Hello and welcome back to Monologue Monday! I hope this Monday finds you happy and healthy.
The story behind this monologue is pretty interesting.
Tania Head is a real person. Her actual name is Alicia Esteve Head. She was born in 1973 in Barcelona with a Spanish dad and English mum. Her dad and brother spent time in prison for bank fraud.
In 2003 she moved to the US. Here she started an online group for 9/11 survivors. She claimed to have been on the 78th floor of the South Tower. She would have been one of very few people to have survived from above the impact. She eventually became the head of a 9/11 survivors’ group. She ended up having her picture taken with real-life Bond villain henchman former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, the evil racist, sexist man buying the presidency former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg and New York governor George Pataki.
That’s all fine and dandy. Except she totally made it all up. She made it up so bad that a documentary was made about her. More on that later.
I think this is an interesting monologue because the person it’s about is still alive. The actor knows the character is completely lying. Do you shade that with subtlety? Hopefully more female performers pick up this fascinating monologue. Let’s check out a couple of performances:
(this one starts later in the monologue)
Here is a documentary about her story:
Thanks for reading and remember, if you’re gonna be a survivor, don’t be a fake survivor.
“Lydia Valentine is a poet, playwright, and educator who believes in the power of good, the healing capacity of writing and reading, and the necessity of the Oxford comma. A passionate advocate for equity and social justice, proud mom, and card-carrying Blerd, Lydia grew up in Aliquippa, Pa, a small, steel mill town north of Pittsburgh, where she spent many hours of her youth at B.F. Jones Library.”
“She now lives, reads, and writes in another gritty city, Tacoma, WA, where she has been runner-up for Tacoma Poet Laureate twice. Lydia has recently completed her first play, Aliquippa, which has had readings at empathos company, and has been Assistant Director and Dramaturg for play productions with Toy Boat Theatre Company, empathos company, UW-Tacoma, and Tacoma Little Theatre.”
She has crafted an incredibly deep, heartfelt play set entirely in her hometown.
The play focuses on the Lockwood family:
There’s only one character who isn’t a blood relation.
The play starts with Naomi, a woman stuck in a type of twilight zone due to past misdeeds and happenstance. Her own mother (Mama Shirl) barely acknowledges her. Same with her own daughter, Rachel. One could say she’s a loser in a hero sandwich. Mama Shirl is the ultimate survivor. Rachel is hopeful to return to school to finish her college degree. Both women have their lives in relative order. Naomi does not. The following is what happens when she calls her daughter.
Calls her own daughter a heifer. And again…
I don’t blame Rachel for not wanting to talk to her mother. Sometimes Naomi takes care of Rachel’s son Tamir. She does the best she can. Naomi also dreams of opening a commuity center in town.
The play really swings into motion when Tamir gets bullied and attacked on account of his race. Naomi and Rachel’s reactions reveal the generation gaps that exist in the play and provide much of the conflict:
So…racism in American elementary schools is totally real.
Isaac and Oscar’s dialogue/reality lesson continues:
Naomi goes off on her mother, Mama Shirl, when Mama Shirl mentions Rachel’s early plan to be a doctor and things didn’t quite turn out like that.
Naomi does a good job of upending religious hypocrisy, where people can pick and choose what God’s plan is and what’s someone just screwing up.
Rachel relates when Mama Shirl caught her trying a beer.
There’s some good-natured sibling rivalry between Rachel and Isaac. Isaac is the family member everyone seems to have their hopes pinned on. He’s a college football star and has plans for the NFL. In reality, only 1.5 percent of college players ever make an NFL roster.
Aliquippa is kinda famous for producing NFL players like Hall of Famers Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, and Ty Law, as well as Darrell Revis.
There is some engaging banter between Rachel and Oscar.
Another Isaac zinger:
The main thing audiences and readers should know is that Aliquippa was once a small, yet economically robust steel mill town. This lasted for most of the 20th Century until the mill finally closed in 1984. A quick look at the town’s historical population can give some clues:
When your town has 1/3 of the population it had 90 years ago, your town might be in trouble.
One cool theatrical device the play uses is the freezing of time. Naomi is asking to borrow money from her daughter. The play uses this instance to freeze action and time.
Rachel is then free to comment on the situation.
Later, Mama Shirl’s sancto self gets served by Naomi.
Maybe this limbo that Naomi lives in isn’t entirely her own doing. Naomi isn’t done unloading on Mama Shirl.
As much as the play explores the dynamics that made Naomi the woman she is today, the present-day takes over. Oscar has something horrible to report.
Isaac caught a stray bullet.
From tragedy, comes some type of positivity. Several family members are able to move forward with the community center they were planning. Rachel also makes peace with Naomi and is almost set to go to the West Coast for school. Naomi is kinda, sorta closer to making peace with Mama Shirl.
Some really cool things about this play:
Theatricality. Already mentioned above, the play plays (hehe) with time and memory to create a theatrical experience.
Local flavor aka local color. This is a tradition that hearkens back to writers like Bret Harte, Frances E.W. Harper and Charles W. Chesnutt, where a work of literature is rooted in a specific time, place and culture. In Valentine’s work, we inhabit the world of a family in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. The play even uses local terminology such as “Quip” “jitney” and “PennDot.” We can feel life in the dying steel town. This is reminiscent also of the work of Stacey Bryan, Yolanda Mendiveles and Benjamin Gonzales, all of whom have been featured on this blog.
Issues of the day. Not only does the play address racism, the Rust Belt, and police violence, but there is a gender role subplot regarding Tamir, who likes his hair long and dresses up like a cowgirl.
This causes some conflict among the different women in Tamir’s life. He also plays with Pony Princesses.
4. Uniqueness. Slice-of-life dramas depicting African American families are sorely lacking on the American stage. This would be welcome relief from the bazillionth community college production of The Mousetrap.
Ms. Valentine was kind enough to answer some questions for us.
1. How did you start playwriting?
I have always been a fan of theater and have taught many plays to my students, but it was not until I applied to Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing program that I considered delving into dramatic writing. I am primarily (and have always thought of myself as) a poet. However, I decided that if I was going to get direct instruction in craft, I wanted to take a shot with a new genre.
2. What are your influences?
My biggest influences are my experience as a Black woman and mother and the fact that for too long the narrative of those who are usually marginalized, silenced, or ignored (BIPOC, the LGBTQIA community, women, etc.) has been crafted and told by others. There is a short allegory that I find striking in relation to this.
The young boy went to his grandfather and said, “Grandfather, is it true that the lion is the king of the jungle?”
“Yes,” said the old man, “but why do you ask?”
“Well,” said the boy, “in all the stories that I read and even in the ones I hear, man will always defeat the lion. So, how can this be true?”
The old man looked his grandson in the eyes and said, “It will always be that way, my son, until the lion tells the story.”
In terms of writing, I am definitely influenced by August Wilson, whose plays celebrated the everyday experiences of Black people and were all set in Pittsburgh, where he grew up. I am from Aliquippa, a small city just north of Pittsburgh, so Wilson has long been on my radar. Other playwrights I consider to be influential are Lynn Nottage, Dominique Morrisseau, Kirsten Greenidge, Henrik Ibsen, and Shakespeare.
3. What is your most memorable production and why?
(In terms of my play, Aliquippa, I have had several readings, and all of them are memorable, but two stand out in particular. When I first finished the script, we had a closed reading for which my sister, daughter, son, nephew, and I provided the cast. It was incredibly poignant for me to hear my words brought to life by these people who are so important to me. The other one was a larger reading with actors we’d cast. Watching the audience respond to this story and these characters convinced me that this play was one to which anyone could connect.)
I worked on a production of Clybourne Park as the Dramaturg and Assistant Director for Toy Boat Theatre in conjunction with the University of Washington Tacoma. This was a memorable experience because the cast and production team gelled as a family. Rehearsals were full of levity and intensity in equal measure. I love to laugh. There were no egos or prima donna moments. The most important thing was bringing the story to the stage. There are very dark comedic elements that resonated with many in the audience, in particular those of us who have long had to keep our sense of humor to get through trying times. Also, because the play deals with themes of dislocation and gentrification, there were parallels for what is happening in Tacoma right now.
4. What is your least memorable production and why?
The one that hasn’t happened yet! I have been submitting Aliquippa to festivals and calls for plays, but I have not yet had any success. So many venues require a script to be submitted by an agent, so that leaves me out of the running.
5. What’s your funniest theatre story?
I co-adapted the script of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with Marilyn Bennett and served as Assistant Director for the production, which was staged as a part of Tacoma Little Theatre’s 100th season. After the show on opening night, a member of the Board of Directors said a few words to the audience, then invited Marilyn to speak, and after that called me forward. I am fairly shy and also autistic, so not only was I mortified but also the first words out of my mouth were, “Well, this is mortifying.” In retrospect, I think it’s pretty funny, but at the time I felt a little bad when I saw the look on the board member’s face at my pronouncement.
6. What are your writing habits like?
I wish that I could say that I write in the morning during my almost two-hour commute to work and again on the trip home. I take the train or bus for that specific purpose (and also to avoid the stress of navigating the traffic on I-5). I’m not a morning person, though, so I am barely able to form coherent thoughts that early, and in the evening, after teaching all day, I usually just pull up a game on my phone and listen to an audiobook until I get home. My best writing time is late at night. I curl up in my giant, cushy armchair and type away. Unfortunately, I have to go to bed pretty early, so I have been scheduling writing dates with friends and my sister because being around other creatives always gives me the boost I need to write.
7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?
The best advice that I have been given was from one of my advisors at Goddard, Darrah Cloud, who also happens to be a poet and playwright. After reading my very first attempt at starting Aliquippa, Darrah told me, “Stop writing this as if it’s fiction. It’s not. Write it like poetry.” What I took away from that was to listen to the voices of the characters and let them tell the story that they were trying to tell.
8. Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
Playwrights Christina Anderson (How to Catch Creation), Kirsten Greenidge (Luck of the Irish), and Donte Felder, who has produced several plays in the Seattle area. His next production, Blerds Comics and Cafe, which leans into speculative fiction and explores the nuances of the comic book world, gun control, and race, will premiere in the fall of 2021.
9. What are common themes in your work?
Family and familial love are big themes for me, whether related to actual family units or the found families that we create for ourselves. I am somewhat fixated on the collective loss and grief that impacts the physical, emotional, and mental health of Black people, as well as the intersectionality of various identities (race, gender, queerness, neurodiversity, class).
10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
I wish I knew more about the ways to get a play from page to stage and which options for getting plays out into the world were the best ways.
11. How autobiographical is Aliquippa?
While it takes place in my hometown, Aliquippa is not autobiographical at all. At the same time, I can recognize aspects of myself – often amplified – in each character: Naomi’s fierce love for her family, Rachel’s tendency toward seeing things in black and white, Mama Shirl’s faith, Isaac’s optimism, Oscar’s loyalty, and Tamir’s naive pragmatism.
12. What have the audience reactions to Aliquippa been like?
The response has been positive! While on paper, Tacoma is similar to Pittsburgh demographically, the ethos of the Pacific Northwest is vastly different from that Western Pennsylvania, so I was wary of what the response would be as I’ve workshopped it here, because I did and do not want it to be misunderstood. However, the feedback of audience members from a variety of backgrounds has been that they can relate to these characters despite what are – at times – quite different circumstances, and that is gratifying.
13. What have been the biggest obstacles in getting Aliquippa a full production?
Three things come to mind: time, money, and connections, with time being the biggest of the three obstacles. I am a full time teacher in Seattle, and I live in Tacoma. I’ve already talked about my gnarly commute. I’d love to have the time to focus on making the connections and obtaining the funds to find the right space, fill out the roster of actors and production team, compensate those involved, market, etc. Chevi Chung of empathos company is doing a phenomenal job shepherding me through various stages of the process, but my ability to make progress is hampered by only having fits and starts of time.
It’s interesting that you mention this play because I did not have any familiarity with it until one of my students did a presentation on Angelina Weld Grimké and Rachel just a few months ago. While I have not read the play myself, I do not feel as if they are that similar based on what I know of Rachel. Both of my thesis advisors made comparisons to Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, and I am incredibly humbled to have Aliquippa even mentioned in the same sentence as Raisin. “Lydia Valentine has written a tour-de-force family play that rivals Raisin in the complexity of its characters, the pain of its situation, and the beauty of the writing. I do not make that comparison lightly. Hansberry is a hero of American letters, and I see the same potential in Lydia to write people onto the stage from whom we have not heard before, and to make the most seemingly mundane conflicts central and epic.”- Darrah Cloud
15. What are you currently working on?
I have two new plays I am working on concurrently. One explores the experience of being a black autistic woman, and the other is a one-act centering on a found family of three socially awkward, female or gender queer superheroes.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Lydia! I think we’d all love a play about socially awkward, gender queer superheroes.
Howdy all! Welcome back to Unknown Playwrights and Monologue Monday! This week’s monologue has the winsome title of When It Rains Gasoline.
According to the review on TheatreMania, “Jason D. Martin’s When It Rains Gasoline chronicles the massive emotional insecurities and social compromises of a group of Columbine-generation teens, navigating the treacherous waters of adolescence.”
The play premiered in 2010.
Paul: I get along with pretty much all the kids.
Even the play’s description of Paul is none-too-flattering:
Paul: A heavy-set stereotypical “loser.” The other kids avoid Paul or make fun of him.
This scene is basically Paul’s social media video diary. Paul isn’t feeling too well and lets the world know.
I get along with pretty much all the kids. I know there are a lotta’ girls that really like me, they’re just shy. I’m kinda’ shy too. I know what they’re going through. I don’t expect them to jump out and tell me how they feel, especially with Chris and… Well, you know. This one group of girls – really popular girls – invited me to a party. I got all dressed up. I was the only boy there. We played a game where they giggled and dared each other to kiss me. None did… I’m sure they were just shy. I… I can really get people to laugh when I do things sometimes. I’m… I’m not always sure what those things are… I mean, I get up from eating lunch and a whole group of kids at the next table starts to laugh. I’ve thought about maybe being a comedian… Especially since I’m so good at making people laugh. Chris and Angus and… I don’t like making those guys laugh. Not really. Sometimes they’re… I… It’s not fun to make them laugh, they… (A painful pregnant pause.) Sometimes I wish that their little hearts would just freeze. I have fantasies about that. Sometimes in my dreams I see people like Chris choking on something. He’s motioning for me to help him. He wants me to give him the Hiemlick maneuver or something, but I just stand there. I watch him fall to his knees, holding his throat, his face turning blue… For some reason blood starts to come out of his nose and ears. His eyes pop out and blood starts to come from there too. The whole time I know that I can save him, but I don’t do anything. I watch him die. He’s lying there, not moving, not doing anything. And suddenly… Suddenly his skin splits open. I expect to see muscles and bones, but… But instead, maggots and spiders and worms start to crawl out of his ravaged body. And then… And then I know what he was… Nothing. He wasn’t worth anything to anyone but insects and maggots… Sometimes… Sometimes, I think about ending it. It would be so easy to make a statement, to show the world that people like me aren’t gonna’] take it anymore. Put a gun to his head… Pull the trigger… See if I’m right about his insides…
Poor Paul. Now we’re onto Alysa’s monologue.
Alysa: Do you realize that tonight….
Alysa: One of the most popular girls at the school. The head cheerleader. She is both a stereotypical “mean girl” and an airhead.
Her monologue is about the troubles of a stereotypical rich girl:
Do you realize that tonight is the most important night of my life? Oh my God! Do you? It’s like way more important than cheer tryouts. It’s way more important than my first kiss, the first day of middle school, the first day of high school, the first day of drivers ed, more important than my driver’s license, more important than any of my ex-boyfriends, more important than my current boyfriends—I mean friend. It is the pinnacle of the high school experience. The prom. Prom night. The night that I will remember for the rest of my life. I spent six-hundred dollars on my dress. Anyway, Jane Hickman spent a thousand… She’s a total daddy’s girl. For her sixteenth birthday, her dad got her a brand new Ford Mustang. For my sixteenth birthday, I got a two-year old Prius. Whatev. Some girls are just born with a silver spoon in their mouth. She’s such a snobby little rich girl. A little rich girl who’s parents buy her anything she wants. Her parents have a swimming pool and a tennis court. All we have is a Jacuzzi. One time she told me she, (Make quote signs with her fingers.) liked my outfit. She’s such a snob. I know what she meant. She was making fun of my new designer jeans. She thinks they’re out of fashion already. Slut. Oh well, I’m not gonna’ let Jane Hickman ruin the most important day of my life. My six-hundred dollar dress is way more stylish than the over-priced rag she’s gonna’ wear. That little bitch. That little slut. I’m gonna’ be homecoming royalty for sure. Homecoming queen! I hate Jane Hickman. Hicky Hickman, ‘cause she’s always got a hicky. That little hootchie-mamma better not be gettin’on the royal court. I’d just kill myself if she was homecoming queen. I’d kill myself! It’s bad enough that her dress costs more. It’s bad enough she’s got a newer car. It’s bad enough she’s got a pool and a tennis court. I hate my parents. Why don’t we have a pool and a tennis court? My Mom is so lazy. All she does is sit around at the computer. And my Dad… My Dad’s never around. He’s always (Makes quote signs again.) at the office. Whatever that means. Like if he was (Makes quotes a last time.) at the office, he’d be making money, right? Well maybe he needs to get his butt in gear and get his daughter a fifteen-hundred dollar dress so she doesn’t look like a bag lady at the prom. That’s what I’m gonna’ look like. A bag lady! Jane Hickman’s gonna’ be prom queen for sure! This is the worst day of my life!
And now we leave popular rich girl angst to bring you…
Emily: Pink Bunnies monologue
Popular pregnant girl angst by way of Emily. Here is her character description:
Emily: A popular cheerleader who has just found out that she’s pregnant.
Whoops. Here is the monologue:
“Sometimes I just wish the world was full of pink bunny rabbits. There would be a beautiful lush forest, green grass, a sparkling brook, and it would always be warm. And all that would live there would be pink bunny rabbits. Hundreds of pink bunny rabbits. They would eat the grass and the leaves and there wouldn’t be any wolves to hurt them. Every rabbit’s Mom and Dad would love them no matter what… And all the rabbits would be in love… They would all have the perfect mate that would never ever hurt them in any way. They would all be able to trust each other and know that if something bad happened, no one would run away. I know it’s a weird dream, but I’ve heard weirder. My boyfriend used to tell me how cool it would be if there were a one-way mirror into the girls locker room. That’s kind of strange… Then again, he is a guy. I had another friend who thought that rocks were alive and that if you touched them, the grease on your fingers would kill them. A little weirder. Someone once told me that he had a premonition that one day we would all have flying waffles for cars… That almost takes the cake for weirdness. No, I’ll tell you the weirdest thing I ever heard was when my doctor told me that I was pregnant… There is no doubt that that’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. I never knew a fifteen-year old girl would… Well, I suppose I’ve heard about it happening. I guess I just never thought that it could happen to me. I wish the world were full of pink bunny rabbits…”
Her boyfriend sounds like a creepy loser. Here are the videos:
That was all very thrilling. Now we come to Jody.
Jody: I’m scared.
It seems there’s only one video of Jody. Here is his character description:
Jody: A young man who is trying to deal with his sexual identity.
JODY I’m scared. I mean, I’m not just a little bit frightened… I’m actually scared—really scared. I can put ‘em on a bit. Act cocky. But they know. They know what I really am. These kids here… They… Well, they don’t understand. Most of ‘em live in a dream world. They think about football and prom and hanging out at the mall. I guess that’s pretty normal. Problem is… I don’t fit the norm. It’s not easy being what I am here. People say it’s not an easy thing to be anywhere, but… It’s really not an easy thing to be here. And it’s not like I got a whole lotta’ support. My Mom—well that didn’t go over well. Locked herself in the bathroom all night. And my Dad… Let’s just say he’s not very open-minded. We don’t talk about it at home. We pretend like it, never came up. It is not a subject that is open for discussion. I know that a lot of queer teenagers are suicidal. They just can’t take it. But that’s not me. That’s not me. I don’t think about that stuff… Mostly, I don’t think about that stuff. Okay, sometimes it comes into my head, but there is no way I’d ever do anything to myself. There’s no way. I mean, look at me. I’m not scared of what I’m gonna’ do. I’m scared of what other kids are going to do to me if they ever really find out. I mean, I’m worried about my friends. I’m worried that they won’t want to be around me. I’m worried that they’ll think I’m somehow different, diseased, inferior… But that’s only part of what I’m scared of. Only part… I’m also worried about the others, the ones who aren’t my friends. The others…the ones who hate. The ones who sit in the back of the classroom and talk about Mexicans taking their jobs. The ones who thought Obama was born in Kenya. The ones who think we’re all pedophiles with AIDS who made a choice to be like this. (Laughs.) If only they knew. I don’t think anyone anywhere would ever make a choice to be like this. It’s too hard…Yeah, the ones who hate…they’re stupid. But you know what? Stupid people are dangerous, really dangerous. I mean, I’m just a guy. I’m just a person. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I’m not going to hit on some insecure jock. I mean, give me a break. I don’t even have the self-esteem to hit on another gay guy. So I don’t know what they’re problem is. I don’t know what it is. But it doesn’t matter. If the others—the ones who hate—if they find out about me, they’ll come after me. And they’ll hurt me. And they’ll laugh when they do it. I’m afraid. Scared. What will people think of me when I’m out? What will people do to me? Everything’s gonna’ change. Everything.