Current Playwrights, Dude Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Gun Violence Plays (Diana Burbano, Mark Harvey Levine, Eric Jones, John Minigan)

Howdy and welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. We took a break from profiling playwrights for a couple months, but we’re back in full swing now.

This is a very special post profiling plays about gun violence, an American epidemic. If you need a tally, there is always the Gun Violence Archive.

Gun violence in America seems pervasive when compared with the rest of the so-called civilized world. Here are the lowest death-by-firearm rates.

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Stats from the ol’ Wiki.

I spent a significant portion of my adult life in one of the countries on that list. The only time I felt unsafe or was threatened by violence was when I ran into other Americans there.

Here are the highest death-by-firearms rates:

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Stats here.

The US is smack dab between Panama and Uruguay. It is also ahead of the scariest place I lived in my life. Also notice that the US has way, way more guns than anybody else.

Recent attacks have specifically targeted minorities. The El Paso shooter “targeted Mexicans” but also ended up killing a German. Some shooters target synagogues. Muslims are also a target, though some shooters have killed Christians and Sikhs by mistake.

Something needs to be done, but as long as we have a racist joke personified as president, that might not happen, since he clearly has more important things on his mind.

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Seriously, dude. Just shut up.
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We will take a look at what American playwrights are doing to take a stand on this topic. We’ll start with Diana Burbano who has written extensively on gun violence.

Salat al-Janazah

The first play from Diana is Salat al-Janazaha monologue based on the horrific murder of Sabika Sheikh and nine others in a Santa Fe, Texas high school last year. The monologue is brief, so I’ll post the whole thing here:

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Miss Sheikh was very active on social media. If you want to see the video she made after getting accepted into the exchange student program, it’s here.

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News coverage of her funeral is below.


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Here it is with the US flag, via here.

As for the point made by the play, not calling terrorism “terrorism” when it’s done by white people is a thing. Even Rhianna gets it.

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Warning: not a made-up graph.

Gun violence is an important issue for Burbano. She has written several other plays and we will explore those.


Death’s Release


Her next play is Death’s Release, in remembrance of Kimberly Vaughn Hart, another victim of the Santa Fe massacre. 

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Here, the play brings in magical realism.

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In the Anglosphere, magical realism seems to be  a trope connected to Latin America, though of course not every Latin American work has magical realism and not every work of magical realism comes from Latin America.

Gabriel García Márquez tends to be considered to be the most prominent writer using magical realism.

Anyways, these kids are using magic.

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If you hadn’t noticed, the “magic” is working because the kids are “crossing over” as they’re shot – Ana’s just not aware of it yet.

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Hint: it wasn’t a wand.

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This last line is a great line. Instead of putting the onus on racist killers, it seems to be the victim’s fault they got shot, Ya know, for existing and stuff.

That also ties into the second-to-last line about leaving one’s backpack in the corner. Bulletproof backpacks have become a thing in America, because we’d rather put the onus on the victim instead of the murderer.

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Quite literally the 2nd stupidest thing I saw today. The stupidest was the queen suspending the UK parliament, which proves America doesn’t have a lock on stupid.

By the way, here’s a cop explaining that the bulletproof backpack won’t stop a rifle round – despite the fact the recent shootings have all been by automatic rifle.

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That’s a painful realization.

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And in a way, they have trancscended death by sending a message through. This is a heartfelt and charming play, written in commemoration of a horrible murder.


Not one content to hammer at gun violence through a mere monologue and short play, Diana has written even more.

Rounds Per Second

Rounds Per Second focuses not only on gun violence, but also the different realities people in the US exist in.

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“I wasn’t really looking at you.” The Washington Post wrote a whole article about this.

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The white woman screwing up a name, just like John Travolta.

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Nice comeback there, Prof…

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Still, the white professor describes her own murderer as “brilliant.”

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Hehe. ALL North Americans.

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Thank God for honest characters! The housekeeper lets the professor know the truth. The professor’s entitlement is still showing.

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Death. The great equalizer.


Diana Burbano, a Colombian immigrant, is an Equity actor, a playwright and a teaching artist at South Coast Repertory and Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble.
Written work: Ghosts of Bogota commissioned by Alter Theatre, winner NuVoices, Actors Theatre of Charlotte 2019, Sapience, writer in Center Theatre Group’s writers circle,  Policarpa, Oregon Shakespeare Festival Brown Swan lab 2017, Drama League Rough Draft series May 2017, Fabulous Monsters, Steppenwolf’s “The Mix.”,Latinx Play Festival, San Diego Rep 2017, Festival51 2016 winner, about women in Punk Rock, Picture me Rollin’ (featured at the 35th annual William Inge Festival and Inkfest at 2cents.), Silueta, (about the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta), with Tom and Chris Shelton, and the TYA Shakespeare mash-up, Caliban’s Island winner 2017 Headwaters New Play Festival at Creede Repertory.(Published by YouthPLAYS). Libertadoras, Vamping and Linda were written for the 365 Women a Year project and have been performed around the world, with Linda featured in more that 20 festivals over the last year, including Center Theatre Group’s community library series. She is currently writing for Rogue Artists “Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta. She is also under commission from Alternative Theatre in San Rafael, and is in Center Theatre Group’s L.A. Writers Workshop 2018-2019.
She has been a working actor since leaving the Professional Actors Conservatory in 1991. She originated the roles of Ama de Casa in the Spanish version of Menopause the Musical, Thumb in Imagine, and Holo-1 in the Labors of Hercules. She recently played Ana Guerrero in Jose Cruz Gonzales’ Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy Dialogue/Dialogos project at South Coast Repertory.  TV includes The People vs OJ Simpson, Cold Case, Betas.

She played punk Praetorian guard Viv in the cult movie musical, The Isle of Lesbos
Diana is a member of The Dramatists Guild and The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights

God Forbid

Our next playwright Mark Harvey Levine has fashioned a three-page play (God Forbid) about those people who dread the day they will ever have to use their guns…while yearning for the chance.

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The fantasy begins…

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The phrase “orgasmic crescendo” needs to be in some sort of playwriting hall of fame.

The play ends with everyone saying a not-so-reassuring “God forbid” to one another.

Only a Matter of Time

Levine then takes the medium down to its essence, producing a one page play entitled Only a Matter of Time, which you may read in its entirety here:

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And that’s what the playwright does best: deliver a knockout punch in as little time as possible.

Mark Harvey Levine - Playwright Photo

Mark Harvey Levine has had over 1700 productions of his plays everywhere from Bangalore to Bucharest and from Lima to London.  His plays have won over 45 awards and been produced in ten languages.  Full evenings of his plays, such as “Didn’t See That Coming” and “A Very Special Holiday Special” have been shown in New York, Amsterdam, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Seoul, Mexico City, and across the US.  A Spanish-language movie version of his play “The Kiss” (“El Beso”) premiered at Cannes, showed at the Tribeca film festival, and subsequently aired on HBO and DTV (Japan).

Open Carry

Our next playwright, Eric Christopher Jones tackles the intersection between racism and gun rights in America with Open Carry. Let’s take a look.

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Oh, the Alamo!

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“Don’t shoot! Hands up!” has been a part of the most recent civil rights movement.

The play sets up the conflict early by having two people standing up for their rights. The white man wants his right to bear arms. Specifically, he wants to be able to carry his weapon in the open. To read more about how open carry laws intersect with racism, check out this article.

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Must be.

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You can even get audio here.

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Tamir Rice was a 12 year old boy killed by Cleveland police while playing with an Airsoft gun.

Alton Sterling was a 37 year old man shot by Baton Rouge police.

John Crawford III was a 22 year-old man shot by police in an Ohio Wal-Mart for simply holding a BB gun he’d picked up while shopping.

Keith Lamont Scott was a 43 year-old man shot by police in North Carolina for just hanging out in his truck.

Trayvon Martin was a 17 year-old shot and killed by a local night watch/vigilante in Florida.

Any guesses as to what race these victims all were?

The only good news is that at the time of writing this, there have been 100 less police shootings this year than the same time last year.

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Putin’s original bitch. Pretty nifty. It’s even a woodcut.

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Aha, the mighty Raymond has arrived – but still the other characters don’t know his race.

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Officer Ray. Sigh.

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This play eviscerates the notion that 2nd Amendment advocates aren’t racist a-holes. This is from the Wikipedia page about the Oath Keepers:

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For a thorough explanation of the 2nd Amendment’s role in perpetuating racism, check out this article (the first time this blog has ever linked to Teen Vogue).


Eric Jones  is a Medford, Massachusetts born, Minnesota & Texas raised artist. Mr. Jones is a graduate of Texas Southern University; B.S. Pharmacy. He has been involved with the Christian theater circuit since 1995 as a writer, actor, director and composer. Writing credits includes: Untapped Potential, Wolf Man Wedding, The Baked Potato Incident, Dreamland, American Skin , Freedom Quilt, Liberators and Fired! The Musical. Currently, Eric won 2nd Runner up for the Screenplay Competition at The Beverly Hills Film Festival 2016 for his screenplay Dreamland. His award winning  film he could wrote & produced Dreamland Murders film  was selected to the Marche Du Cannes Short Film Showcase 2016 hosted by NWC Cinemas.. Two Musicals got their premiere in 2018. Liberators An American Musical at The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival & Three Crosses at Ensemble Theatre’s Stage Reading Series.. “I would like to thank God, my family, WRIC church and the Houston Theater community.”

Product Reveal

Next up, John Minigan has a very short play about the confluence of the gun rights activism and Christianity in America.  Let’s see what “christians NRA” gets us on Google:

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It even got us an Israeli site. Despite the whole “turn the other cheek” thing and the whole “don’t kill people” thing in the Bible, there’s a definite connection between Christian (White) Nationalists and boners for guns.

Meet Holly, Christian mother of three. At least it’s not a Confederate flag. (?)

Texas’ resident dipshit Lt. Governor of Texas Dan Patrick even claimed the recent massacres in El Paso and Dayton were “moral failings”  [yeah, comitting a mass-murder would qualify as a moral failing. Thanks, Dan] and called for prayer in school. (Dude really said that)

Mr. Minigan’s play Product Reveal takes down this bizarre relationship:

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The play, while satiric, is not far off reality. What’s so weird is just the other day, fashion brand Bstroy had their own product reveal. Let’s see what they revealed:

Oh, hoodies based on school massacres with their very own bullet holes. People will love this! (Photo by Michael Kusumadjaja)
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Wait, so people DON’T like school massacre hoodies? Who’d a thunk it? (Photo: Michael Kusumadjaja)

Every bit as stupid as the play’s product reveal, we are living in our own surrealistically violent post-modern satire. Sigh.

Minigan Headshot 2 2019

John Minigan is a 2019-2020 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow in Dramatic Writing. His plays have been developed with the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Portland Stage Company, New Repertory Theater, the New American Playwrights Project, and the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Queen of Sad Mischance is a 2019 Gold Prize winner of the Clauder Competition and a 2018 O’Neill Finalist. Noir Hamlet—a Boston Globe Critics’ Pick, EDGEMedia Best of Boston Theater 2018 selection, and 2019 Elliot Norton nominee for Outstanding New Script—was produced at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His work has been included in the Best American Short Plays, Best Ten-Minute Short Plays, and New England New Plays anthologies. He is past winner of the Nantucket Short Play Contest, the Rover Dramawerks Competition, the Longwood 0-60 Contest, Seoul Players Contest, and the KNOCK International Short Play Competition. John is a Dramatists Guild Ambassador for Eastern New England. Please visit

Our playwrights have been kind enough to answer some questions about their craft. The same questions were posed to each of them. I’ve organized their answers this way to show the diversity of thought amongst people whose goals are similar.
  1. How did you start playwriting?

Burbano: I started writing because good, challenging roles for Latina women could be counted on one hand and I aimed to change that.

Levine: I was at Carnegie-Mellon University as an Acting Major.  During my freshman year they announced they were starting up an Undergraduate Playwriting Program.  It seemed less crazy than acting.  I applied for and got into it.  So I got into the CMU Drama Department twice!

Jones: It was 1995, I was volunteering at a youth arts ministry and I was responsible for looking for material. What I read was least to be desired. So I desired to write the play myself. I’ve been writing ever since.

Minigan: I no longer remember the source of the quote, but I agree with it: “A playwright is a poet who got lonely.” I was a math teacher in a private school, writing poetry and a little fiction, and the drama teacher asked if I wanted to help with his program. Seemed like a good idea, and I quickly became much more interested in theater (writing, directing, acting, designing) than teaching math. The collaborative, fluid, and public nature of the work continues inspire me in ways poetry didn’t quite do.

  1. What are your influences?

Burbano: Women’s stories, especially unknown history. Caryl Churchill, Tom Stoppard, Sarah RuhlOctavio Solis, José Cruz Gonzáles

Levine: For short plays, David Ives most definitely.  He’s the master of the short play.  For playwriting in general, I’d have to say Neil Simon, Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn.

Jones: I’m a musical theatre fan. I love the songwriting of Pasek/Paul, Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown & the writing team of Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty. I really love Lynn Ahrens as a lyricist & Librettist. It’s very clever & moving.

Minigan: I’ve been really shaped by my experiences working with students in 31 years running a high school theater program. Theater kids are passionate, clear, committed, and usually awesome. And working with lots of great teachers, writers, directors, and dramaturgs has influenced me (Kevin Coleman, Bridget O’Leary, Miranda Jonte, Dan Burson, and more). In terms of the craft of writing, my influences are pretty eclectic: Paula Vogel, August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, Brecht, Pirandello, Beckett, George S. Kaufman.

  1. What is your most memorable production and why?

Burbano: I loved “Ghosts of Bogota” in staged reading at Actors Theatre of Charlotte. It was vicious and funny and UNSENTIMENTAL!  My biggest pet peeve is my work is played too seriously.

Levine: In 2005, I got to go to Curitiba, Brazil to see an entire evening of my plays — in Portuguese!  It was an incredible experience.

Jones: I wrote my first musical Freedom Quilt back in 1999. I had the opportunity to have the show workshopped for a young performers showcase at the Ensemble Theatre. What touched me was how they treated me like a Rock Star when I arrived. I’ll never forget that.

Minigan: I think maybe the 2014 NY Fringe Festival production of Breaking the Shakespeare Code because it was such a rush to have my first full-length NYC production be sold-out and well-reviewed, and because it was my first time being produced by Hey Jonte!, a production company I LOVE working with and which I’ve now worked with maybe five times. Also up there was this summer’s Edinburgh Festival production of Noir Hamlet, because I was brought in to be more than the playwright—I was production manager, lighting designer, and on-stage/in-character crew member. It was amazing to feel fully a member of a professional performing company. I don’t often feel that way as the writer.

  1. What is your funniest theatre story?

Levine: I once accidentally sent the same group of short plays to a theater twice.  The first time they rejected it, the second time they accepted it.  The first time they rejected it because they were a theater that did edgy plays — and these plays were not edgy.   By the time I sent it the second time, they were sick of doing edgy plays and wanted to do something fun.  My second submission of the plays happened to arrive at just the right moment.  Timing is everything. 

Jones: I substituted for a role from my musical Liberators because the actor was sick. I accidentally sang the old lyrics of a song that me & my composer insisted we cut out. I totally forgot. Nobody noticed but everyone in the cast was laughing.

Minigan: This summer, while “hawking” my Edinburgh Fringe show on a sidewalk, speaking to any and all passers-by and trying to get them to take a flyer advertising the show, one passer-by yelled at me, “Stop talking to the wall!” It’s one of the biggest laugh lines in the play—clearly the guy had seen the show and found the perfect place to use my line.

  1. What are your writing habits like?

Burbano: I clean the house and write in spurts. I usually only get 2 or 3 pages done a day.

Levine: Terrible.  I have no time to write, and have to squeeze it in here and there.

Jones: I Must have four things . A. Coffee, B. Encyclopedia Britannica, C. Thesaurus & D. Show tunes. Lots of Show tunes.

Minigan: I’ve gone from two-month-a-year playwright while I was teaching to full-time playwright since I retired last summer. I write pretty much every day, usually in the morning, for at least two hours, and sometimes return later after clearing my head. I think I work best on paper—either writing new stuff with pen and legal pads or revising in the margins of a printed script. I revise a lot. If it’s not at least draft 15, it can’t be ready.

  1. What advice do you have for new playwrights?

Burbano: As my great mentor José Cruz Gonzélez says, “Dare to suck!”

Levine: Read lots of plays.  Go see lots of plays.  Have your work read by actors while you sit and listen.  Learn how to be objective about your work (easier said then done).  And edit out anything you possibly can.

Jones: Keep on writing & keep on making mistakes. Once you learn from those mistakes, keep on writing again until you have a draft script you are proud of.

Minigan: Finish the first draft. Don’t overthink it. No one (other than you) cares if it’s any good. It’ll be easier to make it good later when you’re not having to invent the whole thing.

  1. Who are some other writers you should get more attention?

Burbano: José Cruz Gonzélez, Monica Sanchez, Matthew Paul Olmos, Elizabeth Szekeresh

Levine: Babs Lindsay, Rich Orloff, Alex Dremann and Patrick Gabridge.

Jones: Local Houston writers like Michael Weems, Denise O’Neal, Crystal Rae, Nicholas Garelick, Fernando Dovalina & Donna Latham. Why go to NYC when there is great talent in The Lone Star State?

Minigan: Just off the top of my head: Miranda Jonte is a fierce, clear writer with a unique, smart voice. Emma Goldman-Sherman is brave, passionate, and powerful. Patrick Gabridge’s approach to writing historical pieces that illuminate the present is amazing. Greg Lam’s ability to use sci-fi to write so clearly about who and where we are is also inspiring. And this guy, Bryan Stubbles. Maybe you know him? Incredibly imaginative work — always outside the box.

  1. What are common themes in your work?

Burbano: Feminism, and the normalization (i.e. seeing us as just people) of latinx women.

Levine: Someone once said my plays are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.  I like that.

Jones: My themes always comes back to Perseverance , Redemption & Second Chances. Being a follower of Christ, it’s my duty to present positive stories of how you can mess up but still get back up again. I hope my audiences get the message that you should never give up, even when the chips are down.

Minigan: Almost all of my plays, in one way or another, are about characters who choose to (or are forced to) abandon certainty and move into the unfamiliar. I think I’m focused on getting away from the answers we accept and, instead, deepening the questions we ask.

  1. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

Burbano: That you have to be your own fiercest advocate and that NO ONE is going to give you anything just because you have talent. 

Levine: Have your work read to you!  It’s so important to hear your plays out loud.

Jones: Playwriting is hard!

Minigan: Any success you have is going to take a helluva long time. So find people you love to work with and try to work with them as much as you can. And enjoy that work, on whatever ‘scale’ it happens to be. It’s more meaningful than any accolades. And support new work by your fellow writers. The rising new play tide raises all boats.

  1. What do you have coming up soon? 

Burbano: Ghosts of Bogota at Alter Theatre, and Actors Theatre of Charlotte. Hoping to turn that into a rolling world premiere with NNPN.

Levine: I have several works coming up in Asphalt Jungle Shorts, a festival of plays where the audience walks around Kitchener, Ontario, and encounters the plays on the street.  And the New Short Play Festival in New York City is doing four of my short plays!

Jones: I have three musicals coming to workshop in 2020 where I wrote lyrics & Book. It’s Three Crosses with Composer Joshua Davis L. I have War Letters with Co-Lyricist & Composer Dan Markosian & Please Come Home for Christmas with Co-Lyricist & Composer Gary Sironen.

Minigan: I’m continuing to try to get a production of Queen of Sad Mischance. It’s had a lot of national and regional recognition – and twelve readings or workshops so far – but nobody’s biting yet. Also pursuing leads on a third and also a fourth production of my comedy Noir Hamlet. Fingers crossed. And I’ve now got four new drafts of full-lengths that need MUCH revision. Lots of writing ahead.

  1. What compelled you to write plays about gun violence?

Burbano: Because it’s the single most important topic in our country. We martyr babies because of the obsession with weapons of death.

Levine: The insane number of mass shootings we have in this country. 

Jones: I love watching CNN every morning and I get my daily fill of how the second amendment is being misused and witnessing the constant death toll of our citizens at the hands of Domestic Terrorists.

Minigan: Product Reveal was written in pure anger – sort of giving the middle finger to the folks who conflate religion and gun culture/second amendment and talk about the “God-given” right to carry weapons of war into the grocery store. I’ve written two short pieces about gun violence, this and Velas Votivas, and am in super early stages of researching a piece that looks like it’ll turn into a play about religious cults and gun violence.

  1. What responses have you seen to your gun violence plays?

Burbano: Death’s Defeat has been a powerful reminder to people about how young and innocent  the victims are. I’ve not gotten any pushback. Yet.

Levine: I unfortunately have not been able to attend any of the productions of these plays yet.  I’d love to see the response.

Jones: I know it makes people think and it gets under your skin a little. But it’s a scratch that needs to be itched because gun violence has been irritating our country since its foundation.

Minigan: I love that one reader on the New Play Exchange called this play “the manifestation of the American contradiction.” That seems completely right. I’ve been moved by the responses folks have had (as readers, actors, and audience members) to Velas Votivas, too – a play that’s part of the #CodeRedPlaywrights project memorializing victims of gun violence.

  1. What advice would you give a playwright who wants to be a catalyst for change? 

Burbano: Write with your feelings, anger, righteousness. And don’t be afraid to piss people off.

Levine: Don’t just preach to the choir.We have to reach the people who disagree with us.

Jones: Don’t be afraid to take the responsibility to put others to task when they are not stepping up! Life is too short just to live life trivially. Our words. Our dreams. And our actions must have weight. Just like original thoughts & black lives, they matter too.

Minigan: Be honest and bold in what you write and you will inspire those who agree with you and anger those who don’t. Be sneaky and sly and maybe you’ll get those who don’t agree with you on your side. It’s probably important to do both of those things.

  1. Personally, what role should guns play in America, if any? 

Burbano: They should be melted down and turned into sculpture. Owning a gun is something only frightened people do, and I would rather live with joy. 

Levine: We should have a few handy in case the British invade again.  Other than that…

Jones: I believe that every American should have the right to protect themselves. I come from a family of hunters & fisherman. However, we don’t need assault weapons to do so. The USA needs responsible Gun Reform & background checks for responsible gun ownership. If not, we won’t survive as a Republic.

Minigan: You like the second amendment? Buy a musket.

Hopefully through these writers’ work, you can see how artists can use their voice for advocacy.

While you’re with us, please check out our Unknown Playwrights (living & dead), Monologue Mondays and Theatre Horror Stories.

Until next time…



Current Playwrights, Dude Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Greg Hovanesian

Our next living playwright to be profiled is Greg Hovanesian. Greg is a based in Boston, MA.  His plays have been produced and/or developed by Boston Actors Theater, Playwrights’ Platform, Hovey Players, Image Theater, UAE Theater Festival, Jacklyn Thrapp LLC, Generic Theater, Centastage, and Ya Bird? Productions. It looks like he won’t stay unknown for long.

This is Greg.

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:

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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.

This looks pretty cool, but this isn’t the play we’re reviewing.

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:
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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.

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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.

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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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Scene from Water, via here.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Scene from Roboteacher. From here.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Scene from The Look, via here.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Scene from A Pleasant Evening. I’m guessing the title is ironic. From here.

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.  

For a link to all our playwrights, please check here.

Here are links to any and all things Greg Hovanesian-related:

The Playwright

His website.

His Facebook page.

His New Play Exchange page.

The Plays

Staged reading of Wilderness.

Upcoming production of Wilderness.

Production of Thirsty.

Review of Thirsty.

Announcement for a group of shorts, including his.

The Look gets a reading. And here.

Water performed.

One minute wonder A Pleasant Evening Out.

A Bedtime Story.

The Films

48 Hour Film Project



Dude Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

조중환/Jo Jung-hwan/Cho Chung-hwan

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.

2012 production of our play.

“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].

Shakespeare made his first appearence as a mention in a Korean literary magazine in 1906.

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.

A section of our play as it appeared in the Mae-il shinbo in 1912. Note the right-to-left, up-and-down writing. Modern Korean writing flows left to right same as English.

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.

Korea’s very first female Western medical doctor, Ester Pak. She received her MD from Baltimore Women’s Medical College in 1900. Her story is interesting…
The third man is Park Won-cheong (박원청). He’s the school accountant. His wife Kim Won-gyeong (김원경) is the principal.

The graduating class of a Korean girls’ school in 1912, the year our play was published.

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.

“But if I confess, she’ll stop.. Why can’t American theatre be this fun?

Finally there is the school accountant (Park). He is confronted at work one day over an unpaid gisaeng bill 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.

US-educated female doctor Ester Pak being carried around by servants. Note her Edwardian clothes. Hmm, what could’ve inspired a male writer to write a comedy about men rebelling against a female doctor?

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….

Ironically, the play was NOT performed at the time of publication (which reminds me of another play that got published but is still begging for performance).

Poster for an adaptation in Busan a few years ago. As is typical, the playwright is NOT credited.

What are some things in this play that would recommend it to a revival/adaptation/translation?

  1. It’s pretty funny. On a “better-than-average-US-sitcom” level. Here Park plays stupid.

[김] 그러면 왜 돈이 부족될 리가 있소. 

[KIM] Why are we short on money?

[박] 나는 부족되는 줄을 모르겠는데. 

[PARK] I didn’t know we were short. 

[김] 그러면 돈하고 회계하고 맞추어보구려. 

[KIM] Then you’ll have to balance the accounts. 

[박] 무슨 회계하고— 

[PARK] What accounting – 

[김] 이 회계해 놓은 채부책하고 맞추어 보란 말이예요. 

[KIM] I want you to balance this account book

[박] (안경을 쓰고 책을 들여다보며 어름어름하다가) 어디 보이나. 

(Park puts on his glasses and looks wide-eyed through the book)

[PARK] Where to look?

[김] 이 합계해 놓은 것 보고, 이 돈을 세어 보란 말이예요, 그래도 몰라. 

[KIM] Look at this sum, count this money, I don’t know. 

[박] 글세 합계가 어떤 것인지, 돈이 어떤것인지 도무지 모르겠네.

[PARK] I don’t know what ‘sum’ is and I don’t know what ‘money’ is. 

(눈을 쓱쓱 씻는다.)

(Rubs his eyes gently) 

[김] 나를 속이려고, 나는 벌써 다 알고 있는데, 낫살이나 먹어 가지고 밤낮 계집의 집에만 당기고.

[KIM] I already know about your deception, you’ve been eating at that girl’s house day and night, 

[박] 그럴 리가 있나. 

[PARK] Is it possible?

Well, dude, if you’ve been doing it, it is entirely possible.

Cast of the Busan production.
Are there awards for best theatrical stills? There should be, right?

His wife Kim ramps up the pressure:

[김] 그럴 리가 있나, 흥, 그러면 이 편지는 웬 것이야. 

[KIM] Is it possible? Hmm, so what’s that letter for?

(하며, 매화의 편지를 내밀어 박원청의 턱밑에 들이댄다.) 

(She takes out Mae-hwa’s letter and puts it under Park Won-cheong’s chin) 

[박] 응, 무— 무엇이, 무엇인지 도무지 나는 보이지 않는데, 

[KIM] Yeah, wha- what, I can’t see what it is.

[김] 아니 보이면 내 읽어 주리까. 

[KIM] If you can’t see it, I’ll read it. 

(하며 편지를 낭독한다.) 

(reads the letter)

[김] 이래도 모른다고 하겠소 그래도 명색이 여학교 교장의 남편이란 사람이 이런 나쁜 짓을 하고 당긴단 말이오.

[KIM] I don’t know but the name of the guy doing this bad thing is the same as the husband of the girls’ high school principal. 

If the shoe fits, wear it.

A 2017 production in Daejeon. AND the playwright gets credit.

His wife confronts him even more:

[김] 말을 어떻게 알아듣고 그리해. 이 편지가 보이지 아니하느냐 하는 말이요

[KIM] How do you understand language? Do you understand this letter? 

(소리를 지른다.)


[박] 도무지 안 보이는데, 어디— 

[PARK] I can’t see it all, where —

(하며 눈을 희번덕이고, 손으로 더듬더듬하여 장님모양을 짓는다) 

Rolls his eyes, moves his hands around as if he’s blind. 

[김] 눈을 뜨고서도 이것을 못 보아요. 

[KIM] You can’t see it even with your eyes open.

 [박] 응, 눈을 떴어도 희미해서 도무지 보이지를 않네그려. 별안간에 안질이 났나. 원. 조금도 보이질 않는걸. 

[PARK] Yeah, it’s blurry when I open my eyes I can’t see at all. Suddenly my eyes are bad. Won. I can’t see a thing.

[김] 그러면 장님이로군. 

[KIM] Then you’re blind. 

[박] 그렇지 보이지 아니하니까 장님이지. 

[PARK] Yes, I appear to be a blind man. 

Yes, Mr. Park. It would seem so.

Properly billed as Korea’s first Western-style play.

[박] 장님 행세는 어찌하는 것인가.

[PARK] How does a blind man act? 

[김] 내 뒤로 와서 어깨나 좀 주물러 주어요. 

[KIM] Come behind me and rub my shoulders. 

[박] 그건 좀 어렵구려. 명색이 서방님인데 계집의 어깨를 주무르다니, 그건 정말 어려운걸. 

[PARK] It’s a bit difficult. Especially for a husband to rub his wife’s shouders. It’s really hard. 

[김] 어렵기는 무엇이 어려워. 잔말말고 어서 주물러요. 공연히 분부를 거역하면 서방의 지위까지 파직을 시킬 터이니— 

[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.

Gisaeng with yangban (nobleman) at the end of the Joseon Dynasty, when men apparently couldn’t drink their own alcohol. Interesting contrast to the other women’s occupations in the play.

In Korea, the play is considered feminist, especially given the era.

The whole “men rebelling against women” trope has been used in comedy often. Who remembers Al Bundy’s rebellion against women in Married…with Children?

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:

  1. 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”)

A little Q &A from a festival. That’s the poster for our play behind her. Q: What was your impression of Three Sick People? A: It was great to have the opportunity to experience this kind of work in the local community. I especially enjoyed watching today’s performance. Q: Who is the most memorable character in the play? The actor who played the traditional Korean doctor. His expression and body movement were very realistic and funny.
Bet she’s talking about this fella. (Sorry, I just wanted to use this picture again)

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.

Story of my life.

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. 

When it comes to Korean to English, Google Translate should be used for entertainment purposes only, as this text from the play illustrates:

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 2.37.33 PM

Papago is marginally better, yet infinitely more hilarious.

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.06.55 PM

To be fair, they ARE looking at each other (see above translation). From a production in Gumi. This seems to be travelling group.

According to the online translation, hedonism was an integral part of Korean theatre in 1912. Who knew?


2018 performance poster. Nice hanja.

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:

2012 production. Not sure how they got 90 minutes out of this play.

2012 production emphasizing 100th anniversary.

Appears to be a 2014 production.

The original text.


Here’s a link to ALL our playwrights.

Something new for the blog…here is a photo dump from a 2015 production in Daehangno [the indie theatre capital of South Korea].

All the photos came from this blog.






Dude Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Thomas Sackville & Thomas Norton

This week’s post brings us back to Tudor tragedy and the seminal Gorboduc. One of the earliest English revenge tragedies, it shows its influence from Senecan tragedies. It also has a reputation for being as tediously boring as an ASVAB test.

Let’s see if that bore fruit. Har.


Gorboduc’s plot is listed pretty thoroughly at the onset on the original printing:

Gorboduc, king of Britain, divided his Realm in his lifetime to his Sons, Ferrex and Porrex. The Sons fell to division and dissention. The younger killed the elder. The Mother that more dearly loved the elder, for revenge killed the younger. The people moved with the Cruelty of the fact, rose in Rebellion and slew both father and mother. The Nobility assembled and most terribly destroyed the Rebels. And afterwards for want of Issue of the Prince whereby the Succession of the Crown became uncertain. They fell to Civil war in which both they and many of their Issues were slain, and the Land for a long time almost desolate and miserably wasted.

I can imagine modern theatre companies rejecting this because it either isn’t an entire page or a one sentence tagline. And it doesn’t speak to the company’s mission at all. Unless your compny is England and the mission is to land a man on Queen Liz (more on this later).

How Gorboduc can make you a better parent:

  1. Don’t divide your kingdom between your loser sons Ferrex and Porrex.
  2. Also, don’t name your children after metals.
  3. If your advisors say “don’t divide your kingdom because when it happened before everyone died” you should pay attention.
  4. If Ferrex hangs out with a parasitical spank-shaft named Hermon, you should stop all that.
  5. Ferrex will die.
  6. Your wife Videna will be so pissed off about this she’ll murder Porrex. You should maybe stop this.
  7. The British people will rise up kill you and her. You might want to be in another country at the time. 

After you’re dead, you don’t need parenting advice.

Why Gorboduc is important:

  1. It is the first English blank verse play. The iambic pentameter here doesn’t give up.


    Murders, mischief, or civil sword at length,

    Or mutual treason, or a just revenge,

    When right-succeeding line returns again

    See? 10 syllables to each line. Stressed-unstressed. The whole dang play is like this.

    English blank verse was started by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. He translated the Aeneid in iambic pentameter.

    Blank verse would see its heyday with the likes of Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe and Ford. You can see how it was kind of a deal. It was used in a popular play as recently as 2014.

    2. It is the first English history play.

    Gorboduc seems to be written in imitation of Senecan drama.  All the action is described by characters and not shown. I guess Tudor audiences had enough action in their lives.

    The play is pretty much a series of speeches, but hey, ya gotta start someplace.

    3. It probably influenced King Lear a bunch. King dividing the realm. Greedy kids. Did you know King Lear got turned into a Western once with the Star Trek guy, the Jaws guy and the wonderful Marcia Gay Harden?

    Let’s take a look at the dialogue speeches that make up Gorboduc. The text comes from this site.

    From Act I:


    40    Madam leave care and careful plaint for me;

    Just hath my Father been to every wight,

    His first injustice he will not extend

    To me I trust, that give no cause thereof,

    My brother’s pride shall hurt himself, not me.


    There resteth all, but if they fail thereof,

    55    And if the end bring forth an evil success

    On them and theirs the mischief shall befall,

    And so I pray the Gods requite it them,

    And so they will, for so is wont to be

    When Lords and trusted Rulers under kings

    60    To please the present fancy of the Prince,

    With wrong transpose the course of governance

    Murders, mischief, or civil sword at length,

    Or mutual treason, or a just revenge,

    When right succeeding Line returns again

    65    By Jove’s just Judgment and deserved wrath

    Brings them to civil and reproachful death,

    And roots their names and kindred’s from the earth.


    Mother content you, you shall see the end.


    The end? thy end I fear, Jove end me first.

    Seems Videna is rather fatalistic. Remember that speechiness? 

    Here’s Arostus in Act I, Scene 2:


    And this is much, and asketh great advice,

    But for my part my Sovereign Lord and king

    This do I think your Majesty doth know,

    80    How under your Justice and in peace,

    Great wealth and Honour, long we have enjoyed

    So as we cannot seem with greedy minds

    To wish for change of Prince and governance,

    But if ye like your purpose and device,

    85    Our liking must be deemed to proceed,

    Of rightful reason, and of heedful care,

    Not for ourselves, but for our common state:

    Sith our own state doth need no better change

    I think in all as erst your Grace has said:

    90    First when you shall unload your aged mind,

    Of heavy care and troubles manifold,

    And lay the same upon my Lords your sons

    Whose growing years may bear the burden long

    And long I pray the Gods grant it so:

    95    And in your life while you shall so behold

    Their rule, their virtues and their noble deeds,

    Such as their kind behighteth[46] to us all,

    Great be the profits that shall grow thereof,

    Your age in quiet shall the longer last

    100  Your lasting age shall be their longer stay,

    For cares of kings, that rule as you have ruled

    For public wealth and not for private joy,

    Do waste man’s life and hasten crooked age,

    With furrowed face and with enfeebled limbs,

    105  To draw on creeping Death a swifter pace.

    They two yet young shall bear the party reign

    With greater ease, than one now old alone

    Can wield the whole, for whom much harder is

    With lessened strength and double weight to bear

    110  Your eye, your Council, and the grave regard

    Of Fathers, yea of such as father’s name,

    Now at beginning of their sundered reign,

    When it is hazard of their whole success

    Shall bridle so their force of youthful heats,

    115  And so restrain the rage of insolence,

    Which most assails the young and noble minds,

    And so shall guide and train in tempered stay

    Their yet green bending wits with reverent awe.

    As now inured with virtues at the first.

    120  Custom, O king, shall bring delightfulness

    By use of Virtue, Vice shall grow in hate,

    But if you so dispose it, that the day

    Which ends your life shall first begin their reign,

    Great is the peril, what will be the end,

    125  When such beginning of such liberties

    Void of such stays as in your life do lie,

    Shall leave them free to randon of their will.

    An open prey to traitorous flattery,

    The greatest pestilence of noble youth:

    130  Which peril shall be past, if in your life,

    Their tempered youth with aged father’s awe

    Be brought in ure of skillful staidness.

    And in your life, their lives disposed so,

    Shall lengthen your noble life in joyfulness.

    135  Thus think I ý your grace hath wisely thought

    And that your tender care of common weal,

    Hath bred this thought, so to divide your Land

    And plant your sons to bear the present rule

    While you yet live to see their ruling well,

    140  That you may longer live by joy therein.

    What further means behooveful are and meet

    At greater leisure may your Grace devise

    When see have said, and when we be agreed

    If this be best, to part the realm in twain,

    145  And place your sons in present government;

    Whereof, as I have plainly said my mind,

    So would I hear the rest of all my Lords.

    I wish the covers on all my scripts looked this badass. I did write a play with pictures of hotdogs once.

    So Philander starts a speech-measuring contest. 


    In part I think as hath been said before,

    In part again my mind is otherwise.

    150  As for dividing of this Realm in twain

    And lotting out the same in egal parts,

    To either of my Lords, your Grace’s sons,

    That think I best for this your Realm’s behoof,

    For profit and advancement of your sons,

    155  And for your comfort and your honour eke:

    But so to place them while your life do last,

    To yield to them your Royal governance,

    To be above them only in the name

    Of father, not in kingly state also,

    160  I think not good for you, for them, nor us.

    This kingdom since the bloody civil field

    Where Morgan[55] slain did yield his conquered part

    Unto his Cousin’s sword in Camberland

    Containeth all that whilom[56] did suffice,

    165  Three noble sons of your forefather Brute;

    So your two sons, it may also suffice,

    The moe[58] the stronger, if they agree in one:

    The smaller compass that the realm doth hold

    The easier is the sway thereof to weld,

    170  The nearer Justice to the wronged poor,

    The smaller charge, and yet enough for one.

    And when the Region is divided so

    That Brethren be the Lords of either part,

    Such strength doth nature knit between the both,

    175  In sundry bodies by conjoined love

    That not as two, but one of doubled force,

    Each is to other as a sure defense,

    The Nobleness and glory of the one

    Doth sharp the courage of the other’s mind

    180  With virtuous envy to contend for praise,

    And such an egalness hath nature made,

    Between the Brethren of one Father’s seed,

    As an unkind wrong it seems to be,

    To throw the other Subject under feet

    185  Of him, whose Peer he is by course of kind,

    And nature that did make this egalness,

    Oft so repineth at so great a wrong,

    That oft she raiseth by a grudging grief,

    In younger Brethren at the elder’s state:

    190  Whereby both towns and kingdoms have been razed

    And famous stocks of Royal blood destroyed:

    The Brother that should be the Brother’s aid

    And have a wakeful care for his defense,

    Gapes for his death, and blames the lingering years

    195  That brings not forth his end with faster course

    And oft impatient of so long delays,

    With hateful slaughter he prevents the fates

    And heaps a just reward for Brother’s blood,

    With endless vengeance on his stock for aye:

    200  Such mischiefs here are wisely met withall:

    If egal state may nourish egal love,

    Where none has cause to grudge the other’s good,

    But now the head to stoop beneath them both,

    Ne[61] kind, ne reason, ne good order bears.

    205  And oft it hath been seen, that where Nature

    Hath been perverted in disordered wise

    When Fathers cease to know that they should rule

    And Children cease to know they should obey,

    And often our unkindly tenderness,

    210  Is Mother of unkindly Stubbornness:

    I speak not this in envy or reproach,

    As if I grudged the glory of your sons,

    Whose honour I beseech the Gods to increase:

    Nor yet as if I thought there did remain,

    215  So filthy Cankers in their noble breasts,

    Whom I esteem (which is their greatest praise)

    Undoubted children of so good a king.

    Only I mean to show my certain Rules,

    Which kind hath graft within the mind of man

    220  That Nature hath her order and her course,

    Which (being broken) both corrupt the state

    Of minds and things even in the best of all.

    My Lords, your sons, may learn to rule of you

    Your own example in your noble Court

    225  Is fittest guider of their youthful years,

    If you desire to seek some present Joy

    By sight of their well ruling in your life,

    See them obey, so shall you see them rule,

    Who so obeyeth not with humbleness

    230  Will rule with outrage and insolence

    Long may they rule I do beseech the Gods,

    But long may they learn ere[63] they begin to rule.

    If kind and fates would suffer, I would wish

    Them aged Princes and immortal kings:

    235  Wherefore, most noble king, I well assent,

    Between your sons ý you divide your Realm.

    And as in kind, so match them in degree

    But while the Gods prolong your Royal life

    Prolong your reign, for thereto live you here,

    240  And therefore have the Gods so long forborne

    To join you to themselves, that still you might

    Be Prince and father of our common weal:

    They, when they see your children ripe to rule,

    Will make them room, and will remove you hence,

    245  That yours in right ensuing of your life

    May rightly honour your mortal name.

    BTW, “ý” = that 

    Scenes get are cushioned with “dumb shows”

    The Order and signification of
    the dumb show before the second Act.

    First, the Music of Cornets began to play, during which came in upon the Stage a king accompanied with a number of his Nobility and Gentlemen. And after he had placed himself in a Chair of estate prepared for him: there came and kneeled before him a grave and aged Gentleman and offered up a Cup unto him of Wine in a glass, which the king refused. After him comes a brave and lusty young Gentleman and presents the king with a Cup of Gold filled with potion, which the king accepted, and drinking the same, immediately fell down dead upon ý stage, and so was carried thence away by his Lords and Gentlemen, and then the Musick ceased. Hereby was signified, that as Glass by nature holdeth no poison, but is clear and may easily be seen through, ne boweth by any Art: So a faithful Counsellor holdeth no treason, but is plain and open, ne yieldeth to any undiscreet affection, but giveth wholesome Counsel, which the ill-advised Prince refuseth. The delightful gold filled with poison betokeneth Flattery, which under fair seeming of pleasant words beareth deadly poison, which destroyeth the prince ý receiveth it. As befell in the two brethren Ferrex and Porrex who, refusing the wholesome advise of grave Court fellows, credited these young Parasites and brought to themselves death and destruction thereby.

    [more on the dumb shows later] 

    Gorboduc rightly freaks out when his whole “let’s divide my kingdom amongst my sons” plan doesn’t work out too well. 


    1      O Cruel fates, O mindful wrath of Gods

    Whose vengeance neither Simois’ strained streams

            Flowing with blood of Trojan Princes slain

            Nor Phrygian fields made rank with Corpses dead

    5      Of Asian kings and Lords can yet appease,

    Ne Slaughter of unhappy Priam’s race

    Nor Ilion’s fall made level with the soil,

    Can yet suffice: but still continued rage,

    Pursue our lives, and from the farthest Seas

    10    Doth chase the issues of destroyed Troy:

    Oh no man happy, till his end be seen

    If any flowing wealth and seeming joy

    In present years might make a happy wight,

    Happy was Hecuba the woefullest wretch

    15    That ever lived to make a Mirror of

    And happy Priam with his noble sons

    And happy I till now, alas I see

    And feel my most unhappy wretchedness:

    Behold my lords, read you this letter here

    20    Lo! It contains the ruin of our Realm

    The poetry gets so much more vivid, bloody and better in the later acts. 

    Act IV, Scene 1. Videna gets all vengeful. 



    15    So had my bones possessed now in peace

    Their happy grave within the closed ground

    And greedy worms had gnawed this pined heart

            Without my feeling pain. So should not now

    This living breast remain the ruthful tomb

    20    Wherein my heart yielded to death is graved:

    Nor dreary thoughts with pangs of pining grief

    My doleful mind had not afflicted thus,

    O my beloved son: O my sweet child,

    40    Thy cruel tyrant’s thought but death and blood

            Wild savage beasts mought not (your) slaughter serve

            To feed thy greedy will, and in the midst

            Of their entrails to stain thy deadly hands

            With blood deserved, and drink thereof thy fill?

    45    Or if nought else but death and blood of man

            Mought please thy lust, could none in Britain land

            Whose heart he torn out of his loving breast

            With thine own hand, or work what death thou wouldest

            Suffice to make a Sacrifice pease

    50    That deadly mind and murderous thought in thee?

    But he who in the self-same womb was wrapped

    Where thou in dismal hour received life?

    Or if needs, needs this hand must slaughter make

    Moughtest thou not have reached a mortal wound

    55    And with thy sword have pierced this cursed womb?

    That thee accursed Porrex brought to light

    And given me a just reward therefore.

    So Ferrex, yet sweet life might have enjoyed

    And to his aged father comfort brought,

    60    With some young son in whom they both might live

    But whereunto waste I this ruthful speech

    To thee that hast thy brother’s blood thus shed

    Shall I still think that from this womb thou sprung

    That I thee bear or take thee for my son

    65    No traitor, no; I thee refuse for mine,

    Murderer I thee renounce, thou are not mine:

    Never, O wretch, this womb conceived thee,

    Nor never bode I painful throes for thee:

    Changeling to me thou art, and not my child

    70    Nor to no wight, that spark of pity knew,

    Ruthless, unkind, Monster of Nature’s work.

            Thou never sucked the milk of woman’s breast

            But from thy birth the cruel Tiger’s teats

            Have nursed, nor yet of flesh and blood

    “greedy worms had gnawed this pined heart”

    Good Lord. Note the old use of “ruthfull,” which we have lost, but still use “ruthless.”


    “Changeling to me thou art, and not my child

    70    Nor to no wight, that spark of pity knew,

            Ruthless, unkind, Monster of Nature’s work.”

Wight = person. She really doesn’t like her son. Probably because he killed her other son. 

Act IV, Scene 2


25    Even Nature’s force doth move us to revenge

By blood again: But Justice forceth us

To measure Death for Death, thy due desert,


O silly women I, why to this hour,

Have kind and fortune thus deferred my breath

180  That I should live to see this doleful day

Will every wight believe that such hard heart

Could rest within the cruel mother’s breast,

With her own hand to slay her only son

But out (alas) these eyes beheld the same,

185  They saw the dreary sight, and are become

Most ruthful records of the bloody fact.

Porrex, (alas) is by his mother slain,

And with her hand a woeful thing to tell,

While slumbering on his careful bed he rests

190  His heart stabbed in with knife is bereft of life.


O Eubulus, oh draw this sword of ours,

And pierce this heart with speed. O hateful light,

O loathsome life, O sweet and welcome Death,

Dear Eubulus work this we thee beseech.

Perhaps one reason the 2nd part is more appealing is that another writer scribbled it. The division between writers is right on the cover:

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From here.

Thomas Norton was a lawyer, politician, writer and playwright.

His life’s highlights include: marrying Thomas Cranmer [who, by the way, was a character in A Man for All Seasons]’s daughter Margery. He then married Margery’s cousin Alice.

He also carried the title Rack-master and tortured Catholics. Because he sucked. This also opens up a debate about art vs. the artist. Norton’s play started Tudor/Elizabethan drama as we know it – but he tortured his fellow human beings for being the wrong religion….

"He complained to Walsingham on 27 March 1582 about being known as the "Rackmaster General".

So if you torture people on a rack and people call you “Rack-master” and you throw a hissy, you got some serious white privilege.

Thomas Sackville was a statesman and writer. In his role as statesman, in 1586 he was chosen to tell Mary, Queen of Scots she was gonna get executed. He also got locked up in his own home for being a crappy diplomat. I don’t think he tortured any Catholics.

One More Fascinating Thing

Hot damn, we have a review of the initial performance!!!!! How wild is that????

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This is from an academic article here.

A couple of takeaways from this:

  1. The play served as some sort of warning to Elizabeth about marriage. This is interesting because the printed version of the play doesn’t talk much of marriage. Concern about Elizabeth’s marital state was totally a thing. But it does emphasize the civil war Britain suffers in the play.
  2. The reviewer is more impressed with the dumb show than the speeches/dialogue. Probably because it the static action is broken up by pantomined pageantry.

Just one more thing….

Gorboduc has been revived recently up in Soviet Canuckistan Canada (home of previously profiled playwright Makrenna Sterdan).

Shakespeare BASH’d is an actor initiative that seeks to take ownership of their own creativity by producing Shakespeare’s plays in social settings, creating a relaxed, exciting environment for the audience.

Their mission is to present Shakespeare’s plays as they were written: with simple staging, clear and specific language, and an emphasis on the words and characters telling the story.

Shakespeare BASH’d seeks to synthesize the traditional with the modern, to look at the plays from a place of curiosity, fun, excitement, truth, professionalism, and love.”

The reading’s director Daniel Briere as well as actor David Mackett (Gorboduc) were kind enough to answer some questions for us!!!

1. How did your opinion of the play change from before to after the reading?

Briere: I was struck by how powerful and emotional the play can be.  Videna’s speech after she discovers Porrex has murdered his brother is full of such gloriously earthy, rich language, as she vows to kill her son.  At the same time, I also came to love how the characters’ thoughts are ordered, how linear and logical their arguments.

Mackett: I initially viewed the play as a bit of a curiosity and I thought it would be a hard slog for the audience – it’s a very wordy play, with lots of rhetoric and long speeches. There’s not much action: if I recall correctly, all the deaths happen off stage.  As a result, the characters can come across as a bunch of “talking heads.”  It might have been a bit of a slog, but I found the audience was fully engaged and right with us to the end, which gave me a greater appreciation for the writing and the play.

Daniel Briere
Director of the reading.

2. What was your favorite line or scene?

Briere: “Know ye, that lust of kingdoms hath no law.”  Possibly the worst piece of advice ever given.

Or when Marcella enters, having seen Videna murder Porrex–

“Oh where is ruth? or where is pity now?

Whither is gentle heart and mercy fled?

Are they exiled out of our stony breasts,

Never to make return? Is all the world

Drowned in blood, and sunk in cruelty?”    How beautiful and haunting an image is that?

Mackett: Divided reigns do make divided hearts”

3. How did you explain Gorboduc to your friends and/or family? 

Briere: I usually mentioned it was the first play written in blank verse in English.  That the story is similar to King Lear–a King divides the Kingdom for his sons, and then everybody dies.

Mackett: I told them it was the first English play written in blank verse, so it was interesting from a historical perspective, and also mentioned that Shakespeare used it as a basis for King Lear.  Plot wise, I told them it was a story about an ancient British King, who decides to take early retirement, and divides his kingdom between his two sons, who don’t get along.  Then bad things happen.

4. What is it about Gorboduc that can connect to a modern audience?

Briere: With our workshop reading, we were attempting to highlight the verse in hope that it would make the language more clear and accessible to a modern audience.  I think we were relatively successful.  But as in any of Shakespeare’s plays, or other playwrights to follow Norton and Sackville, the themes of this play are all still very human: ambition, jealousy, family, right, influence.

Mackett: Certainly the problems associated with succession are relevant to a modern audience.  I’m the thinking mostly about family-run businesses.  How often do we see a successful business, which was started by the parents, left to the children, who then make a mess of things – either because they weren’t qualified or as a result of infighting?

5. What was the audience’s reaction to your reading?

Briere: People joked that it was a bit dusty, but it is tough to get away from that when pretty much every speech in the play is three pages long.  We took advantage of the dumb shows written in between scenes to have some action and movement.  Maybe even a bit of comedy.  I think generally, though, people were excited to hear a play that no-one in the room had ever heard, let alone knew much about.

Mackett: See answer to Question #1.

David Mackett
David Mackett, the man who would be Gorboduc.

6. What parenting advice would you give Gorboduc and Videna? 

Briere: Be careful who your kids make friends with; peer pressure is a real thing.

Mackett: Choose your heirs wisely.

7. Besides Gorbodork and Gorbodouche, what would be some fun parody titles? 

Briere: We were calling it Gord the Duck and the Adventures of ManDude (our favourite duke).

Mackett: Gord the Duck

8. How can we rescue Gorboduc from obscurity? 

Briere: Read it, talk about it, do it.  Things only go into obscurity when they are forgotten.

Mackett: Stage a full production.  Casting it with high-profile actors would help.

The full text of Gorboduc can be found here.

Shakespeare BASH’d’s reprise is here.

Rackmaster Norton’s Wikipedia page is here.

Sackville (hehe)’s page is here.

Thanks so much for reading. Expect a hot new monologue on Monday and an even hotter (possibly) playwright next Thursday.

A very special thank you to Shakespeare BASH’d. 

Dude Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Niacin Theatre (War Food Administration)

The disease pellagra and its cause niacin deficiency are no laughing matter. But this 1944 US government-written radio play most definitely is.

Coming in at a whopping six pages, this affords us the chance of reading the whole dang play.

Pellagra is a serious disease still prevalant in certain parts of the world. The major symptoms are dermatitis, diarrhea and dementia. Which this website neatly termed “the three Ds”. It will indeed kill you if left untreated.

Possibily the awesomest illustration of anything, ever.

Pellagra reached epidemic proportions in the American South from the early 1900s right up until World War II. Many researchers believed a germ or toxin in the corn caused the disease. However, Dr. Joseph Goldberger was able to establish it was some type of deficiency in the diet, but was unable to establish what type of deficiency.

This has been dramatized by the Science Channel below:

It wasn’t until 1937 that researchers figured out that niacin could cure pellagra.

Corn must be nixtamalized in order to gain the niacin necessary to treat pellagra.

In 1944, the War Department produced a short drama about pellagra.

While pellagra makes for a terrible disease, it also makes for corny radio theatre…

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Wrong Jem…

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Above: possible allusions to the dermatitis aspect of the disease.

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“I wish I was dead!”

“you’re always walkin’ down into the valley”

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Holy Hell, Jem’s turning all Lizzie Borden on poor Dave.

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Never a good sign.

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What could be turning Jem into a possessive psychopathic wannabe axe murderer?

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IT WAS THE NIACIN! (or lack thereof)

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Applause for what?

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The niacin cure may be a modern miracle, this play certainly wasn’t.

The play is available here.

Join us on Monday for more monologues and on Thursday for another unknown playwright.