Howdy all! Happy Halloween! Welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. This Halloween (just like last Halloween) we’re bringing you a Halloween play from the era of when tricks were given more than treats.
They also had cooler postcards, too.
Let’s see what we’re up against today.
Fair enough. I’ve done a lot of looking online and I can’t find a whole lot about the author. She was born in 1869 and died in 1947. She seems to have spent her whole life in Ohio. She had six brothers and sisters. The most interesting thing to me is that amongst 5 girls in the family only one seems to have married. And among all the sibllings, it seems only one or two married. I wish I knew what that was about. Even the Brontë sisters got married. More on Koogle later. Let’s meet our cast.
Tarrytown…yes, thatTarrytown. Let’s check out the scenes:
Poor Nell has been stuck in her room for a week. She’s been grounded – apparently seminaries could ground their female students back in 1906. She was grounded for a “prank” and she’s got three days left on her sentence. Her friends Verda, Bess, Gloria, Gail, Freida & Gwendolin show up. Nell has been “ill” with a headache. She tells them not to worry…
Don’t worry or them wrinkles will get you! Also, it’s wrong to be hypocritical and hypercritical.
The girls decide they should do something spooky for Halloween, but Bess sees a problem.
She has a point. I love that the boys they’re after are seminary boys.
Nell suggests they go to…Sleepy Hollow.
Bess reminds us of who lives in Sleepy Hollow.
These guys seem cool.
Take note: Fictional male characters in 1906 Halloween plays want a woman as handsome as she is venturesome.
Miss Noesome’s seminary gals are the finest! And Glo Gould is a whole sugarplum!
In what appears to be the prelude to a hazing ritual, the “ghosts” show up to obey their ghost master.
Moans, groans and hisses…
More hazing. Nell is then asked her name.
I like how the description of the ghost sounds devolve to “Moans, etc. (Emphatic)”
Time to tie up the girls (and Tom)! The boys/ghosts take them to the cave.
Did she say beautiful cave? I know the most beautiful cave in the world.
And hot damn! Napoleon shows up and so does Rip Van Winkle.
And amongst the ghosts of fictional and real-life people, a goddamned German doctor shows up. Because. Because? Oh, he wants their blood!
“Vat iss dies sch*t? Vat die aktuelle fock?”
And Major André shows up.
“Young folks laugh” = play was written by an old person. And that other inhabitant of Sleepy Hollow pops up.
Among the ghosts, the Headless Horseman is a loser. Hehe.
And for some reason a Native American female shows up. Maybe she’s a ghost because of all the Native Americans white Americans killed.
And I know “squaw” is an offensive term that isn’t even found in any Native American language. But it’s found in this sad little play.
Eventually, the girls get scared and go back to their seminary.
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.
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.
The first play from Diana is Salat al-Janazah, a 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:
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.
News coverage of her funeral is below.
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.
Gun violence is an important issue for Burbano. She has written several other plays and we will explore those.
Her next play is Death’s Release, in remembrance of Kimberly Vaughn Hart, another victim of the Santa Fe massacre.
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.
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.
Hint: it wasn’t a wand.
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.
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.
That’s a painful realization.
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.
Still, the white professor describes her own murderer as “brilliant.”
Hehe. ALL North Americans.
Thank God for honest characters! The housekeeper lets the professor know the truth. The professor’s entitlement is still showing.
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.
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.
The fantasy begins…
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:
And that’s what the playwright does best: deliver a knockout punch in as little time as possible.
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).
Our next playwright, Eric Christopher Jones tackles the intersection between racism and gun rights in America with Open Carry. Let’s take a look.
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.
Tamir Rice was a 12 year old boy killed by Cleveland police while playing with an Airsoft gun.
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.
Aha, the mighty Raymond has arrived – but still the other characters don’t know his race.
Officer Ray. Sigh.
This play eviscerates the notion that 2nd Amendment advocates aren’t racist a-holes. This is from the Wikipedia page about the Oath Keepers:
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.”
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:
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.
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:
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:
Every bit as stupid as the play’s product reveal, we are living in our own surrealistically violent post-modern satire. Sigh.
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 johnminigan.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Who are some other writers you should get more attention?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unknown Playwrights is finally back posting about…unknown playwrights! Following a summer of deviant debauchery diligent study, the exciting world of unknown theatre comes alive.
This week we feature our first German-language playwright. No, it isn’t Schiller, Goethe or Brecht. I know, I know…Germany has actually produced more than three playwrights.
Our playwright’s name is Hennie Raché and she was born Hennie Fock in Hamburg in 1876. She married the writer Paul Raché in the early 1900s.
Finding any online works of hers was difficult. The extant one act play I found pretty much has one thing to recommend it: a very evil villain. In fact we could coin the word “evillain.”
The play is entitled Belsazar. It draws upon the Biblical story of Belshazzar. For those unfamiliar with the story, Belshazzar was a Neo-Babylonian king. Previously, the Babylonians had defeated Judah and looted the Temple in Jerusalem. In the book of Daniel, Belshazzar has a big party and uses the cups from the Temple. God doesn’t like this. A hand writes something the wall. Belshazzar freaks out. All his wise men can’t read it. But Jewish captive Daniel can. He saves the day by explaining the meaning.
“MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed … and found wanting;” and “PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
[And…”maybe I’ll succeed” – sure hope you don’t. Primo douchiness, right here]
Two soldiers bring in Rahel. She has magnificent flowing strawberry-blonde hair. Her loose robe is white. She stops a bit to the right of the canopy. The king waves for the two soldiers to leave.
Belsazar (looks at Rahel for a long time): Do you not know how to greet a king?
Rahel: Like every human. I bowed my head as I entered. (short break)
Belsazar: You are one of the Jewish women brought here from Judea?
Rahel: It’s as you say!
Belsazar: You do not like to be here?
Rahel (bitterly laughing): Like?! I curse the moment I had to leave home, and I curse the hour when my eyes saw Babylon. (short pause) The life of the captivity seems to me unbearable!
Belsazar (somewhat mocking): But – you live?
Rahel (rigidly): I live! I am waiting for the hour when the Lord God will redeem us out of your hands! I live and wait for the hour that will make you our servants!
[One way to make a tough villain is (obviously) to have a tough protagonist.]
Belsazar (smiling): You will have to wait a long time! The gold of your hair will bleach, your eyes will be closed for a long time, and still Judah will be a part of Babylon!
Rahel (heartfelt): Our God will not let his punishment last forever. He will be gracious to his children!
Belsazar: Your God? – You have been found sacrificing to your god.
Rahel: I did it.
Belsazar: Do not you know that the penalty for it is death?
Rahel: I know it. I do not fear death.
Belsazar (smiling): Maybe not death. But there are tortures that make even the most fearless shudder. Remember that, proud Jew!
Rahel: I’m not afraid of the pain either!
[Jeesh, you mean her strawberry blonde is gonna go full blonde because she’ll be dead and the sun will bleach her hair??? So cruel.
And if she isn’t afraid of death, I doubt she’s gonna fear pain. I mean, what’s the point?]
Here Belsazar tries out the “getting-to-know-you” routine. He learns her name is Rahel.
Belsazar: Rahel … Who is your father?
Rahel: Joshua, the rabbi – you killed him.
Belsazar: I remember. He also sacrificed to his god and was burned. (musing) What god is he for whom you suffer death and torture? Tell me, is he a god of love?
Rahel (loud, convinced): He is a god of revenge! And he will crush those who blaspheme and deny him!
So Belsazar, with all the smoothness of Donald Trump a creepy old dude who’s gotten his way his whole life tries to convince Rahel by pointing out the hedonistic virtues of Baal.
Belsazar: A God of Vengeance? A miserable god! (He gets up and walks down the two steps, stops in front of Rahel) Shall I tell you about our gods? Do you want to hear about Baal and Astarte? They are gods of love – shall I tell you, Rahel? Shall I tell you about the gardens of love in which Baal sits enthroned and gives a thousand joys to those who serve him? Would you like to become a priestess of the Astarte? Do you know how sweet the love is and how full of bliss the dizziness of the senses? – Look at me, Rachel, shall I tell you about love? Shall I teach you how to serve Baal and Baaltis, our gods? – I will be a good teacher, Rahel, for I have been in the gardens of love for a long time! – You will be a goddess in my arms, Rahel, we shall be like Baal and Astarte … my love shall warm you like the sun and you will desire her as you desire for the light of the sun … ( urgently) Look at me, Rahel … (he wants to take her hands)
[He wants to be her “teacher” because he’s hung out in the “gardens of love” for a long time. No thanks.]
Later he offers her to be his queen. Surprise, surpeise, she turns him down.
Rahel (with contempt): Do you believe that you can buy Rahel’s love for a throne and purple? Verily, you judge the pride of the Jew low! Are the women of your people for sale for a handful of gold? And me? O you, whom I respect no more than the dog that lies at the threshold of my house!
Belsazar (uttering a hissing sound of rage, slowly approaches Rahel and stops in front of her, hissing): If you do not fear death and pain, I will torment your soul until it dies in your womb. Should not my power be stronger than your defiance? (he approaches the curtain) Hey, Issar!
Okay, so “hissing sound of rage” might’ve been scarier in 1904 Hamburg than in 2019 Internet. But threatening to “torment your soul until it dies in your womb” is a bit much.
Belsazar (hissing to Rahel): Woman! I will defile the altar that you have built in the heart of your God!
Rahel wants to leave. [I do not blame her]
Belsazar: Stay! You should stay! I will look for the place where I can wound your proud heart! And if you do not want to give me your love, let your pain be my lust.
[Some women do like a “bad boy” but this is venturing into Idi Amin territory now]
So Belsazar has his little party.
He invites Rahel to sing. You can guess how that goes.
Belsazar: You don’t want to? Should I loosen your tongue so that it becomes as pliant as a snake’s tongue? – Should I pour molten lead into your throat to make it supple? Maybe you can sing then?
Rahel (proud): Do as you like!
Belsazar (to the people): Do you hear the Jewish woman? She has the courage of a lioness. Do you see how she shows the claws? Oh, I like that!
[Belsazar certainly is one vicious bastard. And he goes after emotionally unavailable women.]
Now the king drinks from the Temple cups. Rahel refuses to do so. One cool thing Rahel does is that when Belsazar orders his wives to drink from the cups, Rahel convinces them not to, thus sparing his wives from the God’s wrath.
The mysterious words are written. Belsazar freaks. He calls his wise men. They know nothing. The queen shows up. Doesn’t say anything about his rapey ways, but she does suggest Daniel can interpret the writing. Yes, that Daniel.
Daniel pops in and tells Belsazar what’s up. Belsazar doesn’t like what he hears (that he’ll lose his kingdom and die). He goes into a tizzy, lashing out at his minions, Daniel and Rahel. He also says:
“Oh Prophet, your words were cheap…Jew, I laugh at you”
A couple things here:
I dunno if it’s the zeitgeist, but in 1901 the German playwright Hermann Sudermann published a tragedy about John the Baptist. It contained this line: Herodias: You see, I laugh at you, you great Prophet! (She laughs) [Did German theatre had a thing for laughing at prophets then?]
This is the Charles Bronson moment in the play. The villain does something and you know he’s got approximately 10 seconds to live.
Rahel (drowning out the noise in a strong voice): Kill him! Kill him! He cursed God! (the peasants attack Belsazar, who extends his hands defensively) Kill him, kill him, the wicked man the Lord has marked! Kill the Blasphemer!
Belsazar (in a horrified voice): Rahel!
Rahel (again, drowning everything): Kill him!
Belsazar sinks to death on the steps of the throne.
Rahel lets out a loud cry of triumph.
Yay God! Yay Jews! Boo hissing rapey misogynistic anti-Semitic rulers of Neo-Babylonia.
This was the only play of Raché’s I could find online. It was performed in 1904 at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg (the theatre has been there since 1843!). It was then published in a theatre periodical, Bühne und Welt. This is really an amazing resource for early 20th Century German theatre.
Bio: adapted from her obituary.
Hennie Raché was born as Henni Fock on August 15, 1876 in Hamburg. She was an orphan by age 16 and worked as an educator and tutor.
She published some poems and short stories in her hometown’s Hamburger Fremdenblatt. This brought her to the attention of editor Paul Raché. They married at the end of 1900. She achieved success quickly. Her plays were performed in Hamburg and even overseas. She became sick in October 1904. The disease was pronounced incurable. She suffered with admirable patience and fortitude before succumbing on June 18, 1906 at the age of 30.
Meanwhile, the theatre in London’s mainstays were becoming less popular. While people are unsure of the reason (it could be that people’s tastes simply changed over a generation – how many people remember Kim Cattrall from Porky’s vs. that one show).
Carving out a living as a playwright was just as precarious as now, it seems. There were a few ways one could make a living as a playwright. One was to be the resident playwright with a yearly contract. John Dryden did this. Another was to get the elusive commission. Thomas Shadwell had a couple of these.
The other way was to simply submit the play to the theatre. This still didn’t guarantee payment, as the play had to run three performances before the writer got paid – from the profit of the third night. After the theatre’s expenses for that night had been cleared. In the beginning of the Restoration, they were paid ONLY on the third night. However, by the 1690s they had negotiated payment on every third night. One imagines they would’ve pressed their friends to go, kinda like when one’s playwright friends in New York send you a Facebook invite you to their play when you’re in, say, Bekasi.
After the play’s initial run, the play entered the theatre company’s repertory. Residuals and copyright fees were totally not a thing. All chances of making money from a new play died after the final curtain of the final performance. How depressing.
I should also mention that nearly all plays were written by dudes and the theatre, as with society, was dominated by men. True, women were allowed (gee, thanks) onstage after the Restoration, but their presence provoked more lurid rape scenes and of course the breeches role. Naturally, by the 21st Century everything is peachy in modern English-speaking theatre.
Mary Pix seemed to have the cards stacked against her simply by being born at that moment in history in 1666 in Buckinghamshire. As if living in a creepy, rapey, pre-electricity England wasn’t bad enough, her headmaster father died when she was “very young.” According to the gossip rag known as Wikipedia, she was courted by her dad’s successor, Thomas Dalby, at the school, but he left due to a smallpox epidemic one year after the schoolhouse mysteriously burned down. Slut-shaming Wikipedia was on the scene:
“Rumour had it that Mary and Dalby had been making love rather energetically and overturned a candle which set fire to the bedroom.” (You can seriously read the original here.)
Because, you know, banging dad’s replacement and burning down schools when you’re a teenaged girl go hand in hand.
I reckon she probably got pissed at creeper Tommy and burnt the damn thing down to be rid of him – or at least so he can’t have a work/creep-place.
Mary married (hehe) a merchant at age 18. She had a son who died young. The couple moved to London, had another son and BOOM Pix burst upon the literary scene in 1696 at the age of 30 when she published her only novel, The Inhumane Cardinal and two plays, Ibrahim, thirteenth Emperour of the Turks and The Spanish Wives.
Sadly, The Inhumane Cardinal isn’t an expose of birds committing war crimes.
But with success comes hatred, and for women, a particularly virulent, penis-having hatred. The success of these three ladies provoked a play, The Female Wits, which attacked them. Pix was portrayed as a fat, ignorant yet kind, oaf named Mrs. Wellfed. Things were less subtle back then. The play was written anonymously, because male bravery knows no bounds.
Pix was connected to The Theatre Royal (currently owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber) until that theatre produced The Female Wits, after which Pix took her talent to the theatre at Lincoln Inn Fields. She seems to have been mentored by the great William Congreve.
In 1697, Pix sent her play The Deceiver Deceiv’d to The Drury Lane Theatre run by rival playwright George Powell. Note to self: Do not send plays to rival playwrights. Second note to self: Find rival playwrights.
He rejected her play and totally produced a play with the same plot. Plagiarism, anyone? There was much “anonymous” letter writing to newspapers and a mini-scandal occurred. However, Pix’ reputation remained intact. But after that, she only attached her name to one other play, though we think she published seven more.
The first play we’ll review is the awesomely-titled Ibrahim, the thirteenth Emperour of the Turks.
Imitation Maltin summary: Spoiled brat/psychopath (and Ibrahim’s favorite mistress) Sheker crushes on stud-soldier Amurat who in turn loves winsome Morena. Sheker unleashes a wave of violence upon everyone in the story, including the titular Ibrahim.
You can also learn about the real Ibrahim. Never a good sign when historians dub you “the Mad.”
Relatively well-written female characters for the era.
Morena, despite being put upon a pedestal by Amurat, is more or less a fleshed out character, albeit a victim.
Satanic spitfire Sheker is a consistently evil character with clear motivation – she has more depth than the infamous Iago in Othello. She loves and she hates. Almost like a real person. And she ruins people’s lives, almost like my old boss.
Sheker’s slave (and apparently only friend) Mirva and Morena’s slave/buddy Zaida/Zada/Zayda (nobody used spell check back then) serve as brief foils to their mistresses – even they have a bit more depth than what one is used to seeing in the era.
Dialogue and pacing
In general, speech feels more natural than one would imagine. Much of the dialogue is effective – here is Amurat telling his friend Solyman how much he loves Morena, but also senses Sheker’s danger.
Oh Solyman! forgive the frailty of your Friend,
Forgive the follies that Imperious love creates,
Here the Mufti writes, that on earnest business
He craves my presence, if he hath discover’d
The Adoration that I pay his beauteous Daughter,
And then forbid it, how lost a thing is Amurat,
For I know well, though her poor Slave shou’d suffer
A thousand wracks, she’d tread the rigid paths of Duty,
And let me die, rather than forfeit her obedience.
Here is Sheker, all butthurt that Amurat has rejected her advances and left. Mirva is her slave and Achmet is Ibrahim’s eunuch.
Gone! O Devil!
Keep down, thou swelling Heart!
Or higher rise, that I may tear
Thee with my teeth! Mirva!
Break all the flattering Mirrors!
Let me ne’er behold this rejected Face again!
Have I seen Scepter’d Slaves kneeling
At my feet, forgetting they were Kings,
Forgetful of their Gods, calling alone on me;
Passing whole days and hours as if measur’d
With a Moments Sand, and now refus’d
By a Curst Beardless Boy! my Arms too
Open’d, all my Charms laid forth! (for
The Joys of Love are double, when our
Sex desires) heedless and cold he flew
From my Embrace; swift as I will do
To form his ruine—Achmet! I come!
‘Tis he must raise this raging Tempest higher,
Though cold to me, his Bosom’s sure on fire.
Finally, this is Solyman dishing it out to Ibrahim (who has done something terrible to Morena). Solyman truly is a great friend to Amurat. I love the simple stage direction at the end: “Fight.”
Traytors are ever loud—
And to colour their own detested sin
Rebellion; with impudence, and calumnies
Bespatter the Throne, they dare attack.
Was there a Slave throughout thy wide
Dominions, whom blind fate had cursed
With Wealth: His forfeit—Head
Pay’d for his crime: Whilst his extorted
Treasure fill’d thy coffers, and supply’d
New Luxury. Did vertue Reign in
Any Man, a life Austere; or active Valour
Like our great Progenitors: Strait you,
And your Minious thought, this lookt
With a Reflecting Eye on your Debauches:
Dispatch’d the pious Wretch, and sent him
To his Friends above; then Women
You monopoliz’d—let her be Wife
Or Virgin, fair as Heaven, or monstrous as Hell:
Witness your Armenian Mistress; all serv’d
As fuel to that consuming fire your Lust;
Nay, even the Relique of our late glorious
Emperour, was not free from your Attempt,
But that her Lion Resolution made your
Coward Heart shrink back.
Is there none to secure this Traitor?
I tell thee, Lost degenerate King,
There’s not a Soul will move a Tongue
Or Finger, in thy Defence; thou standst
Forsook by Heaven, and Human Aid—
Think now upon the fair Morena!
And if thy heart of Adamant unmov’d
Cou’d hear an Angel pray; if the angry Powers
So punish’d her spotless Innocence: What
Horrours must remain for thee; who bend’st
Beneath the weight of thousand thousand Ills?
Come on, thou Rebel!—
No Souldier sure thou art!
Thy Tongue’s thy sharpest Weapon—yet
If thou wer’t; and did thy acts excel the
Foremost of my Royal Race; thy Ignoble
Tomb must blush to hold thee, the name of Rebel
Wou’d blot out the H•ro, and leave thy Fame
Detest’d, to the honest World; as thou
Hast Represented mine!
My injur’d Friend, and that unhappy Beauty
Whom thy Lust hast ruin’d, gives Iustice to
My Javelin’s point, and sends it to thy heart!
Combined with well-placed dialogue, the action moves quickly.
The characters express their emotions well. I was going to include examples here, but I feel the above dialogue examples work well. It is a very emotional piece.
Even though The Merchant of Venice continues to be produced, for better or for worse, Ibrahim is basically “old English people pretending to be Turks” and as such would rightly be deemed offensive by pretty much everyone. However, considering its dramatic, tragic and emotional strength as well as historical significance, there are at least two ways the production could be successful.
Go all out on the Turkish/Islamic/Ottoman culture. Go find a cultural consultant and modify the Hell out of it to suit the 21st Century.
Re-set it somewhere else, for example amongst Mormon polygamists. Note to self: totally write “Ibrahim, 13th Emperor of Utah.”
The ending. The ending is harsh. It’s a tragedy and ends like a tragedy.
The title. It makes me want to see 12 prequels and a possible sequel.
There’s a weird song in the middle of the play, because. Just because.
The second play I planned to read was The Beau Defeated. This play was so impressive that the Royal Shakespeare Company thought it was the bee’s knees this year, so they renamed it and you know the rest. Except I tried to read The Beau Defeated and Bryan Defeated or TheBlogger Defeated would be more apt titles. You know those plays that are just people talking? Yep, it’s one of those. I’m assuming they chose the play because it’s been regularly produced elsewhere and it is rather tame – it’s like if Quentin Tarantino wrote an episode of Murder, She Wrote and then everyone would just watch that episode instead of True Romance. Anyways, I couldn’t finish The Beau Defeated. It finished me.
The Innocent Mistress is a multiplot play with several interwoven love intrigues. Sir Charles is married to an older woman, Lady Beauclair, supposedly a widow, who is very different from the witty heroines of other Restoration plays. In fact, she is presented in the Dramatis Personae, together with her daughter Peggy, as “an ill-bred woman”. Her marriage to Sir Charles cannot work since it is just the product of socio-economic interests. Being Sir Charles a younger brother with no estate, and Lady Beauclair a wealthy woman, Sir Charles’ friends and family induce him to marry her. At the end of the play, we learn that the marriage is not valid for two reasons. Because it has not been consummated and because Lady Beauclair’s first husband, Mr Flywife, is alive and back to London after several years of voluntary exile in Jamaica. The re-encounter of Mr Flywife and Lady Beauclair makes Sir Charles free to marry Bellinda, his niece’s friend, whom he has been courting throughout the play. Bellinda, whose real name is Marianne, lives at Mrs Beauclair’s (Sir Charles’ niece) under an assumed name after having escaped from a forced marriage. Mrs Beauclair, presented in the dramatis personae as “an independent woman”, fulfils and updates, together with Sir Francis Wildlove, the “happy couple” stereotype of Restoration comedies. The plot turns around Mrs Beauclair’s attempts to reform Sir Francis from his initial rakishness to his final “faithfulness”. His reform process is slow. The rake only changes his attitude and reveals his true feelings for Mrs Beauclair when, due to a misunderstanding, he thinks she has married another man. Another couple is formed by Beaumont and Arabella. The former is, like Sir Charles, a character with an “incorruptible” morality, whom Bellinda’s father has sent to find her after her brother’s death. Arabella, her father thinks, has her fortune and person controlled by Lady Beauclair and her stupid brother Cheatall. Once Arabella is liberated with the help of Lady Beauclair’s servant Eugenia, she can marry Beaumont. There is yet another marrying couple at the end, Lady Beauclair’s “ill-bred” daughter, Peggy, and the social parasite Mr Spendall, who tricks both mother and daughter into believing he is a man of quality with a fortune to inherit. Once Mr Flywife comes back and Peggy’s fortune –the only reason for Spendall’s interest in marrying her– fades away, Peggy is punished with a lazy husband with no fortune. Likewise, Mr Spendall must deal with an ill-bred girl with no properties so far. Finally, even the servants Eugenia and Gentil marry just the way their “betters” do, thus following Roman comedy tradition. Only Mrs Flywife (the mistress of Mr Flywife while in Jamaica) is left outside the marriage fair. We learn that both have been living together, but Mr Flywife, after his first experience, prefers not to marry again. Thus, when they are back in London, the former has to live with Lady Beauclair again, and the second becomes the odd one out in the comedy happy ending.
This play is beyond funny. It’s kinda like a 17th Century pervy sitcom taking satire pills. That is the beauty of this work – it comes on the heels of the anonymous attack on Pix, Trotter and Manley. A heck of a punchback against the misogyny of the theatre. In punching back, it cranks the hyperbole up to “atomic” and KA-Boom! The bombs fall.
The dialogue carries the play. Especially put downs and what have you. Here are some examples of the dialogue.
This is a dialogue between Sir Francis Wildlove and Beaumont when they first meet up. Subtle it ain’t.
Get me some Small Beer, and dash a little Langoone in it; else ’twill go down my burning Stomach ten degrees colder than Ice: I should have met my old Friend and Collegian Beaumont,who came to Town last night, but Wine and Women drove it clear out of my Head.
Sir, he’s here.
Welcome dear Friend, I prithee pardon my omission, faith ’twas business that could not be left to other hands.
Women I suppose, and that excuse I know a Man of your kidney thinks almighty.
Even so well by my Life, I am heartily glad to see you, why thou hast been an age consin’d to barren Fields and senceless Groves, or Conversation stupid and dull as they: How canst thou waste thy Youth, happy Youth, the very Quintessence of Life from London,this dear Epitome of pleasure?
Because excess of drinking cloys my Stomach, and Impudence in Women absolutely turns it; then I hate the vanity of Dress and Fluttering, where eternal Noise and Nonsence reigns; this consider’d, what should I do here?
Not much in troth.
But you, my Friend, run the Career your appetite directs, taste all those pleasures I despise, you can inform me what humour’s most in fashion, what ruling whim, and how the Ladies are.
Why faith there’s no great alteration, the Money is indeed very much scarcer, yet what perhaps you’l think a wonder, dressing and debauchery increases; as for the Damosels, three sorts make a Bushel, and will be uppermost: First, there’s your common Jilts will oblige every body.
These are Monsters sure.
You may call it what you please, but they are very plentiful, I promise you: The next is your kept Mistress, she’s a degree modester, if not kind to each, appears in her dress like Quality, whilst her ogling eyes, and too frequent Debauches discovers her the younger Sister only to the first.
This I shou’d hate for Ingratitude.
The third is, not a Whore, but a brisk airy, noisy Coquette, that lives upon treating, one Spark has her to the Play, another to the Park, a third to Windsor,a fourth to some other place of Diversion; She has not the heart to grant ’em all favours, for that’s their design at the bottom of the Treats, and they have not the heart to marry her, for that’s her design too Poor Creature. So perhaps a year, or it may be two, the gaudy Butterfly slutters round the Kingdom, then if a foolish Citt does not take compassion, sneaks into a Corner, dies an Old Maid, despised and forgotten. The Men that sit those Ladies are your Rake, your Cully, and your Beaux.
Here’s another bit between husband and very unhappy wife:
Well, well, thou art a good Boy, prithee no more wrangling Fubby;I vow and swear to morrow I’ll be as great a Slattern as ever was, if that will please you, so I will.
Ay, and want to go out to day, for all the gazing Fops to ad∣mire, tho’ I have told you, I can’t appear till I have enquir’d into my affairs, then to morrow, if you stay at home with me, Sackcloth will serve turn.
Lord, you are so froppish, if I was your Wife, sure Fubby,you would not be so jealous.
My Wife quotha! no, no, I was once bewitch’d, but I found such a Plague, that—No more Wives, I say.
Well, I’ll be any thing to please Fubby;Will you go in? Our Breakfast will be cold.
Note: “Bottle of hay” seems to refer to a bushel. The phrase is used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well.
Finally, there’s this joyous bit of dialogue. Lady Beauclair is angry at Mrs. Peggy.
Ye ye, ye damn’d Quean, he is here,—ha!—and his Minion with him!—let me come at her—
Leaps, and catches hold of her.
Hell and Furies! my Wife!—Madam, why all this Rage? Don’t you see my Neice? the other is a Friend of hers, a Woman of Honour.
Your Neice is a Pimp, and she’s a Whore! I’ll mark her—Sirrah—Villain! Oh, oh my Fits! my Fits!
“Your niece is a pimp” really isn’t used so often these days.
If pervy humor and insults aren’t your bag, then I don’t recommend the play.
Characterization and plot take a back seat to dialogue and humor – the plot seems to be a series of complicated situations thrown together to stir conflict and humor.
There’s a mystery that’s bugging me. The play mentions an Indian woman who is variously named Mrs. Bantam/Banter/Bantum – and who, it is implied, runs a brothel called the India House. To add to the confusion, one character has been away in “the Indies” for a long time. Now this usually referred to what is now Indonesia and thereabouts. And Banten is a city on Java. Where cute little bantam chickens come from.
Despite (or because of?) her notoriety, Mrs. Bantam/Banter/Bantum NEVER appears. A sequel, focusing on the adventures of an Indian madam in 1690s London might be pretty cool.
I’d love to see a modern production of this complicated, yet hilarious play. Here’s a trailer from a modern production with Pachelbel, too!
Mary Pix succeeded in a world much more difficult than our own. She beat each and every odd to give us a strong canon of plays, poetry and a novel. She should be admired and remembered for her skill as a writer as well as her tenacity.
Her plays deserve to be remembered, studied and performed just like that one dude whose plays seem to have a stranglehold on English-language theatre four centuries after his death. Instead of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, maybe we can have the Utah Pix Festival. Ibrahim couldn’t be any worse than what they’re doing. (Note to Utah Shakes: It’s 2018 and the only play you figured you could produce is an anti-Semitic English play from a time when Jews weren’t even allowed in England? Cool story, bro. Check out Mary Pix, please).
What do you think of Mary Pix? Would you like to see more of her work?
Our first modern playwright hails from North Carolina, USA. Andy Rassler has acted, directed and taught theatre for decades. In the last few years she’s begun to see success as a playwright.
Generally her plays are humorous, positive and carry a message. However, they are by no means saccharine. Rassler’s years as a theatre teacher has informed her understanding of what Theatre for Young Audiences entails and she excels at it.
The first piece we’ll study is Dante’s Inferno Six. Despite focusing on youth plays, this 10 minute play is set in the reception area of the sixth level of Dante’s Hell. This is where heretics end up.
Uberti and Cavalcanti are the two secretaries and basically they are each other’s Hell.
This is from the midst of one of their flare-ups:
Like many American workers, they actively hate their customers/clients, as exemplified here:
Now that I think about it, people going to Hell might be kind of annoying and I would probably grow to hate them. Anyways, this Satanic version of the Battling Bickersons meet their match when their next victim, the heretic Margaret, is totally okay with going to Hell.
Needless to say, Rassler’s Dante’s Inferno Six is a fun play for those who think Hell would be a fun thing. It also highlights something Rassler is adept at: dispelling stereotypes and upending expectations. We, the audience, have been taught to fear Hell (unless you grew up in this church) – yet Margaret is pretty nonchalant about facing that flaming tomb. Ironically, these same flaming tombs have lent themselves to an Xbox game. Here’s a vid of the performance.
Clothes Minded is a witty, honest one-act that expertly dissects prejudice in America.
The plot pretty much mimics real-life, except with fabrics in a washing machine. All the whites are getting washed together (as they do) when a sock of color shows up. The white fabrics lose it and freak out. However, unlike many real-life scenarios, this play has a happy ending.
Here is a choice moment:
This really reminds one of racists’ arguments that they just want “the other” to follow the law, no matter how intrinsically stupid said law may be.
Since all this is set in a washing machine, there are numerous references to swimming, which harkens to not just the past and stereotypes about black people swimming but also the recent spate of “white people calling the cops on black people for living” – most famously Pool Patrol Paula and ID Adam.
This interaction and Colored Sock’s mini-monologue here is effective.
That line “We’re not bad people” is rich. We’ve been hearing it oh-so-often.
The play is peppered with racists’ go-to talking points.
“Jacked-up” is right.
“Some of my best friends…” is a hilariously bad argument. Even Hitler protected an Austrian Jew he liked, so keep that in mind before you start with that argument.
Ah yes. The siren call of eugenics. This is an extreme example of “following the law” – albeit a “natural law” that someone just made up.
Beware, the rag pile. Hehe. Labels can be some dangerous medicine.
So far in this blog, I haven’t talked much about my personal life, but I will share my own experiences growing up in Utah as a non-Mormon (that’s a label!) – the labels I was given ranged from “non-believer” to “Satan worshipper.” [insert about 1,001 other negative experiences here]
Much like the parents in Rassler’s play, this idiocy started with the parents. I heard “My mom says I can’t play with you” more than once. In this way, Rassler’s play spoke to me. The Colored Sock character is way too nice to the neighbors. Lucky for them.
Oh man. This hits the nail on the head. The way some white people will speak in hushed tones about someone who married/had a relationship out of the race.
I was at a museum in Utah once and the lady working there was yapping on about Orrin Porter Rockwell and his multiple wives and at the end she whispered “and his Indian wife.”
And then (gasp!) tragedy happens.
Eventually things work themselves out. This is a well-written play with a positive message and good roles for kids. The play was recently published by YouthPlays.
Now is a chance to learn more about Rassler from the playwright herself:
How did you start playwriting?
I started writing about 10-12 years ago. My theatre class always competes in the 1-act play festival in NC. We were having a really hard time finding a piece that we connected to, so the kids said, “Why don’t you just write one?” So…I tried it. And I loved it so much. We used the piece I wrote (called—pretentiously enough—‘Minor Paradox’)!
What are your influences?
For the cadence and style of dialogue, I attribute my style to Neil Simon, mostly. I don’t know that I’d call any other playwrights ‘influences’.
What is your most memorable production and why?
Of my own pieces, the most memorable was the one-act version of ‘In the Jungle.’ This play was inspired by my twin sister, Annette, who has cerebral palsy. The students who embodied the characters were so dedicated to the piece and when we performed it at the contest, there were many, many audience members in tears. I was approached multiple times afterward with meaningful and thoughtful words—it was magical.
What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
My least memorable? I don’t remember…lol. No, I can barely remember a 10-minute piece I had produced at a local community theatre. Just didn’t work.
What’s your funniest theatre story?
Of all time? Hmmm…It was not funny at the time, but one of my students pushed me to use actual profanity. He had missed an entrance and I was in the back of the auditorium watching his classmates try to cover for him. I rushed out of the theatre, back to the dressing room, and there he was just yakking it up with his home girls! I said, “You’re on! Now!” and he kind of sauntered toward the door—so I grabbed him (literally) and said, “Get your <$*& butt out there!”—Now, I just shake my head.
What are your writing habits like?
I’m sporadic. Sometimes, I’m writing every free chance I get—then there might be weeks where I don’t write a word. When there’s a deadline looming that I want to submit, I’m gangbusters. I will do all my chores and other things in life, then sit down and dedicate 2-4 hours just to get the words out on the ‘paper’. Outline, write, write. Re-outline, write, write. Rewrite.
What advice do you have for new playwrights?
Don’t be intimidated that there is magic to this craft. There isn’t any magic or specialized something you need to get started. You have a story: tell it. Then you can use all the resources you can find to fine-tune that story.
Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
How about—Bryan Stubbles?! I have not had the chance to read many ‘unknown’ writers. Sorry.
What are common themes in your work?
Handicapped people, outcasts, people on the fringe.
What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
I wish I knew how important it was to have a network of people to support your work. I feel pretty isolated, but I’m working on building connections.
In regards to Dante Inferno Six, why is Hell so funny?
If it weren’t, it would be devastating. It makes me think of those awful times when you’re not ‘supposed’ to laugh, but if you could, it would help everything.
Please describe the process that created Clothes-minded.
A local community theatre put out a submission opportunity for 10-minute plays with the theme ‘Diversity’. I thought about that theme and all I could think of to write were things that were so corny, or cliché, or I had no business writing them because I know very little about actual diversity. I thought about the concept of segregation—separating by color—and it segued into ‘What else do we separate by color?’=laundry! Ta-da!! Someone at the 10-minute play commented on how weird it was that there were only 3 items in the load, and I thought, “Hey, this would expand to a one-act in a pretty cool way.” Ta-da!!
How are the kids and audiences responding to Clothes-minded?
My students LOOOVED performing it and the audiences were greatly amused. It’s been produced by two other groups (besides mine) already in just a few months, so I’m hopeful it will go places!
What has the feedback from People of Color or other minorities been like?
The cool thing at the very start of this is that I had a person of color playing a white sock. It was wildly cool to have discussions at rehearsal—and audience members were trying to wrap their brains around that concept. I’ve honestly had nothing but positive feedback from everyone who’s seen or been in it.
What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.
Question: What is your ultimate goal as a writer?
Answer: To get productions of as many of my shows as humanly possible and to leave a legacy of meaningful work behind when I go. I know I won’t know it happened, but I’d love for a production of my show to happen 250 years down the road and it’s just as relevant and meaningful as today.
Before I list her productions, do our readers have any questions for Andy? Please comment below.
If there is one word to describe unknown playwright Martha Patterson, that word would be versatile. She works in a variety of genres and deals in everything from based-on-fact monologues to fun one-acts as well as full-lengths, covering all sorts of topics.
Martha kinda has theatre in her blood. Her aunt Elizabeth Patterson had a massive acting career in Chicago, on Broadway and on film and TV. Audiences might remember her from a few episodes of I Love Lucy she appeared on.
The Ghost is starting to get it. As is the dorky Danish prince –
Spoiler alert: Hamlet falls for whatever lines his dead dad tells him, just like in the original.
This play is pretty funny and also quite silly, thus making it highly entertaining. And it’s an appropriate shortened alternative to that behemoth Hamlet, which seems to run 3 hours, minimum.
Hamlet’s Revenge has been performed in Korea by The Seoul Players in 2010 and has an upcoming production in the Phoenix area.
The next short play of Martha’s that we’ll take a look at is Richard Gerstl, a serious monologue illuminating the life and sad death of the Viennese artist.
Martha uses a very traditional and classical technique when setting up her plays –
This certainly gives us a particular moment in time.
Richard introduces himself…in a way.
Mathilde Schönberg wasn’t repulsed. Anyways, this is interesting because so much is made of the male gaze, that it’s quite a relief when a different perspective is offered.
For those who don’t know the term, it’s kinda like when you can tell the heterosexual male director of a film is in love with the female star – then extrapolate that to how our culture tells stories. This is still endemic in theatre. You can read more about the male gaze here.
Sounds like Richard has a bit of the male gaze himself. And he is not the most pleasent character…
Did I mention he’s coiling a noose as he’s talking?
This is a good play about a difficult topic. I don’t know if the real Richard Gerstl sought help. The play adequately summarizes the conflicts and crises in his short life…now you’re getting a brief lecture. Anytime this blog mentions a work dealing with suicide, we need to mention this…
SUICIDE STUFF FOLLOWS….
A former classmate of mine has had 5 (FIVE) of her brothers commit suicide, including 4 (FOUR) since last year. The last one was less than a month ago. She is absolutely one of the nicest people I know. This has brought suicide to the forefront of my mind.
If you’re in the US and are thinking about suicide, the hotline is here. Or simply text CONNECT to 741741.
In Canada, a database of info is here or you can text 686868.
Every day I think about what my friend is going through.
If those don’t work, you can always message me at this blog. I WILL get back to you as soon as I see it.
END OF SUICIDE STUFF
Now back to Martha and a very funny play of hers…
Do y’all know steampunk? Our friends at the Oxford Dictionary say: A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.
This is a very bare-bones definition and for further enlightenment, one should look here.
Martha has cooked up a comedic steampunk revenge based around a fairy tale – Cinderella’s Revenge.
Drizella and Jeremiah carry on like a couple of rich idiots for the first bit of the play.
Jeremiah and Drizella argue and bicker until Cindy shows up with Prunella, who takes no guff from hyper-misogynist Jeremiah. Oh, and CIndy had previously married a prince who “ruined” her –
Let’s analyze this exchange.
Setting up Cindy’s bad treatment earlier in life. Check.
Some down-home misogyny from Jer. Check.
Steampunk sex joke. Check.
Useless male. Check.
This being Steampunk times and all, Jeremiah doesn’t quite approve of Cindy’s choice of life partner. He hectors Cindy and Prunella until something cool happens.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for Jerry Douchepunk.
Now we’ll turn to another monologue by Patterson: Amarilis.
A little background info. Haïti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, Hispaniola. They often do not get along. Vox was kind enough to make an entire video about it:
In 1937, soldiers of the Dominican Republic, under orders from dictator Rafael Trujillo, commited the Parsley Massacre. This was a massacre of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.
It is called the Parsley Massacre in English because the pronunciation of perejil – “parsley” in Spanish – was used to distinguish Dominicans from Haitians.
When an elderly person asks “Are you sure you want to hear this?” you must think about it carefully. There’s a reason they ask it.
That’s your reason, right there.
The play ends with Amarilis focusing again on the present.
The final play of Martha’s we’ll take a look at is the wondrous and wonderfully horrific short play A Doll’s Life. Let’s see what that’s about:
This sounds fun.
Because grilled cheese sandwiches totally own evil dolls.
This video could be retitled “How to kill Satanic dolls” – she uses enough butter to kill 13 Satans precisely. Geez.
So dad doesn’t really get it. But Amelia bugs him enough that he decides to inspect the closet, while complaining 100%.
Womp womp. We’re lucky enough to have a real live production of A Doll’s Life.
Martha was kind enough to take some time out of her busy writing schedule and answer a few questions:
1. How did you start playwriting?
I’d always been a writer – of stories and poetry, as a kid – but I started writing plays in my late 30s, while in grad school studying Performing Arts Education. I had thought I’d teach drama to high school students, after being an actress in California and New York, but discovered I didn’t really like teaching. However, if I hadn’t gone to grad school I probably wouldn’t have become a playwright. My acting training definitely informs my writing, in terms of characterization and knowing what kinds of parts are fun to play.
2. What are your influences?
In college as a Theatre student, I had to read lots of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, Chekhov, so I’m influenced by them. Interestingly, when I started writing plays I wrote lots of long monologues into my scripts, partly because those writers did, but as time’s gone on, I keep my dialogue more clipped. I’m told that audiences have short attention spans and prefer not to listen to long speeches.
3. What is your most memorable production and why?
Of my own work? Probably a production of my political monologue AMARILIS, about the conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the early 1900s. It was produced by the Border of Lights Festival in NYC, and they had an space in a church, served wine and cheese, and had a musician playing before and after the show. I went to New York to see it and was really glad to meet the producer, who’s still a penpal, and the woman who played the elderly lady I wrote about. The whole affair was elegant, and I always love being in NYC again.
Of other people’s work, I really liked Caryl Churchill’s CLOUD NINE, which I saw Off-Broadway. Clever mixing up of sexes and ages in the cast, and I don’t remember the plot well now – this was years ago – but I certainly enjoyed the play.
4. What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
There was a production of mine in Hawaii and they sent me a DVD of the performance because I couldn’t go, and one of the actors fluffed his lines, and the lighting was too dim, and the show wasn’t very well staged. I guess that’s my least favorite.
5. What’s your funniest theatre story?
I started writing my first play in grad school, and the guy I asked to read the man’s part out loud to the class was so good, I kept writing the play and finished it with him in mind. He wasn’t even really an actor. I’ve never seen anyone play the role as well as he read it. He had a quiet, deadpan delivery and it’s funny because it was an accident that I “cast” him.
6. What are your writing habits like?
I usually have a vodka-and-tonic next to me, even if all the ice melts and it gets watered down before I drink it, and I often write late at night into the wee hours of the morning.
7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?
Don’t be afraid to try it, and do have your work read out loud, preferably by people who’ve done some acting. You’ll find out where the dialogue lags. Share your work with other playwrights – they’ll often give good feedback, which you can take or leave, as you choose, but don’t be defensive – often after thinking about someone’s critique you’ll find they had valid comments.
8. Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
Shakespeare. (Kidding.) Actually, among the writers I’m friends with, they’re all doing as well or better than I am, production-wise. Dan Guyton is a pen-friend from Georgia who’s a really strong writer, has lots of funny plays but also wrote a full-length drama in verse, set in Hell – I don’t know how he managed to complete such a piece of work, all in verse. Evan Guilford-Blake is another playwright from Georgia – lately he’s focused on fiction, though – but he’s excellent, and I recently read a beautiful, elegiac short story he wrote that he’s trying to get published.
9. What are common themes in your work?
Relationships are something I focus on – marriages or families with conflict. But I also have political plays, and recently wrote one about the workplace, and I have a few plays for youth, and I can’t really say I have themes. I will tell you I’ve written for themes requested by theatres, and even if they didn’t choose my play, I’ve usually gotten it done elsewhere. So writing for themes has been very productive for me – it gets my creativity going, when otherwise I’d be at a loss as to what to write about. AMARILIS was written for a themed event. I think HAMLET’S REVENGE was, too.
10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
Keep lots of your lines short, a rapid-fire back-and-forth. Seems to work for me these days; as I’ve already said, long monologues can be dull.
11. How has the playwriting market changed since your first production in ’97?
It’s more competitive. I got three long one-acts produced right off the bat as a writer, Off-Off-Broadway, but this past year has a been deadly – only three productions and a few publications, which is less than my average. I belong to the Playwrights’ Binge, an international listserv, and I share lots of opportunities with those people, but it’s been suggested to me to be less generous, just because I’m up against so many other authors! There are 1000s of playwrights out there.
12. Please tell us about the process behind writing Amarilis.
First I had to do research, which I did online by reading brief histories of Haiti and the Dominican. Then, I had to write the speech. I came up with the character of a little old lady, I don’t know why, except that she had to be old because she’s recounting the conflict between those nations and it happened decades ago. I imagined her talking to her neighbor, who is unseen, and the whole thing unfolded from there.
13. You have Hamlet’s Revenge and Cinderella’s Revenge – both comedies. How does one make revenge as hilarious as possible?
By using the unexpected. I’ve read that there are two reasons why people laugh: 1) because the same thing’s happened to them (like slipping on the proverbial banana peel), or 2) because what happens is unexpected – the audience isn’t anticipating that action or line. In HAMLET’S REVENGE I have Hamlet idly eating a sandwich while his father chews him out, and Hamlet is very unconcerned about avenging his Dad’s murder. That’s an innately funny situation and you’re not expecting him to be so blase.
14. Multipart question: Have you faced ageism and/or sexism in your career? If yes, what advice or tips would you give fellow writers coming up against those obstacles?
No, I don’t think I’ve faced ageism or sexism. Most of the playwrights I know are over 45 or 50 anyway, and I don’t think it’s a hindrance, except when you find an opportunity to submit that’s only for under-30s, but that’s the theatre’s choice.
Much has been made of the need for gender parity in the theatre, especially among writers, but I’ve gotten my fair share of productions and publications, so I’m not complaining.
15. What is a question you’d like to be asked? Please go ahead and answer that question.
I suppose one question I’d like to be asked – do I attend the theatre often? – has a surprising answer: No, I don’t. I saw so much theatre in my youth, and appeared as a leading lady in lots of productions, that I don’t feel the need to go very often these days, and it really is an expense. I probably should get out and see what’s going on in theatre right now. But often I’d rather read a play than actually see it, which I can do in half the time it takes to watch a performance. And sometimes when I go to the theatre I get bored and restless. I’d rather be at home writing!
Thanks so much Martha for sharing your talent and knowledge with us!
We’re back with yet another unknown playwright. This time it is Hilma Lewis Enander, who published a volume of short plays in 1913.
The first play in the volume is In the Light of the Stone.
In the Light of the Stone
This play is really goofy. The plot may be summarized as follows:
Mrs. & Dr. Brooks are hanging out in the Patterson home with all their rich idiot friends. Someone has stolen Mrs. Patterson’s necklace. Cops are there. Dr. Brooks receives a call about a child possibly dying from typhoid. He must leave at once – alas, he finds the necklace in his pocket and wants to give it to teh Pattersons, but his wife talks him out of it. She claims people will suspect him. Blah blah. Eventually she talks to the Pattersons. Gadzooks!!! Lo and behold she stole it, panicked and dumped it her hubby’s pocket. She feels soooooo sorry. The Pattersons forgive her and promise never to tell anyone.
This play, despite its mediocrity, doesn’t really have fun lines or examples of supreme weirdness to share here. Of course there will be a link at the end for the play.
What a playwright can learn from this play:
If you want to introduce something that sounds kinda important (girl dying of typhoid) you should probably follow up on it.
The Man Who Did Not Understand
Aka this reader. Bwahaha. Sorry.
Ted is a miner somewhere out in the Great American Desert.
They’re really not into affection. Ted tries to convince Nan to go back from whence she came. It works out as well as you’d expect.
“But my cousin is here.”
Salt Lake City? Now it all makes sense. Because if you were gonna show up at a guy’s cabin unannounced with your pastor/cousin with the intention of performing a marriage, then you should totally do it on the way to Salt Lake City.
“I’m ready for anything as long as I have you.”
Run, Ted, run.
Ted hems and haws about why he didn’t write her for such a long time. He says he can’t explain it in writing. She says:
“It’s hard for me to understand when you don’t explain.”
She has a point, Ted.
OMG. Ted is totally married!!!! Did not see that coming.
His wife is Minna, who wears hats.
“an air of almost indifference.”
Nan kinda freaks out when she sees Minna and simply runs away.
But, alack, Minna demands Ted explain all this Nan-sense.
Ted is a fast operator. And fast with those mixed signals. “I love you, but you can’t come near Salt Lake City with me. Bye!”
He wrote Nan two letters. They were practically shacked up.
Minna was a nurse who helped Ted out – so he married her. Because Ted is awesome like that.Ted sucks this play sucks.
Well, three can play at that running away game…
That’s nice that the LA job opening is always there.
Before she leaves, Minna has some wise advicegood adviceok advice negligible advice.
She suspiciously has prepared everything for her soon-to-be ex. Something’s afoot.
In On the Trail, Bertha is minding her own business when suddenly Jack shows up. Man is on the run from the law…again out West someplace.
Bertha inexplicably covers for Jack when the cps come looking. Meanwhile, when the cops are gone she lectures Jack, who says she is preaching.
That’s some exposition right there about what’s going on with Bertha.
This play actually has a hint of being good when the machinations of a plot twist come into play.
Bertha has been telling the cops that Jack is her husband. Her for-real husband, Jim Bryce, comes home late and walks into a hornet’s nest of police, Bertha and Jack the outlaw pretending to be her husband.
NOW, suffering from Stockholm Syndromestudipidity poor writing,
Bertha’s now pinning the robbery on her actual husband by saying he’s the outlaw.
The sheriff reads the description of the bandit (for the second time in the play):
Bryce, you ain’t the only one bein’ “locoed.”
FYI: “Loco” is a Spanish adjective meaning “crazy.” It pops up in US English and sometimes English-language pop culture.
I found a Hilma Lewis Enander from North Dakota, who would’ve been 18 when these plays were published (and that would make their undeveloped status more understandable) but apparently her maiden name was Nelson. I dunno. It would be nice to know more about this really unknown playwright.