Current Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Andy Rassler

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.

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Andy Rassler, our playwriting hero.

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:

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Like many American workers, they actively hate their customers/clients, as exemplified here:

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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.

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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. 

Now on the what may be termed Rassler’s magnum opus

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:

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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.

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Ker-plunk! From YouthPlays.

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.

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That line “We’re not bad people” is rich. We’ve been hearing it oh-so-often.

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It’s “the other!!!” Via YouthPlays.

The play is peppered with racists’ go-to talking points.

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“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.

Here’s another:

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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.  

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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]

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Rehearsal time for Clothes-minded.

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.

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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.

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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.

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They turn on their own, via 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.

For a list of all our playwrights, please check here.

Rassler’s work has seen multiple productions, mostly in North Carolina, but also in Minnesota and Germany. Below is a list of plays and productions ( with links to sites or reviews):

September 2014: Walt Grace, One Act New Play Festival. Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC

March 5-6, 2016: Dear Stephen, We Like Short Shorts. Storefront Theatre, Waxhaw, NC

April 7-9, 2016: Kiss A Squid 2016 Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival Winner. Located at the The White Horse in Black Mountain, NC

June 10-19, 2016: A Foot and a Half Old Courthouse Theatre, Concord, NC

June 16-18, 2016: Don’t Bleed on Me, Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC

August 26-27, 2016: Bless Me, Father, Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC

August 25-28, 2016: Number Ten, Old Courthouse Theatre Concord, NC

October 2016: Don’t Bleed on Me, NCHS Entry, NCTC One-Act Play Festival, North Carolina

November 15-16, 2016: I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know Cary Playwrights’ Forum, Cary, NC

December 2016: Star of Wonder, Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC

February 1-5, 2017: In the Jungle, UBI Theatre, Leipzig, Germany

August 12-13, 2017: I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know, Old Courthouse Theatre Concord, NC

September 15-24, 2017: Clothes Minded, Eden Prairie Players, Eden Prairie, MN

November 14-16, 2017: In Heaven There is No Beer, Cary Playwrights’ Forum, Cary, NC

 

Two of her plays have been published. Clothes Minded was published by YouthPlays and is available on Amazon.

Kiss a Squid is in Smith & Kraus’ anthology Best 10 Minute Plays 2015 and Don’t Bleed On Me is in Best 10 Minute Plays 2017

Andy’s personal website is here.  

Another profile of Andy from this year.

Several of her plays are available to read at her New Play Exchange page.

Thanks Andy!

 

Current Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Martha Patterson

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.

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Martha Patterson, probably envisioning her next play combining comedy, classical stories and revenge.

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.

Her great-uncle was Sturgis Elleno Leavitt, who was a long-time professor and translator of Spanish, particularly Spanish plays of the Golden Age.

But we’re not here to talk about them. We’re here to talk about Martha and what she’s up to.

She received her BA in Theatre Arts from Mount Holyoke College and an MA in Performing Arts Education from Emerson College.

After several years of acting and teaching, Martha turned to playwriting and hasn’t looked back.

Covering all 140+ plays Martha has written would present it’s own year of blog posts (not that I’m opposed to it, it’s just I wanted to cover her work in a timely manner).

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Advert for a Scottish production of Martha’s play A Constant Man, one of over 140 plays she’s written.

The first play we’ll look at is a short parody of Shakespeare’s venerated Hamlet. Basically, Hamlet’s dad’s ghost shows up, but Hamlet can’t be bothered:

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The play is full of jokes like this…

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In addition to being funny, these lines upend the incest motif in Hamlet.

The play itself is 3.5 pages. Let’s take a look at some of the other bits:

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The answer to his dad’s question qould be “With Gertrude, Hamlet’s mom whom he secretly wants to bone.”

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The Ghost is starting to get it. As is the dorky Danish prince –

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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.

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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.

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When your self-portraits [the dong-free ones, at least] are this nuts, you know Martha’s gonna write an awesome monologue about you. He’s probably laughing because he was shtupping a famous composer’s wife.
Martha uses a very traditional and classical technique when setting up her plays –

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This certainly gives us a particular moment in time.

Richard introduces himself…in a way.

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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.

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Sounds like Richard has a bit of the male gaze himself. And he is not the most pleasent character…

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Like this, but on Mathilde Schönberg’s breasts. From here.

Did I mention he’s coiling a noose as he’s talking?

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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 the UK the info is here or you can email jo@samaritans.org.

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.

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This is what steampunk looks like and we know this because it’s from a government website explaining steampunk.

This is a very bare-bones definition and for further enlightenment, one should look here.

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This is what steampunk looks like onstage, namely in Daniel Guyton‘s Art:Official Intelligence. Photo by Cathy Seith. Actors: Jeremy Clarke and Bob Smith.
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And this is what steampunk looks like in my fantasies. Just kidding, your fantasies. Photo by Bryan York. Model: GiGi.

Martha has cooked up a comedic steampunk revenge based around a fairy tale – Cinderella’s Revenge.

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Nice female-to-male ratio. Did you know Shakespeare wrote less than 16% of his roles for little boys women?
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Again, Martha provides us with that classical introduction.

Drizella and Jeremiah carry on like a couple of rich idiots for the first bit of the play.

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This dude sounds cool.

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 –

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Let’s analyze this exchange.

  1. Setting up Cindy’s bad treatment earlier in life. Check.
  2. Some down-home misogyny from Jer. Check.
  3. Steampunk sex joke. Check.
  4. 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.

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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.

Trujillo used the excuse that Haitians were criminals, which is a tactic certain other leaders are using even now.

It is called the Parsley Massacre in English because the pronunciation of perejil – “parsley” in Spanish – was used to distinguish Dominicans from Haitians.

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Wait, a quality role for a senior???? Good thing I was sitting down when I read this.

 

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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.

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That’s your reason, right there.

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Yeah. This.

The play ends with Amarilis focusing again on the present.

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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:

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This sounds fun.

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Not while her doll is bugging her.

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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%.

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Whoops.

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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!
For a list of ALL our playwrights, please click here.
Everyone, please check the following links:
Martha’s website with a list of her productions.
The script for A Constant Man.
Listing for Brotherly Love in Texas.
Production of Amirilis.
Video of Girl Before the Mirror, a play about Picasso’s girlfriend.
Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: Aaron’s confession in Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare)

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The only contemporary drawing of a Shakespeare scene [ca. 1595] with Aaron on the right…or not.
This week is Titus Andronicus week (that Shakespeare movie with Anthony Hopkins).

Or rather, Shakespeare’s bloodiest and rapiest play. Oh, and it includes an early “Your mama” insult.

Let’s see what the esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company has to say:

SYNOPSIS

A summary of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus – his most bloody revenge tragedy. 

The brothers Saturninus and Bassianus are in contention for the Roman emperorship.

Titus Andronicus, Rome’s most honoured general, returns from wars against the Goths with their queen, Tamora, her sons and her lover, Aaron the Moor, as captives. Her eldest son is sacrificed by Titus; she vows revenge.

A NEW EMPEROR

Titus is nominated emperor by his brother Marcus, one of Rome’s tribunes. This Titus declines, instead nominating Saturninus.

To seal the bond of friendship, the new emperor, Saturnius, offers to marry Titus’s daughter Lavinia. She, however, is already pledged to Bassianus.

Saturninus, by now infatuated with Tamora, makes her empress instead.

REVENGE

Manipulated by Aaron, Tamora’s sons, Chiron and Demetrius, avenge their mother by raping and mutilating Lavinia, and killing Bassianus. Aaron falsely implicates two of Titus’s sons in this murder.

In his turn Titus vows revenge and sends his surviving son Lucius to the Goths to raise an army. Titus achieves his revenge by killing Tamora’s sons and serving them up to her at a banquet, and then killing her.

He himself is killed by Saturninus and his death avenged by Lucius, who is made emperor.

Pleasant stuff there. I remember my jerkface English teacher in high school telling us how much Titus Andronicus sucked and how we shouldn’t even bother reading it.

And ask much of a jerkface as my English teacher was, the character of Aaron is a straight up dick.

And, in typical Shakespearean fashion, he’s bad simply because he’s bad. Though one could argue he’s bad because he’s the victim of racist abuse for…like ever.

I found some videos on Youtube of actors doing Aaron’s confession. Aaron is an interesting character for any actor because on one hand he absorbs all sorts of racism and actually kills someone on account of her racial slurs:

“Zounds, ye whore! Is black so base a hue?”

Yet at the same time seems to think having dark skin makes it OK for him to run around killing everyone:

“Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace; Aaron will have his soul black like his face.”

Here is the monologue:

AARON Ay, that I had not done a thousand more.
Even now I curse the day–and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,–
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death, 130
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night, 135
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees, 140
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed 145
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

There are multiple versions of Aaron’s confession monologue on Youtube. Let’s take a look:

A

 

B

 

C

 

D

 

E

 

F

 

G

 

H

 

I

 

J

 

K

 

L

 

M

 

N

 

O

 

He did it for the lolz.

For more Shakespeare monologues, check out:

Henry IV, part 2

The Two Noble Kinsmen

Cymbeline

Join us later this week when we meet Canada’s unsung playwriting hero – until next time…

Here’s a complete list of monologues on the site.

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Angelina Weld Grimké

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Angelina Weld Grimké was a very unique and interesting writer whose literary output consisted mostly of poetry and a few short stories. She also wrote two full-length plays, one of which was performed and published.

Angelina Weld Grimké wrote from a very personal place, and that personal place was incredibly unique. As another blog described it:

“Her family, within the three preceding generations, included slaveholders and slaves, free black people and white abolitionists.”  

Awkward family reunion jokes aside, that’s one interesting way to start life (we don’t really have any choice as to which family we’re born into – thanks Mom and Dad) and Angelina Weld Grimké continued to live her life in a singular way.

Her uncle was a celebrated pastor and civil rights leader. He co-founded the NAACP. Her father was a lawyer, journalist, diplomat and civil rights leader. On the other hand, her half-uncle was a vicious slave owner who owned and beat her father.

Her mother was a leading lecturer and author on the occult.

Her great-aunts were celebrated abolitionists and feminists.

Her life is more worthy of a book than a blog post.

I thought perhaps a timeline version of her life might suit our purposes. Still, one can see cause and effect…

1752-1819: Judge John Faucheraud Grimké  lives in Charleston, South Carolina and owns hundreds of slaves. He’s of mixed Alsatian and Huguenot descent (the surname was Grimk until an ancestor changed it). He is our playwright hero’s great-grandfather.

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Stern much? Our playwright’s great-grandfather.
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Mary Grimké, our playwright’s great-grandmother.

1792 and 1805: His daughters, the “Grimké Sisters” are born (Sarah and Angelina). They are two of 14 children. They are our playwright’s great-aunts.  

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Stern, but cool. Our badass playwright’s badass great-aunts.

1820s: The Grimke sisters hate slavery. Both move north and become famous abolitionists and feminists. Angelina marries into the Boston Brahmin Weld family, also abolitionists.

They are still so famous that American high school students are forced to make videos pretending to be them:

I guess they lost their Charleston accents…

1840-1850s: Following the death of his wife, their brother Henry Grimké has three children with one of his slaves, Nancy Weston. Henry and Nancy are our playwright’s grandparents.

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Nancy Weston, our playwright hero’s grandmother. From here. Angelina idolized her grandmother.

1852: Henry dies and wills his children to his son Montague, with the provision that they be treated as part of the family. For a few years Nancy lives on her own with the boys.

1857: Montague doesn’t respect his father’s wishes and takes the boys into his house as slaves. He and his wife beat them severely and often. In fact he even takes Archibald to the local police to have them whip him. Montague viewed Archie as a “surly, callow, ungracious, and insulting servant.” Never mind that they were half-brothers. Archie is our playwright’s father.

1861: US Civil War begins.

1862: At age 12, Archie runs away and hides out in Charleston, “emerging at night dressed as a girl.”

1865: US Civil War ends. The three boys go north and enroll in Lincoln University.

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From left, the playwright’s uncle Francis, father Archibald and uncle John as young men.

1868: Angelina Grimké reads an article about Archibald Grimké being such a great student. She visits him and learns about their family connection. She welcomes the boys into her home. The sisters help them as much as possible. Archibald will graduate from Harvard Law School and his brother Francis will graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary

1879: Archibald Grimke marries Sarah Stanley, a white woman from a prominent abolitionist family. Her family opposes the marriage. Information about her isn’t as scarce as Wikipedia pretends.

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Sarah Stanley Grimké, our playwright’s mother.

1880: Their only child, our playwright hero Angelina Weld Grimké is born, named after her great-aunt.

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Sarah Grimké and daughter Angelina, 1880.

Spring 1882: Sarah takes Angelina to Michigan for a visit to her family. This “visit” turns into her keeping Angelina from the child’s father. Archibald writes a bunch of letters begging her to return.

Fall 1882: She returns briefly after Archibald secures an apartment for her in Boston, but quickly leaves again. She probably suffered from mental illness

1882-1887: Angelina is raised by Sarah and her white grandparents in Michigan. Archibald continues to beg her to return to Boston. Even as late as 1886, he is asking her to take their wedding vows seriously. 

Sarah embarks on a career writing and lecturing about astrology, the occult and metaphysical solutions of illness. Often, while travelling, she brings Angelina with her, including to California.

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Sarah Grimké’s book Esoteric Lessons certainly lives up to the title.

Archibald was also a writer. He worked as a columnist for the Boston Herald and eventually founded his own newspaper, The Guardian.

1887: Sarah Grimké puts her seven year-old daughter Angelina on a train from California to Boston. All by herself. 

She’ll sporadically write letters to her daughter, but will never see her again.  The letters have a case of the weirds. 

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Typical letter from a mother to a seven year old. Yep.

Fall 1887: Now living with her father, Angelina begins attending the mostly white Fairmount School in Hyde Park. She may have attended school in California at some point.

February 1891: Angelina writes her first known poem. It is about death. 

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Note her pose and posture. And the fact she’s holding hands with the girl next to her.

May 1893: Angelina publishes a poem in the local newspaper, The Grave in the Corner, about a Union veteran’s grave.  

Her published poetry tended to be about nature, elegies, love in general and later about racial themes and civil rights.

Her unpublished poetry seemed to dwell on death and lesbian love.

1894: Following her father’s move to Washington, DC she attends the all-black M Street School for a school year.

Early 1894: Archbald is appointed American Consul to the Dominican Republic. He leaves Angelina with his brother Francis and sister-in-law in DC. Angelina is rebellious and they fight often.

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Her uncle, Francis Grimké, whom she stayed with and often fought. Her father banished her to Minnesota for her troubles.

At this time, 14 year-old Angelina took several photos in costumes her father had sent her. She then mailed them to her father.

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She looks extremely unhappy. What do you think is going on here?

1895: Due to the impossible situation with her uncle and aunt, Angelina is sent very far away to Carleton Academy in Northfield, Minnesota.

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Via here.

While at Carleton, she receives letters from former classmate  and future playwright Mary Burrill from Washington, DC hinting at a relationship. 

Also, she writes a love letter to a “Mamie” – probably a white classmate but also possibly Burrill back in DC. It includes these lines:

I know you are too young now to become my wife, but I hope, darling, that in a few years you will come to me and be my love, my wife! How my brain whirls how my pulse leaps with joy and madness when I think of these two words, ‘my wife’

Later, Mary Burrill and Angelina would be coworkers at the same school, ironically educating future playwrights!

1897: Attends Cushing Academy in Massachsuetts. Writes a love poem “Rosabel” about one of her teachers.

“Rosabel”

I

Leaves, that whisper, whisper ever,

Listen, listen, pray;

Birds, that twitter, twitter softly,

Do not say me nay;

Winds, that breathe about, upon her,

(Since I do not dare)

Whisper, twitter, breathe unto her

That I find her fair.

II

Rose whose soul unfolds white petaled

Touch her soul rose-white;

Rose whose thoughts unfold gold petaled

Blossom in her sight;

Rose whose heart unfolds red petaled

Quick her slow heart’s stir;

Tell her white, gold, red my love is;

And for her, — for her

Early 1898: Her father returns from the Dominican Republic. 

Fall 1898: She graduates from Girls’ Latin School in Boston.

September 1898: After suffering from rheumatic heart disease most of her life, Angelina’s mother Sarah commits suicide in San Diego.

1902: Graduates from Boston Normal School of Gymnastics [now part of Wellesley College]. 

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Around the time she graduated college.

1902: Begins teaching Physical Education at all-black Armstrong Vocational Training School in Washington, DC. She does not get along with the principal and receives poor evaluations. Her father intervenes several times. She switches to teaching English.

Writes Give Me Your Eyes. It isn’t published in her lifetime.

Give me your eyes.

I do not ask to touch

The hands of you, the mouth of you,

Soft and sweet and fragrant though they be.

No, lift your eyes to mine;

Give me but one last look

Before I step forth forever;

Even though within that moment’s crashing space,

I shall know all of life and death heaven and hell

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Her and her father at about this time.

She also writes Naughty Nan, which may be about herself [Her nickname was Nana]

I

Naughty Nan

If you can

Tell me how your frowns and smiles,

Sudden tears, and naive wiles,

Linked into a glittering band

Follow swiftly hand in hand?

Tell me wayward April-born,

Child of smiles and tears forlorn,

Have you ever felt the smart

Of a lacerated heart?

Are you but a sprite of moods?

Heartless, that fore’er deludes

Tell me naughty Nan?

II

Naughty Nan

If you can

Tell me why you have such eyes

Gleaming when not drooped in sighs

Or when veiled by falling rain?

Haughty oft but never vain

Sometime wistful orbs of brown,

Sometimes blazing in fierce scorn

But eyes that are never free

From some glance of witchery.

Tell me why you have such lips

Tempting me to stolen sips

Tender, drooping, luring, sad,

Laughing, mocking, madly glad,

Tell me naughty Nan?

III

Naughty Nan

If you can

Tell me why you play with me,

Take my heart so prettily

In your dainty, slender, hands,

Bruise its tender, loving, bands?

Tell me why your eyes are brown

Mock and glitter when I frown?

Flitting, luring, little, sprite

In a garb of moods bedight,

Dancing here, and dancing there,

Changeling strange, but ever fair

You have caught me in your snare, —

Naughty Nan.

1903: Angelina starts writing a diary in response to being rejected by [probably] a white man. In it, she talks of suicide. He was a professional American singer based in London. In her diary she mentions that when he sang “My Rosary” for her she made him stop because it caused too much pain. 

*I know several scholars think this was a lesbian affair, but she uses masculine pronouns in the diaries, calls him a man and in a diary entry many years later mentions his name. And she discussed it with her father, who flipped his lid.

This also provides an impetus to her writing and her devotion to her father as the following diary entries indicate:

I am very tired of living. There is nothing to look forward to, only a year of school with a vacation at the end […] There is writing, but the great emptiness of many years before [me] with nothing to look forward to at the end. When people talk about what they are going to do in the future all I think to to myself is ‘What does it all amount to?’ At the end there is only the grave. There is no cure for this everlasting heartache. It never lets up […] I have given up my girlhood. I can never be a girl again. That is gone, and I am an old woman at heart.

Three days later she had this to say:

I have entirely two reasons for living, my dear father and my writing. they must fill my life absolutely. I can never expect to love again. This shall be the beginning, the real beginning of my effort to crush it out forever. […] It almost hurts me to see that my love for you [the man who disappointed her] is nearly as great as that for my father. It hurts me also to see that he has a rival for I do, I do love him so much.

This marked a focus on making her dad happy and writing.

1907: She transfers to the all-black M Street School and teaches English there. She does well there.

1909: Publishes El Beso in the Boston Transcript.

Twilight—and you
Quiet—the stars;
Snare of the shine of your teeth,
Your provocative laughter,
The gloom of your hair;
Lure of you, eye and lip;
Yearning, yearning,
Languor, surrender;
Your mouth,
And madness, madness,
Tremulous, breathless, flaming,
The space of a sigh;
Then awakening—remembrance,
Pain, regret—your sobbing;
And again, quiet—the stars,
Twilight—and you.

1911: She suffers a broken back in a train wreck in Connecticut. 14 people died, including a lady in Grimké’s car. She must recuperate for months at a home with her father, uncle and his wife. She will suffer chronic health problems after this.

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Grimké survived this. The St. Louis Cardinals baseball team were heroes. 100 years later another train crashed at the same place.

1914: Her famous aunt, Charlotte Forten Grimké passes away. She writes this poem for her, published in The Crisis:

Still are there wonders of the dark and day;
The muted shrilling of shy things at night,
So small beneath the stars and moon;
The peace, dream-frail, but perfect while the light
Lies softly on the leaves at noon.
These are, and these will be
Until eternity;
But she who loved them well has gone away.

Each dawn, while yet the east is veil’d grey,
The birds about her window wake and sing;
And far away, each day, some lark
I know is singing where the grasses swing;
Some robin calls and calls at dark.
These are, and these will be
Until eternity;
But she who loved them well has gone away.

The wild flowers that she loved down green ways stray;
Her roses lift their wistful buds at dawn,
But not for eyes that loved them best;
Only her little pansies are all gone,
Some lying softly on her breast.
And flowers will bud and be
Until eternity;
But she who loved them well has gone away.

Where has she gone? And who is there to say?
But this we know: her gentle spirit moves
And is where beauty never wanes,
Perchance by other streams, ‘mid other groves:
And to us here, ah! she remains A lovely memory
Until eternity;
She came, she loved, and then she went away.

1916: Grimké begins teaching at Dunbar High School, where future playwright May Miller is her student and former [probably] girlfriend Mary Burrill.

Also 1916: She writes an anti-lynching play, Rachel, that is produced and published. We’ll talk about this soon.

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Photo from a 1923 publication.

1926: She retires from teaching to take care of her sick father.

1927: Publishes much poetry, including:

An Epitaph on a Living Woman

There were tiny flames in her eyes,

Her mouth was a flame,

And her flesh. . . . . . .

Now she is ashes.

1930: Her father dies. Angelina quickly leaves the DC house for New York City and never publishes any new writing again. Scholars have pointed out that the death of her father seemed to rob her of the will to write as well as to live.

1955: She was interviewed by Katherine DuPre Lumpkin about her famous family for a book.

1958: Angelina Weld Grimké passes away, having spent nearly 30 years as a recluse.

Like I said, a blog post won’t do her justice.

Now, on to Rachel. 

The plot concerns the humble Loving family. They live up North and consist of Ma Loving, her teenaged daughter Rachel and teenaged son Tom. Through incidents in the plot we discover what happened to their father and brother ten years before.

In the course of the story the family adopts a neighbor boy. A young man courts harasses comes on strong to Rachel. 

There is much discussion about race and racism and American society. Rachel gets snubbed by a supposed friend who is white. The young boy they take in gets called the n-word and harassed and Rachel comes to a dread realization at the end. 

The play was specifically written in response to the NAACP’s call for scripts in response to the overwhelming success of proto-Nazifest film Birth of a Nation (which was, itself, a successful play). The fact her father was national vice-president of the NAACP and local Washington, DC president may have played a part. 

The absolute most impressive, yet painfully sad, aspect of the play is that despite being written in 1916, it may as well be set in 2019 America. 

As the son Tom observes:

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For those unaware of voter supression in the US, start here.

Or as Tom’s older buddy Strong remarks:

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And as Rachel points out…

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She’s talking about the prospect of lynching here, which still exists in America, albeit in an even more nefarious form.

One common criticism of Rachel is that the language is stilted or speechy,

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“Her conversation with her mother […] feels stilted, the anecdotes they share rarely of much note.”

But these reviews seem to forget we’re dealing with the author of some badass and powerfully vivid poetry….true, the play may be “speechy” – but the good type of speechy.

Rachel begins the play loaded with optimism. She totally wants to be a mother and loves children.

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Interesting thread from the Biblical story of Mary to 1916 Rachel (who, incidentally has a a Biblical name).

She particularly loves “black and brown babies”:

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Compare this to how Rachel evolves:

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Remember, Grimké herself made a similar vow albeit in different circumstances.

Going from Rachel’s point A to Point B constitutes much of the plot. We’ll explore this in a minute…but first, another reason to commend this play:

Rachel is such a willful, strong and yet conflicted character. It would be a great role for any actress. 

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Rachel Guy Moore in the original production of Rachel in 1916. Note those flowers.
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2016 Kansas City production.

She works well with children, plus the kids are awfully sweet:

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She provides counseling to a mother whose child has become withdrawn due to racism at her school.

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Rachel and Ma. London production.
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From a 2016 Kansas City production.
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A Maine production.

The mother enquires about the school Rachel attended and explains her daughter’s situation:

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From a 2016 Kansas City production.

Rachel does indeed brag up the school – Grimké herself usually attended mostly white schools.

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Those plot points I mentioned? Pretty much all of them have to do with Rachel seeing the effects of racism on her family in particular and African-Americans in general.

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Mrs. Lane and Rachel, London production.

Rachel learns what happened to her father and brother:

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Father and brother dying on the same day does sound a little..

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Damn. And by Christians, too. But then the mom gives the reason:

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Rachel and John Strong. London production.

The father had been a newspaper editor (just like Grimké’s own father) and had been threatened, simply because he printed the truth (about the first murder) and then he and his son were killed. Remember how I mentioned this may as well be 2019? There’s a reason Time magazine picked journalists as “People of the Year” (Hint: being good journalists can be lethal)

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Rachel and Jimmy. London production.

Remember that child Rachel adopted after his parents passed away? She got to have this conversation with them:

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That conversation.

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2016 Kansas City production.

Rachel has also attracted the male gaze:

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She handles it.

Other characterization is just as rich. Rachel’s brother Tom, the football hero of the show.

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Quarterbacking comes with dangers beyond CTE, though.

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Oh.

Tom can dish it out. When he learns what really happened to his father and brother, well…

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Great emotion.

Much like his sister, Tom learns how 2019 1916 America really works.

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“The scum of the earth shall succeed.”

Several critics have looked for autobiographical elements in the play – and they seem to be there. Rachel is “brown” (i.e. lighter complected), she and her family are highly educated. The father was a journalist who fought bigotry. She had a failed romance. The mother suffers from rheumatism, as did Grimké’s. And she foreswore any chance of having children.

Here’s a talented actress using some lines from Rachel as a monologue on Youtube.

Another aspect that appears obvious is mental illness. In fact Grimké herself refers to Rachel as a “highly-strung girl” in a piece defending the play.

Mental health in America remains a stigma for both white and black Americans. Not only do African Americans face more stressors, but also have fewer options for treatement.

Given Grimké’s unique family history – the unusually close relationship with her father, the remarks from others that she seemed unhappy often, her mother’s suicide and claims from others that she was paranoid – it makes sense that the hero of the tale is, well, highly strung.

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Killing as a kindness.

Earlier, her mother had found her unconscious after having apparently violently attacked the flowers John Strong had given her.

Rachel goes on…

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In all fairness, being called “little girl” when you’re 22 might  be a trigger.

So Rachel breaks down cursing God, hearing her children in her sleep and laughing uncontrollably. Yeah.

NOW, on the other hand…she recently learned her father and brother were victims of nice white Christians – and now nice white Christians are harassing her adopted child. And others. WHO could hold it together???

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Cast of a Brooklyn production.

Rachel shares an interesting story with young Jimmy. This would make for a great monologue.

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2016 Kansas City production.

Grimké takes her poet’s pen to even the description. Who here is sick of seeing submission requirements that look like this?

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Nobody told Grimké about all this minimalism, or if they did, she ignored it to death –  so we get some beautiful descriptions such as:

image

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Pictured above: Grimké’s middle finger to 21st century theatrical minimalism.

If you haven’t noticed, their house has some famous paintings. Let’s take a look:

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Assuming she meant The Gleaners, since The Reapers doesn’t exist, although Millet did paint The Reaper.
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This is The Reaper by Millet. Fear him.
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Burne-Jones‘ Golden Stairs. Welcome to the pre-Raphaelite world. I’d say this is the opposite of “simply framed” (as in the play). And did you know there’s a blog all about frames???
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Raphael‘s Sistine Madonna.

I like that the play uses real paintings. The second act presents us with different paintings.

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[Insert Man with a Hoe joke here]
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Let’s talk about Watts’ Hope, or rather what Wikipedia has to say about it:

“As cheap reproductions of Hope, and from 1908 high-quality prints, began to circulate in large quantities, it became a widely popular image. President Theodore Roosevelt displayed a copy at his Sagamore Hill home in New York; reproductions circulated worldwide; and a 1922 film depicted Watts’s creation of the painting and an imagined story behind it.”

…Hope remained influential. Martin Luther King Jr. based a 1959 sermon, now known as Shattered Dreams, on the theme of the painting, as did Jeremiah Wright in Chicago in 1990. Among the congregation for the latter was the young Barack Obama, who was deeply moved. Obama took “The Audacity of Hope” as the theme of his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, and as the title of his 2006 book; he based his successful 2008 presidential campaign around the theme of “Hope”.”

Interesting.

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Poster for a Maine production.

The play also features music of the era.

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Here’s Mighty Lak a Rose in 1915.

For fun, here’s the Paul Robeson version:

 

And here is Slumber Boat. 

 

And finally here is At Twilight (music only):

 

 

You probably noticed Ethelbert Nevin‘s name pop up a couple of times. It seems Grimké was a bit of a fangirl, as you may recall:

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In this book.

I’m guessing she meant The Rosary by Nevin. This singer was the guy Grimké had fallen in love with. And wow…he could do some damage with just a song. In fact, this song:

“taken a knife and run it all around and, in and out an old unhealed wound.”

Although it seems minor in biographies and such, it’s obvious that Grimké dug Nevin’s music or was at least fond enough of it to have some guy sing it to her and two put two songs in the play.

Another interesting aspect of the play is that it depicts the world of children well:

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Finally, we should see how the play ends…

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The play had a couple of performances in 1916…

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Via here.

The play was published in 1920 and that’s when it gained wider exposure.

Reviews were generally favorable, the main criticisms being that the character of Rachel is a bit extreme and also that the play appears to be promoting “race suicide” since Rachel seems to have given up on black and brown babies.

In fact, Grimké responded to her critics:

“Since it has been understood that ‘Rachel’ preaches race suicide, I would emphasize that that was not my intention. To the contrary, the appeal is not primarily to the colored people, but to the whites.”

She claimed her main purpose was to appeal to white women‘s sense of motherhood and that as mothers, these women would be sympathetic to the play.

Her subsidiary motive was to show white people the “best type of colored people.”

As for the story and characterization in the play, her argument is that Rachel learns or realizes the harsh truth facing African-Americans and has a breakdown “in mind and soul.”

On a rather random note, she even got fan mail from H.G. Wells. (yes, the War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau guy)

He wrote the play was “a most moving one that has stirred me profoundly.”

Grimké wrote a second play, Mara, which only exists in manuscript form. It has been reviewed extensively by writers who’ve gone through the Grimké papers at Howard University. I haven’t, so I can’t rightly analyze it. It is set in the South, maintains the theme of lynching but also has a very close daughter-father relationship. Some readers have said it is better than Rachel.

Since Hull’s rediscovery of Grimké’s works about 40 years ago, there has been much scholarship as well as several productions of Rachel. 

Grimké’s reputation and renown rest mostly on her incredible poetry, which I encourage you to seek out. It really is good. Here’s one of her more famous ones:

Tenebris

There is a tree, by day,

That, at night,

Has a shadow,

A hand huge and black,

With fingers long and black.

All through the dark,

Against the white man’s house,

In the little wind,

The black hand plucks and plucks

At the bricks.

The bricks are the color of blood and very small.

Is it a black hand,

Or is it a shadow?

We’ll see what we can cover in the link dump after this student video based on one of her poems:

Her life

(I used many of these in the research)

Hull’s groundbreaking book.

Honey’s excellent follow-up.

Beemyn’s smasterful study.

Her poems

57 poems right here.

Her short stories

The Closing Door

Collected writings

Her plays

Rachel, full text

History of the play.

Production at the University of Kansas.

Another review.

London production, 2014.

Review.

Brooklyn production

Review.

Review.

Review.

Another review.

Video about a Maine production.

Mara, and the difficulties of studying an unpublished work

Scholarly work

A good list of academic studies of Grimké’s work

Her family (use these as jumping off points for more study)

Her great-aunts Sarah and Sarah’s writing and Angelina and Angelina’s writing.

Her uncle and his writing.

Her mother and her writing.

Her father and his writing.

Her aunt (by marriage) and her writing.

Even her slave-owning great-grandfather’s writing .

A distant relative’s WordPress site.

BONUS POEM! Congratulations, you made it to the end of the longest post on this blog!!! You get a happy poem from Angelina Weld Grimké!!!

May

May, thou lovely month of spring!

As a fairy thou com’st dancing,

Sweetness rests upon thy brow,

Smiles upon thy face are glancing,

Angel hands have thee caressed,

Chirrup birds to thee in bowers,

Heaven thy gentle head hath blest;

Underneath thy quiet breast

Softly sleep thy tender flowers.

Every day thou smilest brightly,

Till thou seest has come thy day,

Then, with longing eyes turned backward,

Sighing low, thou steal’st away.

For a list of all our other playwrights, click here.

 

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

  If I had known
Two years ago how drear this life should be,
And crowd upon itself all strangely sad,
Mayhap another song would burst from out my lips,
Overflowing with the happiness of future hopes;
Mayhap another throb than that of joy.
Have stirred my soul into its inmost depths,
           If I had known.

  If I had known,
Two years ago the impotence of love,
The vainness of a kiss, how barren a caress,
Mayhap my soul to higher things have soarn,
Nor clung to earthly loves and tender dreams,
But ever up aloft into the blue empyrean,
And there to master all the world of mind,
            If I had known.

If I Had Known” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson, published at age 20.

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Our poet, playwright, novelist, short story writer, journalist, teacher, activist and hero. Via here.

This week’s subject is quite renowned. Many studies of her life have been done and are readily available online.

The purpose of this blog is to highlight unknown playwrights and we’ll look at Mrs. Dunbar-Nelson as a playwright but also in regards to her other work as it seems fit.

She was born Alice Ruth Moore in 1875 in New Orleans. Her mother was a seamstress and former slave and her father was a white sailor. She grew up in the Creole culture of New Orleans.

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Because a license plate totally makes up for generations of discrimination. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Moore was able to graduate college in an era when almost no Americans even attended college:

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College graduation rates. Note the close proximity to “zero” in 1900. Dunbar-Nelson graduated from college in 1892 at the age of 16!!!
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People of African descent were pretty close to zero college graduation rate in 1900. Dunbar-Nelson beat the odds into a bloody mangled pulp.

For the record, she graduated from the HBCU Straight University (now part of Dillard University).

She published her first book at age 20. At this time, she moved to New York City where she helped found and worked at the White Rose Mission. From Wikipedia:

“Founded to offer shelter and food to destitute migrants,The White Rose Mission also offered job placement for the new arrivals. As African American workers were relegated to jobs as unskilled laborers, conditions and opportunities for African American female workers in New York City were deplorable. The aim of the employment placement service of the White Rose Mission was to furnish skilled, circumspect domestic workers to middle-class homes. The Mission also offered instruction in aspects of housekeeping, such as: cooking, sewing, expert waiting and laundering. Additionally The Mission provided a clean parlor where women who were dues-paying members could entertain callers.

The White Rose Mission evolved to provide social services unavailable to African Americans in New York City such as enrichment classes, child-rearing instructions and a Penny Provident Bank thrift program. The White Rose Mission also maintained a library of works relevant to the history and accomplishments of African and African American people.”

The mission’s library even included a 1773 edition of Phyllis Wheatley‘s poems. I like to think maybe Dunbar-Nelson made that happen.

By the late 1890s, her poems and stories were being regularly published in America, where they caught the interest of famed poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Supposedly he fell in love with her at first poem/photo. They corresponded for two years before finally meeting at which point he proposed to her.

This marriage has been called “tragic” “troubled” – I’ll call a loser a loser. Paul Lawrence Dunbar was a psychopathic rapist and wife beater.

According to the brilliant book about their marriage by Eleanor Alexander ,  Dunbar raped his future wife before the marriage and her physical recovery from that rape took several months. His treatment of her (not surprisingly) remained the same throughout the marriage when he was actually home. He’d leave her home alone for months at a time while he went on recitation tours. The marriage effectively ended when “he beat Alice within an inch of her life.”

In Alice’s own words:

“He came home one night in a beastly condition. I went to him to help him to bed—and he behaved . . . disgracefully. He left that night, and I was ill for weeks with peritonitis brought on by his kicks.”

She never returned to him and only communicated once when she replied “No” to one of many, many letters he sent her begging forgiveness, etc.

Now we must take a time out for a bit.

If you’re in an abusive relationship or even just have questions, please use this site in the US.

In Canada, you can reach out here. And in the UK, here. We love Unknown Playwrghts and despise domestic violence.

In fact, I propose we rename all those high schools named after Paul.  Let’s rename them after his wife…

Though Dunbar-Nelson is chiefly remembered for her exquisite poetry, short stories and journalism, she did write at least three plays.

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“A magazine of cleverness?” More like “You can line the litter box with its smugness.”

The play is so short, you can read it in two pages.

 

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Mrs. Paul Laurence Dunbar.” She certainly earned that title. Via here.

So the humor is lame corny gentle. I could totally see a modern artistic director rejecting this play for having too many characters in such a short amount of time as well as “We don’t do period pieces.” Then, when being told it’s by the famous Alice Dunbar-Nelson, having a theatregasm and producing it with an era-appropiriate atlas and a prologue explaining the Boer War. Sigh.

It’s doubtful this was ever performed. It seems to be a closet comedy. The magazine, The Smart Set, was on its way to becoming a big deal. It would go on to publish Joyce, Conrad, Yeats, Pound, Strindberg and Fitzgerald.  That Dunbar-Nelson could publish a piece in a magazine targeted at New York City’s elite shows her immense ability.

Between this and her next play, she taught high school, wrote a bunch of short stories and poems which made her relatively famous and she left Dunbar, secretly married Henry Arthur Callis, a prominent doctor and one of the founders of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity , divorced him and married Robert J. Nelson. And had a few girlfriends.

Among the women Dunbar-Nelson would have relationships with in her life were Edwina B. Kruse, the principal of the high school where she taught, artist Helene London and journalist/activist Fay Jackson Robinson.

Despite her journalism being geared towards black readers, her fiction and poetry largely avoided discussion of race. As the great Gloria T. Hull puts it:

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Please buy/read the entire book here.

I’m pretty sure explicitly racial content in her fiction and poetry would’ve hampered her publication chances for a larger (i.e. white) audience.

This changed around the time of her last marriage where she began to explicitly write about race quite often.

One interesting work she composed was An Hawaiian Idyll, a full-length operetta. This script was never published, but two documents related to it are in her papers at the University of Delaware.

The plot is loosely inspired by the sad fate of Hawaiian Princess Ka’iulani

For those of you not familiar with her story, it’s tied up with Hawaii’s story, namely the monarchy was overthrown by a missionary kid and annexed by the Americans. Then the princess died, of rheumatism.

In the play, the plot is similar, but the setting has been re-imagined to serve Dunbar-Nelson’s purpose: as an allegory for “Africans’ loss of culture and identity in the Americas.”

In the play, “Kaiulani” is sent abraod to be educated, ends up in San Francisco where she learns her mom has been overthrown and rushes home to save the day where she restores Hawaiian sovereignty and the monarchy. None of that happened. Some interesting postmodern alternate history there.

As far as we know, the play was performed only once, at the high school where the author taught. The play would’ve been performed by an all-African American cast.

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Brief snippet via The Crisis. February 1917.The “native instruments” were directed by Conwell Banton who had his own career of awesomeness.

Here is an interesting analysis of what little is known of the operetta.

And thus we move on to 1918 and The Crisis, the magazine put out by the NAACP. Shortly before this this time editor W.E.B. Du Bois was taking the magazine in a radical (for then) direction, even publishing a photo of the lynching of Jesse Washington. WARNING: the Wiki article has some graphic photos. He also opposed African Americans supporting the war effort against Germany, though he may have had personal reasons for doing so….

“Du Bois was so taken with some aspects of German social behavior that he retained certain habits from his student days in Berlin for the rest of his life. Prussian social customs gave him, or at least reinforced in him, a certain distinguished bearing or carriage, an apparent aloofness not uncommon among shy people. This trait, augmented by a clipped manner of speech Du Bois acquired in Germany, was often misunderstood as reserve, distance, even haughtiness, and was to characterize Du Bois for the rest of his life. In his physical appearance Du Bois, described later in life as a mandarin, was just following the fashion set by the Kaiser in his style of trimming his hair and beard, as well as his habitual use of a cane and gloves.”

images

Exhibit A: Kaiser Wilhelm II with goofy moustache and eagle taking a dump on his head.

800px-WEB_DuBois_1918

Exhibit B: W.E.B. Du Bois with goofy moustache, but no eagle plus a goatee.

So the US government used the Espionage Act to lean on the paper and Du Bois promised to self-censor, which resulted in the magazine actually supporting the war against Germany.

And that is where Dunbar-Nelson’s play  fits into the puzzle of WWI propoganda. She wrote a play with a purpose and that purpose was to encourage African Americans to totally support America fighting a European war.

The plot is pretty straightforward. A family who lost their father in a lynching and now live in the north have a debate when one of the boy’s is drafted. Various ethnic neighbors chime in and an outside social worker also gives her two cents. It’s interesting and definitely a relic of it’s era. This isn’t the first time this blog has profiled a WWI propoganda play.

Highlights of the play:

  1. The play establishes a place and time and one quite different from the comedy.
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The time was…1918.
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“Brown-skinned” was a term used to distinguish from darker skinned people. Aka “Colorism.
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Lucy of the “pathetic” face. Heck, my face is waaay more pathetic than hers. Illustrations for the play were done by Laura Wheeler.

2.  An early written use of the word “not” to negate the previous statement.  

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This trend was popularized by the Bill & Ted movies and Wayne’s World sketches and movies in the 1990s. Further discussion here.

Lowlights:

It is pure propoganda, as this exchange about Huns Germans commiting some insane atrocities:

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Otherlights:

Man, that brooding character of Chris. He gives zero f*cks about little white babies.

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This Chris is a bit of a badass. And familiar enough with ancient and Biblical history to invoke Moloch.

He even gets to deliver a badass monologue. Warning: archaic racial slur at the end.

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This was such a tough monologue that an actor on Youtube covered it…

See what Dunbar-Nelson did there with the card game metaphor?

And for the ending, which is a relic of its day:

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At least one scholar has suggested Cornelia is the author’s avatar in the story.

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The whole scene, well-illustrated by Laura Wheeler.

Here’s a video of a table read of the play from Chengchi University in Taiwan:

 

The only known full production happened at the high school Dunbar-Howard taught at, where, according to her niece “She produced her play and  we all took parts. The audience loved it…but nobody would publish it.” That niece, Pauline Young, was her aunt’s student at the time and would go on to do great things.

A formidable part of this play is that it may have been written with white readers/audiences in mind. There’s the criticism of how America treats her minorities but also reassurrances that black soldiers and civilians will do their part to stop the “Hun.” In this manner it may very well be worth reviving, as this is an argument that isn’t going away any time soon.

Dunbar-Nelson left a relatively small (two short plays and a full-length operetta) but highly interesting canon of theatre work that deserves rediscovery.

More could be  (and has been) written about Alice Dunbar-Nelson: her life as an LGBT pioneer and icon, as a Creole woman of the 19th Century, as a prominent poet and as a writer in general.

Before the link dump, here is a video of a young student reciting the Dunbar-Nelson poem/lament “I Sit and See” – a commentary on American women’s plight in her era.

 

For all our other playwrights, please check here.

The plays:

Mine Eyes Have Seen (slow load, but worth it)

The Smart Set

An Hawaiian Idyll (analysis of two documents).

The woman:

Her life (with MASSIVE list of links)

Another bio

Her diary.

Her works:

Good place to start.

archive.org

Scholarship regarding Dunbar-Nelson.

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

A Halloween play: Edyth M. Wormwood

Ah yes. Time for that grand old holiday full of ghosts, goblins, witches and Halloween plays.

There exists a microscopic subgenre of Halloween-themed plays. Even more microscopic since we’re limiting ourselves to public domain work.

Halloween was celebrated a bit differently 100+ years ago. There seemed to be much more emphasis on the “trick” part as this headline attests:

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1915: Police Chief Grant sounds like a barrel of laughs. Via here.

Even Canadians could not restrain themselves:

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1902: Via here.

And this tragedy:

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1900: Via here.

Slightly less sociopathic activities included various methods on how to divine one’s true love, as this postcard attests:

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When humans obeyed their pumpkin king. Via here.

The reason this applies to Halloween plays is that “romance” on Halloween was a bigger deal then and the plays mention it.

Oh, Halloween postcards were totally a thing.

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The most disturbing thing you’ll see this Halloween (besides that drunk dude in the Trump mask). Via here.

The first plays I took a look at were by Elizabeth F. Guptill, who wrote a bunch of books for children, including many plays. She also wrote hymns and in 1915 published the The Big Book of Hallowe’en. Several plays are included. However the book should be called The Big Racist Book of Hallowe’en:

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Yeah, F that book right into the sun.

Fortunately there were Hallowe’en plays from the same era that weren’t drenched in the vile acid of racism.

Our play is The Haunted Gate by Edyth M. Wormwood, a one-act.

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Says it right on the cover.

Edyth M.’s maiden name was Guptill and she wrote plays for kids and came from the same state as the other Guptill. This makes me suspect she’s Elizabeth’s daughter/niece/kin. Perhaps racism skips a generation? Hopefully.

The plot (using the term loosely) has high schoolers Marion, Grace, Irene, Marie and Ruth huddled around making Halloween plans. They write all their ideas on pieces of paper and…

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Enter the “Booger Man’s Hole” at your peril, kids.

Unknown
A jardiniere, the real hero. Right here.

I do enjoy this example of the horror trope of dumb teenagers going where other people are smart enough to not go. Irene explains why:

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This play does not mess around! How many other high school plays start off with a double-murder and suicide? Tragical indeed!

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Yeah, Marie – only speak when spoken to, impudent child! Nice of the ghosts to re-enact a murder suicide once a year.

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Ruth and Marion lack critical thinking skills, probably because they’ve been running with unladylike and ungovernable young ladies.

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Angeline at the ripe old age of 35 (or 50) is the intelligent one here. But I do love Grace’s logic involving ghost pistols.

Ralph, Irene’s brother, had been kicked out earlier by the girls, but creeper extraordinaire, he’s been watching and delivers a maniacal monologue after they leave:

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Yes, Ralph, you weird bastard, “’twill be more fun than a barrel of monkeys.” And he’s making Halloween “spicier.” Ugh.

Ralph and his brother decide that they’ll re-enact the murder to scare the ladies, because these were before the days of internet trolls.

But didn’t the murder include a woman? Well, duh – they figured that one out:

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Poor Don Herrick is gonna get peer-pressured into cross-dressing just to scare some girls. Philip and Ralph could, ya know, find an actual girl. On second thought, probably not. I think we’re looking at the founders of the incel community.

While the proto-incels are planning to punish innocent women, the women are punishing themselves by trying to divine future husbands.

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s-l1600
They’re doing exactly this. From Ebay!

The women prepare to go to the Booger Man’s Hole:

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THIS PLAY DOES NOT MESS AROUND!!!

You bring that gun, Aunt Matilda! She’ll be killing a few incels anyways.

Meanwhile, the boys are at the Booger Man’s Hole and are learning the nuances of spooning.

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“I saw them spooning at the Booger Man’s Hole” should be a better example.

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I know you’re amazed the play has four scenes, too.

“I know I can’t talk like a girl.”

Please, you haven’t even tried.

“When did you get in your practice, and who was your partner?” #guytalk

“Oh, dry up.”

The ladies arrive and find the “ghosts” making out/spooning/engaging in foreplay…and…and…

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Let’s dissect what’s going on here.

  1. Voyeurism. The women stop to watch two ghosts make out, one of whom is a boy dressed like a girl. This fascinates them.
  2. Ralph has brought his own pistol and pretend-shoots the “lovers.” Talk about spoonus interruptus.
  3. Aunt Matilda is totally not scared but totally runs away.
  4. Ruth grabs her aunt’s pistol.
  5. The “wounded” lovers groan.
  6. Ralph pretends to kill himself.

So gunslinger Ruth decides to approach the “dead” ghosts with her pistol and you can see what happens…

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The play ends in a mixed message. Marie (the smartest character) gets a blackmail gift of Huyler’s chocolate and then everyone decides to cover for the boys’ stupidity. Boys acting dumb and not being held accountable? My how things have changed. Hehe.

OD3_007
Huyler’s ad from 1910. No wonder Marie wanted Huyler’s. She’s really, really enjoying that hug with Santa. I like how the reindeer are all embarassed and pretending not to look. Via here.

You can read this jolly Halloween play in its entirety here.

Other works by Wormwood are here. She even has a couple books on Amazon.

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Halloween – even found a good song for you!

It is a creepy/campy cover of The Zombies’ Time of the Season. For those of you not familiar with the original, it’s right here:

 

And now the Batlord version. When I grow up, I wanna be like Batlord.

 

Join us on Monologue Monday where once again, we’ll have competing monologues!

For a list of all of our playwrights, please check here.