passed a law limiting massage therapy to the blind. That law is still on the books in Korea and emotions run high about it (several blind masseuses killed themselves in protest last year).
These are modern (for then), accomplished women. A school principal, a teacher and a doctor. Remember, this was not far removed from a time when brides’ eyes were glued shut with rice paste at their wedding. The photo in that link is from around 1900. Our play is from 1912.
The women definitely are sharper than the guys here. A production would allow us to see an idea of a “modern” woman in 1912 Korea in a comedic context.
3. Historical significance
As previously stated, this is the first Western-style play published in Korea (though several shinpa were produced prior to this play’s publication). This might be interesting in a Korean theatre festival.
The play feels more modern than you’d imagine a 1912 Korean play. I think this is due to the professions of the characters and the themes.
And now the reason against a modern production:
The ending. Seriously? These guys lie and act like buffoons simply because their wives are more successful than them. And the one guy is a regular customer at the local gisaeng house. Not much commentary is made on this fact. And at the end all is forgiven. The ending is too easy (even for a comedy).
Despite not being produced back then [or if it was, there is no record] – the play gets produced every now and again…
This is from an adaptation that ran at the Busan Theatre Festival a few years back:
(they translate the title as “Triple Fool” which is plausible, but I prefer “Three Patients”)
Jo Jung-hwan’s life is not well-documented. Some places claim he was born in 1863. Others claim he was born in 1884. He apparently attended a Japanese-language school in Seoul. If we look at his work, he really is known for novels. His first novel was published in 1906. It is also considered one of the first Western-style Korean novels. He remained active for at least ten years.
In addition to the novels, he wrote for a newspaper for 11 years, co-founded the theatre group 문수성/Munsu-seong. He passed away in 1947. Except sometimes his name is given as Jo Il-jae/조일제 and he died in 1944.
I don’t know of any available English version, except what I translated.
I know American playwrights who’ve added lines from another language (usually Spanish) into their play by feeding them into an online translator. For the love of all things holy, don’t ever do this.
Papago is marginally better, yet infinitely more hilarious.
According to the online translation, hedonism was an integral part of Korean theatre in 1912. Who knew?
Here are some links:
This might be the full play from a drama class. The video is “1” and there are a bunch more. All are from the play, but I don’t know if it’s the entire play. This is the first scene where Park flirts with the rice lady: https://tv.kakao.com/channel/3088090/cliplink/386167810
If there is one word to describe unknown playwright Martha Patterson, that word would be versatile. She works in a variety of genres and deals in everything from based-on-fact monologues to fun one-acts as well as full-lengths, covering all sorts of topics.
Martha kinda has theatre in her blood. Her aunt Elizabeth Patterson had a massive acting career in Chicago, on Broadway and on film and TV. Audiences might remember her from a few episodes of I Love Lucy she appeared on.
The Ghost is starting to get it. As is the dorky Danish prince –
Spoiler alert: Hamlet falls for whatever lines his dead dad tells him, just like in the original.
This play is pretty funny and also quite silly, thus making it highly entertaining. And it’s an appropriate shortened alternative to that behemoth Hamlet, which seems to run 3 hours, minimum.
Hamlet’s Revenge has been performed in Korea by The Seoul Players in 2010 and has an upcoming production in the Phoenix area.
The next short play of Martha’s that we’ll take a look at is Richard Gerstl, a serious monologue illuminating the life and sad death of the Viennese artist.
Martha uses a very traditional and classical technique when setting up her plays –
This certainly gives us a particular moment in time.
Richard introduces himself…in a way.
Mathilde Schönberg wasn’t repulsed. Anyways, this is interesting because so much is made of the male gaze, that it’s quite a relief when a different perspective is offered.
For those who don’t know the term, it’s kinda like when you can tell the heterosexual male director of a film is in love with the female star – then extrapolate that to how our culture tells stories. This is still endemic in theatre. You can read more about the male gaze here.
Sounds like Richard has a bit of the male gaze himself. And he is not the most pleasent character…
Did I mention he’s coiling a noose as he’s talking?
This is a good play about a difficult topic. I don’t know if the real Richard Gerstl sought help. The play adequately summarizes the conflicts and crises in his short life…now you’re getting a brief lecture. Anytime this blog mentions a work dealing with suicide, we need to mention this…
SUICIDE STUFF FOLLOWS….
A former classmate of mine has had 5 (FIVE) of her brothers commit suicide, including 4 (FOUR) since last year. The last one was less than a month ago. She is absolutely one of the nicest people I know. This has brought suicide to the forefront of my mind.
If you’re in the US and are thinking about suicide, the hotline is here. Or simply text CONNECT to 741741.
In Canada, a database of info is here or you can text 686868.
Every day I think about what my friend is going through.
If those don’t work, you can always message me at this blog. I WILL get back to you as soon as I see it.
END OF SUICIDE STUFF
Now back to Martha and a very funny play of hers…
Do y’all know steampunk? Our friends at the Oxford Dictionary say: A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.
This is a very bare-bones definition and for further enlightenment, one should look here.
Martha has cooked up a comedic steampunk revenge based around a fairy tale – Cinderella’s Revenge.
Drizella and Jeremiah carry on like a couple of rich idiots for the first bit of the play.
Jeremiah and Drizella argue and bicker until Cindy shows up with Prunella, who takes no guff from hyper-misogynist Jeremiah. Oh, and CIndy had previously married a prince who “ruined” her –
Let’s analyze this exchange.
Setting up Cindy’s bad treatment earlier in life. Check.
Some down-home misogyny from Jer. Check.
Steampunk sex joke. Check.
Useless male. Check.
This being Steampunk times and all, Jeremiah doesn’t quite approve of Cindy’s choice of life partner. He hectors Cindy and Prunella until something cool happens.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for Jerry Douchepunk.
Now we’ll turn to another monologue by Patterson: Amarilis.
A little background info. Haïti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, Hispaniola. They often do not get along. Vox was kind enough to make an entire video about it:
In 1937, soldiers of the Dominican Republic, under orders from dictator Rafael Trujillo, commited the Parsley Massacre. This was a massacre of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.
It is called the Parsley Massacre in English because the pronunciation of perejil – “parsley” in Spanish – was used to distinguish Dominicans from Haitians.
When an elderly person asks “Are you sure you want to hear this?” you must think about it carefully. There’s a reason they ask it.
That’s your reason, right there.
The play ends with Amarilis focusing again on the present.
The final play of Martha’s we’ll take a look at is the wondrous and wonderfully horrific short play A Doll’s Life. Let’s see what that’s about:
This sounds fun.
Because grilled cheese sandwiches totally own evil dolls.
This video could be retitled “How to kill Satanic dolls” – she uses enough butter to kill 13 Satans precisely. Geez.
So dad doesn’t really get it. But Amelia bugs him enough that he decides to inspect the closet, while complaining 100%.
Womp womp. We’re lucky enough to have a real live production of A Doll’s Life.
Martha was kind enough to take some time out of her busy writing schedule and answer a few questions:
1. How did you start playwriting?
I’d always been a writer – of stories and poetry, as a kid – but I started writing plays in my late 30s, while in grad school studying Performing Arts Education. I had thought I’d teach drama to high school students, after being an actress in California and New York, but discovered I didn’t really like teaching. However, if I hadn’t gone to grad school I probably wouldn’t have become a playwright. My acting training definitely informs my writing, in terms of characterization and knowing what kinds of parts are fun to play.
2. What are your influences?
In college as a Theatre student, I had to read lots of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, Chekhov, so I’m influenced by them. Interestingly, when I started writing plays I wrote lots of long monologues into my scripts, partly because those writers did, but as time’s gone on, I keep my dialogue more clipped. I’m told that audiences have short attention spans and prefer not to listen to long speeches.
3. What is your most memorable production and why?
Of my own work? Probably a production of my political monologue AMARILIS, about the conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the early 1900s. It was produced by the Border of Lights Festival in NYC, and they had an space in a church, served wine and cheese, and had a musician playing before and after the show. I went to New York to see it and was really glad to meet the producer, who’s still a penpal, and the woman who played the elderly lady I wrote about. The whole affair was elegant, and I always love being in NYC again.
Of other people’s work, I really liked Caryl Churchill’s CLOUD NINE, which I saw Off-Broadway. Clever mixing up of sexes and ages in the cast, and I don’t remember the plot well now – this was years ago – but I certainly enjoyed the play.
4. What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
There was a production of mine in Hawaii and they sent me a DVD of the performance because I couldn’t go, and one of the actors fluffed his lines, and the lighting was too dim, and the show wasn’t very well staged. I guess that’s my least favorite.
5. What’s your funniest theatre story?
I started writing my first play in grad school, and the guy I asked to read the man’s part out loud to the class was so good, I kept writing the play and finished it with him in mind. He wasn’t even really an actor. I’ve never seen anyone play the role as well as he read it. He had a quiet, deadpan delivery and it’s funny because it was an accident that I “cast” him.
6. What are your writing habits like?
I usually have a vodka-and-tonic next to me, even if all the ice melts and it gets watered down before I drink it, and I often write late at night into the wee hours of the morning.
7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?
Don’t be afraid to try it, and do have your work read out loud, preferably by people who’ve done some acting. You’ll find out where the dialogue lags. Share your work with other playwrights – they’ll often give good feedback, which you can take or leave, as you choose, but don’t be defensive – often after thinking about someone’s critique you’ll find they had valid comments.
8. Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
Shakespeare. (Kidding.) Actually, among the writers I’m friends with, they’re all doing as well or better than I am, production-wise. Dan Guyton is a pen-friend from Georgia who’s a really strong writer, has lots of funny plays but also wrote a full-length drama in verse, set in Hell – I don’t know how he managed to complete such a piece of work, all in verse. Evan Guilford-Blake is another playwright from Georgia – lately he’s focused on fiction, though – but he’s excellent, and I recently read a beautiful, elegiac short story he wrote that he’s trying to get published.
9. What are common themes in your work?
Relationships are something I focus on – marriages or families with conflict. But I also have political plays, and recently wrote one about the workplace, and I have a few plays for youth, and I can’t really say I have themes. I will tell you I’ve written for themes requested by theatres, and even if they didn’t choose my play, I’ve usually gotten it done elsewhere. So writing for themes has been very productive for me – it gets my creativity going, when otherwise I’d be at a loss as to what to write about. AMARILIS was written for a themed event. I think HAMLET’S REVENGE was, too.
10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
Keep lots of your lines short, a rapid-fire back-and-forth. Seems to work for me these days; as I’ve already said, long monologues can be dull.
11. How has the playwriting market changed since your first production in ’97?
It’s more competitive. I got three long one-acts produced right off the bat as a writer, Off-Off-Broadway, but this past year has a been deadly – only three productions and a few publications, which is less than my average. I belong to the Playwrights’ Binge, an international listserv, and I share lots of opportunities with those people, but it’s been suggested to me to be less generous, just because I’m up against so many other authors! There are 1000s of playwrights out there.
12. Please tell us about the process behind writing Amarilis.
First I had to do research, which I did online by reading brief histories of Haiti and the Dominican. Then, I had to write the speech. I came up with the character of a little old lady, I don’t know why, except that she had to be old because she’s recounting the conflict between those nations and it happened decades ago. I imagined her talking to her neighbor, who is unseen, and the whole thing unfolded from there.
13. You have Hamlet’s Revenge and Cinderella’s Revenge – both comedies. How does one make revenge as hilarious as possible?
By using the unexpected. I’ve read that there are two reasons why people laugh: 1) because the same thing’s happened to them (like slipping on the proverbial banana peel), or 2) because what happens is unexpected – the audience isn’t anticipating that action or line. In HAMLET’S REVENGE I have Hamlet idly eating a sandwich while his father chews him out, and Hamlet is very unconcerned about avenging his Dad’s murder. That’s an innately funny situation and you’re not expecting him to be so blase.
14. Multipart question: Have you faced ageism and/or sexism in your career? If yes, what advice or tips would you give fellow writers coming up against those obstacles?
No, I don’t think I’ve faced ageism or sexism. Most of the playwrights I know are over 45 or 50 anyway, and I don’t think it’s a hindrance, except when you find an opportunity to submit that’s only for under-30s, but that’s the theatre’s choice.
Much has been made of the need for gender parity in the theatre, especially among writers, but I’ve gotten my fair share of productions and publications, so I’m not complaining.
15. What is a question you’d like to be asked? Please go ahead and answer that question.
I suppose one question I’d like to be asked – do I attend the theatre often? – has a surprising answer: No, I don’t. I saw so much theatre in my youth, and appeared as a leading lady in lots of productions, that I don’t feel the need to go very often these days, and it really is an expense. I probably should get out and see what’s going on in theatre right now. But often I’d rather read a play than actually see it, which I can do in half the time it takes to watch a performance. And sometimes when I go to the theatre I get bored and restless. I’d rather be at home writing!
Thanks so much Martha for sharing your talent and knowledge with us!