Hello everyone and welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. Someone just beat up NaNoWriMo, so I can write a little bit about our favorite theatrical genre: really bad children’s plays based on American holidays. And we’re throwing in some Thanksgiving postcards, too.
We covered a lot of the origins of Thanksgiving in last year’s post. Basically, it’s an excuse to eat as much turkey as humanly possible and write internet articles about getting into a knife fight with relatives over you-know-who:
Meanwhile, if you’re the president, you just go ahead and make stuff up.
Horrible Thanksgiving plays are a safer alternative to either one of these options. A Thanksgiving Dream may as well be a nightmare with all the madness going on here. The play was written by Effa Estelle Preston:
Let’s check out the characters:
Our hero Jack has just eaten “a dandy meal.”
And like any normal kid from 1922, his dream is full of Pilgrim Maids.
The maids have established that the Native Americans were their friends. But Fourth Pilgrim Maiden is a little psychopath:
“I shot him as he ran away. They found him just outside.”
The play also neglects to tell us how Native Americans in the area obtained firearms prior ro the arrival of said Pilgrims.
Fifth Pilgrim Maid is simply a watered-down version of the Fourth. Scaring people with “Jack-Lanterns.”
One advantage the Pilgrims had when they landed, was that they were greeted by a Native American who already spoke English, thus setting up their descendants to be too lazy to learn any foreign language forever.
Some turkeys show up.
They do have a point.
OMG. The turkeys are gonna eat plump Jack!
Again, they have a point.
And then the goblins show up:
Sorry, Jack. The damage has been done.
Told you it was a nightmare.
A word to the wise: Don’t devour your friends!
This video has the original song (sorta) for Old Black Joe. For a song about a slave’s dying last words, it seems awfully happy:
And there you have A Thanksgiving Nightmare Dream.
But seriously, the absolute best part of the play is the list of available monologues on the back cover:
As thrilling as Susan Gets Ready for Church sounds, as Hallmark Channel-ly I’m Engaged might be, as fun as Gladys Reviews the Dance obviously is, my money is on Ask Ouija when it comes to sheer wholesome entertainment.
Effa Estelle Preston wrote a lot of plays. Normally, I’d list every single play, but she had at least 91 published playlets. Some of the highlights follow:
I couldn’t find out much about Ms. Preston, except she was born in 1884 in New Jersey and also died there at age 91 in 1975. She seems to have spent her working life as a public school teacher. On various census records, she’s listed as living with her mother, up to at least age 45. At one point she and her mother took in other female teachers as boarders. She doesn’t seem to have ever married. She did take a trip to France in 1929. I’d love to know more about her life.
In case you thought Thanksgiving plays were a thing of the past, we now give you this from like a week ago:
The antidote to the deluge of Thanksgiving plays might be The Thanksgiving Play by Lakota playwright Larissa FastHorse. Here is Ms. FastHorse talking about her wonderful play:
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.
The first play of Greg’s that I read was Monologue for a Woman. The play is only two pages long, so you can read it here:
This is an interesting discourse about honesty, but also about the banalities of life. The unseen interviewer(s) ask questions, but none of them contain any relevance. In fact it is the irrelevance of the unheard questions that provide the play’s relevance (and satire). But the character in the play can see through this irrelevance and calls them out on it in her own way.
The writing is sparse with a well-laced use of repetition in the “Good. Great. Good” progression.
Monologue for a Woman has had readings at Centastage’s Write On! and Playwrights’ Platform, both in the Boston area.
Greg did have a full-length production of a “Tinder meets vampire” play entitled Thirsty in Boston. The entire play is on Youtube. The beginning is here:
Apparently both the evening and matinee shows were recorded. Here is the matinee:
The second play I read was Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera. I read it because it has an awesome title. No, it’s not about my high school reunion. But about the porn industry in an alternate reality, dominated by women. The summary follows:
Sue has some problems. In a world where women, as opposed to men, run the internet porn industry, she’s a successful producer. But that success has bred enemies: the courts, the FBI, and of course, her own son. As her world unravels, and as people who she loves become irrevocably damaged, the cameras continue to roll, capturing scenes of love for millions to see. There may be only one thing that can save her, and everyone else, from the madness…an act of violence, a piece of salvation, for all the world to see….
Now the amazing thing is, this play is not a comedy. The story is universal enough that it transcends the setting – this is a play about someone whose lifetime of bad choices catches up to her.
The scenes involving Jake (a lad in his 20s) are interesting because sometimes they play out like the beginning to a porno:
This pretty much reverses the male/female power trip of the American patriarchy. Sue can be just as creepy as any dirty old man. Is it the beginning of a sex scene? You’ll just have to watch and find out. Hovanesian tempers the drama with humor.
Run, Jake, run! Sue is in her 60s or 70s and tells herself that everyone is “family.” A very dysfunctional, incestuous family. All the people she works with treat Jake pretty much how you’d imagine male pornographers treat young women: as a commodity.
Sue (and the “family”) convinces herself that her company sells love, not sex. Towards the end, as their world closes in around them, Jake decides to turn the tables on Mary, a company gofer in her 40s or 50s.
Some realities suck. This is an interesting play with well-written characters. There are three great roles for female actors here and one for a guy. By flipping the gender dynamics, Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera indicts American society to its core.
Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera had a reading at Playwrights’ Platform this year.
This is normally where I drone on about some dead playwright, but with living playwrights, we have the benefit of talking to them in the here and now. Greg has been kind enough to answer a few questions. Let’s learn about Greg and his craft in his own words:
How did you start playwriting?
It’s sort of a long and convoluted story, but I guess it goes like this: I’ve always liked to tell stories and write creatively. In high school, I took creative writing classes. And then I just sort of stopped for 15 years or so: I was writing a lot, whether it be academic history papers in college or pseudo-pop culture analysis on my blog, but not stories. In 2015 I pushed myself back into writing. In a way it was to add some meaning to my life: I felt sort of stuck in a rut and needed to fill a void in my life. I wrote a few screenplays because I love movies, but I realized that not being in Hollywood is a huge obstacle to successfully doing that. And there were other things about screenwriting that depressed me. Ultimately, I wanted my stuff to be heard. So I started writing plays. When I wrote my first plays I was going through a very difficult time in my life: my first 4 or 5 plays, and my first full-length, a play called PLATTSBURGH that takes place in a supermarket, were very self-therapeutic to me. My life was a mess, things were out of control, and the only way to make the world feel okay was to write plays. They were my medicine.
What are your influences?
I think everything in life influences me. Conversations I hear on the street, movies I watch, music I listen to, strange occurrences that I’ve witnessed while I’ve been living on this planet. Music and movies are huge influences: I could go on and on about the bands and directors who have inspired me, the list is too huge. In terms of writers, Michael Crichton was probably the biggest influence on me as a child: when I read Jurassic Park, I learned not only that I love to read, but that I could write. I was a huge Crichton fan as a 10 or 11 year old. More recently, other writers, such as Chuck Klosterman and Bill Simmons, opened my eyes to ways in which to read into the normalness of pop culture in ‘non-normal’ ways. Cormac McCarthy is my favorite novelist ever: his Western stuff, the stuff that takes place in Texas and Mexico, is amazing. Michael Herr’s Dispatches is probably the most jarring book I’ve ever read, and it still influences me today: I read it while living in Vietnam, where I was a teacher for four years. Kafka holds a place near my heart, and I’ve recently started reading some of Joyce’s short stories from Dubliners, and I think they’re amazing. As far as playwrights go, well, just about everyone I’ve read influences me in some way or another, and I’ve tried to read as many playwrights as possible for the last three years or so. I think I’ve read plays by over 100 playwrights at this point. Some of the top influences would be Suzan-Lori Parks, Henrik Ibsen (because he tackled big issues fearlessly), August Wilson (the greatest monologues ever written), David Mamet (people love to hate him these days, but his dialogue in the ‘80s was fire), Annie Baker, Sam Shepard, and others I can’t think of now. But my playwright hero is Harold Pinter. Pinter’s at the top of the mountain for me.
What is your most memorable production and why?
Probably my first production ever, which is a one-act called WATER. I wrote it in February of 2016: it was at the height of the heinous situation with the water in Flint, which of course is still ongoing: the government says the pipes are clean, but people are still drinking bottled water. There was something so egregious about everything that was happening: to me, it transcended politics. It was about right and wrong, not left and right. So I wrote a play about it. I was very new, so I didn’t know what to do with it. A few months later, I found out that the playwrights group I had just joined, Playwrights’ Platform, had a festival. So I submitted it and it got accepted. The festival is very DIY: it was like, ‘Congrats, you’re in! Now find a director and actors.’ I didn’t really know many people yet: I had no idea how I’d find a director, and then I reached out to some classmates from a screenwriting class I had taken, and lo and behold, someone responded that she was a director. And I was incredibly lucky: I still work with that director today. We’ve been a creative team for over 2 years. Anyway, the whole production was a circus: we couldn’t find actors for the male roles, everyone was out of town on vacation. So one day I just said, “I’ve taken 11 acting classes…I’ll do it!” And she was like, “Yeah?” And I was like, “Yeah.” Then we rounded out the cast with one of my childhood friends, who had never acted but had done a lot of stand-up. We were a rag-tag team and had no idea what we were doing. And it was out of control from day one: everyday it was a new crisis. I was pretty much having a heart attack for an entire month. But we rehearsed the hell out of it, and we got up there on stage and did really well. We won three awards. So I would have to say that was probably a high point.
What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
I can’t really say that I have a least memorable production of something I’ve written. But there have been two I couldn’t attend: one was a monologue in New York, and the other was a one-minute play in Dubai. I got to see some pictures, but it’s not the same. I wish I could have been there.
What’s your funniest theatre story?
Probably something that happened in rehearsals. In addition to being a playwright, I’m a pretty active actor and producer, so I’ve been in my share of rehearsals. I don’t know if one thing sticks out: usually someone muffs a line really badly, and it comes out totally horribly, but it ends up being hilarious, and everyone laughs. That might be something some playwrights have nightmares about! It’s usually stuff like that: funny little moments you don’t remember later. But there is actually one thing that comes to mind as a funny moment. The second full-length I ever wrote was a play called THIRSTY. As soon as my director and I had one play under our belt, we were like, “Let’s do a big one!” It was a pretty crazy and ambitious thing to do; we had no idea what we were getting into or how much work it would be. It was an exhausting project. Anyway, THIRSTY was a pretty wild play about vampire-like beings and online dating, and the apps both they and humans use for dating. And so late in the play, there was a fight scene with a dildo. I can’t take credit for the idea: originally, I wrote a golf club as a weapon. And my director was like, “No, too dangerous.” So I rewrote it with a wiffle ball bat…and she was like, “Mmmm…how about a dildo? Since this character, Micah, is a sort of a sex fiend. He’d probably have one.” And I was like, “Yeah!” So I rewrote it, and then during rehearsals, I bought the biggest dildo I could find on Amazon. So one night during rehearsals, the lead actor had the dildo and was sort of playing with it without realizing it: slapping it on his back, swinging it around, that kind of thing, during some downtime while the director was talking. One of the actors took some pics of him and we all kind of laughed because it was pretty hilarious at the time. So yeah….maybe that’s my funniest theatre story…but I don’t know, really.
What are your writing habits like?
I’m a weekend warrior. I work during the week as an ESL teacher, so I have zero time to write during the week. On Saturdays and Sundays, when I’m writing, I wake up early: 6am is perfect. I make my coffee, eat breakfast, listen to some NPR, drink my coffee, read some news, and then bang! I’m writing. I like to write for a few hours: usually I finish by 11am or so. Sometimes I’ll go past 12. Eventually, I’ll hit a wall, and then I know to stop writing. At that point the quality starts to dip. I just leave and come back the next morning.
What advice do you have for new playwrights?
First, read plays. Lots and lots of plays by lots and lots of playwrights. Read lots of variety. Go to the Wikipedia page for Pulitzer Prize in Drama, then go to your local library and check some of them out. Read short play anthologies and long plays. Once you feel you’ve read enough plays so that you have a feel for it, start writing. And don’t look back. Write, write, write. Once you have some plays written, find a playwrights’ group and join it. Very important. Plays need to be heard, not just written. They need to be test driven by actors. And actors are the most important people playwrights can meet. Actors know scripts: they know what makes scripts good, and what hurts them. They are your allies. They want to help. Meet actors through playwright groups, and start to create some relationships.
Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
It’s a difficult question to answer, because I think it’s tough to find the writers who are out there and aren’t getting the attention they deserve. You have to work hard and search for them. The main place to look is on the New Play Exchange, known as NPX, which is a sort of social networking site for playwrights. Recently you posted a list of NPX writers on your FB page who you think deserve more attention, which is really cool. Some of the playwrights I’ve read and enjoyed on NPX are Jennifer O’Grady, Jordan Elizabeth Henry, Lee Lawing, and Asher Wyndham, and of course yourself, Bryan Stubbles. I’m hoping to be able to discover more playwrights that I enjoy soon, and maybe, through the process of word-of-mouth and reviews, I can help them to become more recognized.
What are common themes in your work?
In all honesty, I’m not really sure. It’s funny: before I was writing this stuff, I would watch a lot of movies by the same director, and search for recurring themes. But I don’t really think about themes when I write. That being said, I do think there are recurring themes that I tend to re-visit, somewhat unconsciously. A lot of my plays have a touch of the supernatural: I don’t think life is as normal as most people think it is, and I like to play with that idea, the supernatural just below the surface. I’m not sure if I’d call them ghosts, but ghost-like people show up in my plays from time to time. I’m a huge fan of the films of Guillermo del Toro, in particular The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. I also love The Seventh Seal and the first couple seasons of Six Feet Under. They all have a lot of mixing of those two worlds, the dead and the living, the supernatural and the real, and I like that. I also like to write plays that happen in an alternate universe, a place similar to what we know, but distinctively different. I think those places are interesting worlds to work in. They give you a lot of freedom to go wild and say whatever you want, whether factual or not, while staying on a plane that is easy for people to understand. And I also like to write about technology from time to time: I love The Twilight Zone and the old Black Mirror episodes, the British ones, before they became not as good in the 3rd season. I think it’s almost impossible for technology not to come up in writing these days, at least in the stuff I write: it’s everywhere and it’s always changing. It’s fascinating and scary.
What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
I think the point of starting out is that you don’t know much. When I started doing this, I knew zero anything: I had read a book on screenwriting and taken a screenwriting class. That was it. But that made it kind of fun: I just jumped in without knowing anything about anything, and knowing zero people. It’s been fun to learn on the fly.
In Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera, a lot of dialogue is repeated. Is there any special meaning behind that?
A lot of my plays have repeated dialogue. One playwright in particular, who I respect greatly, has told me a few times at readings that she wishes I wouldn’t do it as much. But I enjoy doing it. And I think I’ve gotten it from a lot of playwrights I’ve read: I love when I’m reading a play, and there’s a lot of this between two people: “Wait.” “Huh.” “But you said.” “Wait.” “Huh.” “Uh-huh.” Things like that, just back and forth with repeated dialogue. It happens a lot in plays by Albee and Mamet. In the early plays of Suzan-Lori Parks, there’s a lot of circling back and forth between repeated words and sentences. There’s a lot of significance there. And then writers like Ionesco and Beckett, back in the ‘50s, they were taking it to the extreme, probably in order to challenge the establishment of what theatre was defined as back then. Anyway, repetition, as a writer, it gives me a little space to set things up, set up a scene, without using a conventional conversation, which can keep an audience on their toes. But it also gives certain words a sort of significance, that otherwise wouldn’t be there. In FAT UGLY PIGS ON CAMERA there are certain words that are repeated, that maybe wouldn’t usually be spoken a lot in ordinary conversation: shark, sushi, action, etc.. If repeated a few too many times, there’s probably a reason for that, something I want the audience to think about. I’ll leave it at that.
What gave you the idea to write “Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera” and “Monologue for a Woman”?
MONOLOGUE FOR A WOMAN was written first, and it’s a companion piece to a monologue called INTERROGATIONS, which was written for a man. Both monologues are heavily inspired by Pinter: I was reading a lot of him at the time. INTERROGATIONS is more sinister in nature, but I wanted both to sort of unhinge an audience: the actor is talking to an unseen person, but in the process the unseen person becomes the audience. Both have weird turns and are at least a little paranoid in nature.
FAT UGLY PIGS ON CAMERA was something I had wanted to write for a long time, in response to internet porn in general. Porn is a weird thing: it’s something many human beings are drawn to, because at heart we are animals, and our animal instincts are aroused by what we see on camera. But we are also human beings, and so many things in the world of internet porn just trample on everything good about being a good human being. The titles of some videos are horribly de-humamizing and almost always degrading towards women, and that’s where the name of the play comes from. The way I wrote it was the only way I could think of writing something about internet porn that would pack a punch, but also wouldn’t be a lecture or take one side too strongly.
How do you use humor in these two pieces?
It’s funny with humor: I think I’m a pretty funny guy in person. Or at least some of my childhood friends might say that. But really, none of my plays are ‘comedies.’ That being said, humor leaks into just about all of them. I think dialogue is too deliciously funny not to include some humor. In MONOLOGUE FOR A WOMAN, I think the humor depends a lot on the actor reading it: I’ve seen it read ‘funny’, but I’ve also seen it read dark, with virtually no humor. The humor that’s there rests in her questions and responses: whoever is interviewing her seems to be something of an idiot, at least in her eyes, and some of her statements subtly express that.
As for FAT UGLY PIGS ON CAMERA, when I wrote it, I was really worried that I had written my bleakest play. I stood back and looked at it and shuddered, because really bleak plays make me do that: I respect plays that are really bleak, but they’re not always my favorite. So anyway, that’s what I thought I had: a humorless, bleak play. But when it had a reading, in Spring of 2018, the people in the audience were really, really laughing, in particular during Act I. That may have been because the acting was stellar: every actor who read was fantastic, and the actor who played Jake actually took off his shirt during certain scenes and moved around, despite the fact that this was just an unrehearsed reading without a director. It was amazing to watch. But I was really surprised by the laughter: I didn’t see it coming. People told me afterward it was the funniest play of mine they had heard. I was sort of shocked. So, I guess that the humor just seeped out, especially early in the play, without me really realizing that it was humorous.
Are there any allegorical elements to “Fat Ugly Pigs on Camera”?
I think there may be. I always like to put things like that in my plays: I learned how to use symbolism, whether allegorical or not, when I read INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison in high school. Ever since that book, I’ve always tried to look at things not for what they are, but for what their meaning is: what do they symbolize? So, to answer: yes, there probably are! And they’re there for a reason…if they’re there.
What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.
Question: Do you listen to music when you write? And if so, what kind?
Answer: Sometimes! I love music. It inspires me. I listen to all sorts of music: Arvo Part, The Stooges, J. Cole, Neil Young, Baby Huey, and on and on and on. But when writing, if I’m listening to music, it has to be without lyrics. And it can’t be too complex, no DJ Shadow stuff: if it’s too intricate and wild, I’ll get distracted. There’s a J Dilla playlist that I really like, his stuff is really dreamy but not too out there, it’s perfect. Sometimes Aphex Twin does the trick: one time I listened to Track 3, aka Rhubarb, from his Selected Ambient Works Volume II album, over and over and over again on repeat on my headphones while writing a monologue. Lately, though, I’ve just been going silent while writing. It depends on how I’m feeling on that particular morning. Also: when I need a break, I throw on the headphones and usually listen to a hip-hop song with lyrics: stuff by Raekwon, Jedi Mind Tricks, Kanye, that type of stuff. All those lyrics are good during a break. But I only allow myself one song per break when writing: I’m very strict with myself, and after one song, it’s back to writing, no matter what.
Greg has been very busy lately. In 2016 his one-act play Water won Best Play at the Playwrights’ Platform’s 44th Annual Festival of New Plays. His monologue The Look was published by New World Theatre in 2018 as part of A Solitary Voice: A Collection of Epic Monologues. He self-produced his full-length play, Thirsty, in 2016 with his company, Ya Bird? Productions, and in June 2019 he will again be self-producing a play, this time his one-act play Wilderness at the Players’ Ring Theatre in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Greg is also an actor who was awarded Best Actor at the Playwrights’ Platform’s 44th Festival of New Plays in 2016. He is the President of the Playwrights’ Platform, where he also serves as Director of the Actors-In-Residence (AIR) program, and is a member of StageSource and the Dramatists Guild of America. When he has spare time, he likes to read poetry he’s written at open mics and slam competitions around Boston. On October 26th and 27th his one-act play A BEDTIME STORY will be produced by River’s Edge Arts Alliance in Hudson, MA.
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.
How many Americans born in 1872 were named after Egyptian goddesses? Hint: not many. How many ended up writing plays at the renowned Provincetown Players? Hint: One.
And thus begins the tale of Neith Boyce, feminist, novelist, journalist and…playwright!
Neith Boyce’s life was interesting and tragic, much like her writing.
“She is the terrifying one” is supposedly the original meaning of Nrt, Nit, Net, Neit or Neith (our version) who was an Egyptian godess of hunting and war as well as being a mother goddess. Her cult existed as early as the 1st Dynasty (between 34th and the 30th centuriesBC). This made her one of the oldest goddesses of Egypt. As fascinating as all this is, we do need to focus on the writer, but here are some awesome pictures of the goddess Neith:
If you want to learn more about our playwright’s namesake, here is a good place to start.
Neith was born in 1872 as the 4th of five children. This didn’t last long as tragedy hit the family hard: her four siblings died in a diptheria epidemic in 1880. She was mostly raised in Los Angeles.
Unusual for the time (but not for Boyce), she pursued a career in journalism and worked in that capacity for The Commercial Advertiser in New York City. She also served as Lincoln Steffens‘ assistant While there she met Hutchins Hapgood, a fellow journalist and future novelist. He came from an interesting family as well. His brother was a writer and editot ended up editing Collier’s Weekly and Harper’s Weekly. His brother eventually ended up as US Minister to Denmark. Oh, and he wrote an article exposing Henry Ford‘s antisemitism.
Side trip warning: Her brother-in-law’s first wife Emilie Bigelow Hapgood ended up producing some interesting theatre. and hung out with Mark Twain.
Meanwhile Norman Hapgood’s second (and much younger) wife ended up being the first English translator of Stanislavsky’s acting tomes.
So even within her married family she had a novelist/journalist husband, editor/journalist/diplomat brotehr-in-law, a sister-in-law who produced plays on Broadway for black people [pretty rare for an upper-class white woman back then] and another sister-in-law who translated Method Acting books. Interesting company she kept.
One well-documented play of Boyce’s that was performed is Constancy, which is about a love affair. Calling it love might be a stretch actually. There are three main things that recommend this play to a modern production.
Before introducing Constancy‘s dialogue, let’s take a look at dialogue from the top shows of 1915 for a comparison. This is from the 1912 Shaw play Androcles and the Lion:
LAVINIA. Stuff! Go about your business. (She turns decisively away and sits down with her comrades, leaving him disconcerted).
METELLUS. You didn’t get much out of that. I told you they were brutes.
LENTULUS. Plucky little filly! I suppose she thinks I care. (With an air of indifference he strolls with Metellus to the east side of the square, where they stand watching the return of the Centurion through the western arch with his men, escorting three prisoners: Ferrovius, Androcles, and Spintho. Ferrovius is a powerful, choleric man in the prime of life, with large nostrils, staring eyes, and a thick neck: a man whose sensibilities are keen and violent to the verge of madness. Spintho is a debauchee, the wreck of a good-looking man gone hopelessly to the bad. Androcles is overwhelmed with grief, and is restraining his tears with great difficulty).
THE CENTURION (to Lavinia) Here are some pals for you. This little bit is Ferrovius that you talk so much about. (Ferrovius turns on him threateningly. The Centurion holds up his left forefinger in admonition). Now remember that you’re a Christian, and that you’ve got to return good for evil. (Ferrovius controls himself convulsively; moves away from temptation to the east side near Lentulus; clasps his hands in silent prayer; and throws himself on his knees). That’s the way to manage them, eh! This fine fellow (indicating Androcles, who comes to his left, and makes Lavinia a heartbroken salutation) is a sorcerer. A Greek tailor, he is. A real sorcerer, too: no mistake about it. The tenth marches with a leopard at the head of the column. He made a pet of the leopard; and now he’s crying at being parted from it. (Androcles sniffs lamentably). Ain’t you, old chap? Well, cheer up, we march with a Billy goat (Androcles brightens up) that’s killed two leopards and ate a turkey-cock. You can have him for a pet if you like. (Androcles, quite consoled, goes past the Centurion to Lavinia, and sits down contentedly on the ground on her left). This dirty dog (collaring Spintho) is a real Christian. He mobs the temples, he does (at each accusation he gives the neck of Spintho’s tunic a twist); he goes smashing things mad drunk, he does; he steals the gold vessels, he does; he assaults the priestesses, he does pah! (He flings Spintho into the middle of the group of prisoners). You’re the sort that makes duty a pleasure, you are.
SPINTHO (gasping) That’s it: strangle me. Kick me. Beat me. Revile me. Our Lord was beaten and reviled. That’s my way to heaven. Every martyr goes to heaven, no matter what he’s done. That is so, isn’t it, brother?
CENTURION. Well, if you’re going to heaven, I don’t want to go there. I wouldn’t be seen with you.
LENTULUS. Haw! Good! (Indicating the kneeling Ferrovius). Is this one of the turn-the-other-cheek gentlemen, Centurion?
Now this isn’t a knock on Shaw. His plays tend to be observant and witty and were deservedly popular. But the dialogue is…speechy…
But compare that to the opening lines of Constancy.
REX (Off): Moira.
MOIRA: Rex. There you are. Come ‘round, the door is open.
REX: The door. The door. Oh, very well . . .
(Moira comes back into room, laughing softly. She glances into mirror, touching the circlet around her temples, takes cigarette, lights it, stands leaning against end of couch, looking at Rex. . .
Enter Rex in cape and soft hat which he drops on floor as Moira lazily takes two steps to meet him, with both hands held out.)
MOIRA: Well. Well. Here you are.
REX (Quickly): Yes. I’ve come back.
MOIRA (Lazily): You have come back. How well you’re looking.
REX: I’m not well. I’m confoundedly ill. I’m a wreck.
MOIRA: Oh, no. Come here, let me look at you. (Draws him nearer lamp) Well, you’re a little thinner, but it’s becoming. And you do look tired. But then you’ve had a long journey. Come, sit down and make yourself comfortable. (She drops onto couch. and draws him down.)
The dialogue comes out a bit more natural in this one. Enough that audiences noticed. This can be considered part of the Little Theatre movement, which we’ve covered before.
Here are few other bits:
MOIRA: Oh yes, but letters … There’s a lot one doesn’t say in letters.
REX: Yes, there is. (Gets up, strides to railing, hurls cigarette out, comes back and stands back of couch.) Moira, the last thing on earth I expected was that you should receive me like this.
MOIRA: But why, Rex. How did you expect me to receive you? With a dagger in one hand and a bottle of poison in the other?
REX: Well, I don’t know. But (bitterly) I didn’t expect this.
MOIRA: But what is this?
REX: You know well enough. You treat me as though I were an ordinary acquaintance, just dropped in for a chat.
MOIRA: Oh, no, no. A dear friend, Rex. . . . Always dear to me. (She leans over languidly, drops cigarette in tray, takes gray knitting from desk and knits.)
I like the dagger/poison set up and here we have the conflict. It’s obvious Rex is still madly in love with Moira, but if Moira is interested, she’s being a bit coy. Let’s ramp up that conflict.
REX(Leaning towards her, violently): I don’t believe it. I believe you love some one else. I’ve believed it ever since your telegram to me. Otherwise you couldn’t have behaved so — so —
MOIRA: So well?
REX: If you call it that.
MOIRA: I do, of course. I think I behaved admirably. But you’re wrong about the reason. I don’t love anyone else and I don’t intend to. I’ve done with all that.
REX(Softened, taking her hand.): No, Moira.
MOIRA: Yes, indeed. (Sits up, drawing her hand away, more coolly.) As to my telegram, what else could I do? You had fallen in love with Ellen. You telegraphed me, “Let us part friends”—
REX: But, Moira —
MOIRA(Quickly): Then came your letter telling me that you and Ellen loved one another; that this was the real love at last, that you felt you never had loved me —
REX: Yes, but Moira —
MOIRA: You reminded me how unhappy you and I had been together—how we had quarreled — how we had hurt one another —
REX: Yes, yes, I know, but listen —
MOIRA: And then you begged me to forgive you for leaving me — so — I did forgive you. What else could I do if I couldn’t hold on to you when you loved and wanted to marry another woman.
Playwriting 101 students, pay attention. Rex’ conflict is that he wants love with Moira. Moira is standing in the way of a resolution…
OIRA: You fell in love with another woman, younger, more beautiful —
REX: Moira —
MOIRA: That’s all natural enough. I know what men are. They‘re restless, changeable. You wanted to marry this one — just as —
REX: I didn’t want to marry her.
MOIRA: You didn’t? You wrote me —
REX: Well, perhaps I did, or thought I did, just then… But really it was she that wanted to marry me.
Typical dude right there. Sigh.
REX: When I think what you were last year. What scenes you made if I even looked at another woman. How you threatened to kill yourself when I had just a casual adventure.
MOIRA: Yes — that’s true — I did.
REX: Well, what can I think now except that you have absolutely ceased to love me.
MOIRA: But, my dear Rex, did you want me to go on loving you when you had left me for another woman?
REX: I never left you.
REX: I am going. You never loved me.
MOIRA: Oh, yes I did, Rex. Have you forgotten?
REX: I have forgotten nothing. It is you who have forgotten. It is you who have been unfaithful. I come back to you and you treat me like a stranger. You turn me out. You say you no longer love me. (Regarding her with passionate reproach.) And you told me you had forgiven me.
MOIRA: So I have.
REX: You mean-by ceasing to love me. Do you think anyone wants that sort of forgiveness?
MOIRA: That’s the only sort anyone ever gets.
REX: No. (with emotion) Forgiving means forgetting.
MOIRA(With a wide gesture): Well, I have forgotten – everything.
REX (With a violent movement toward her): You — (Stops and they stand looking at another) And you have called me inconstant. (He backs toward the door with a savage laugh) Constancy!
(Moira stands looking at him, motionless.)
Oh, snap, Rex, you just got Rex-jected.
In addition to natural (for 1915) dialogue, the play has wallops of humor, usually delivered in pithily by Moira:
MOIRA: Have a cigarette. I think I’ve some of your kind left. Look over there.
REX: Oh, never mind. (He is gazing intently at her; mutters) I don’t care what kind.
MOIRA: You don’t care. And I’ve kept them all this time. Well then, have one of mine. (She leans to take one from desk, offers it to him, he lights it absently, looking at her steadily as though perplexed.)
REX: Thanks. Moira, I must say you look well.
MOIRA: Yes, I am — very well.
MOIRA (Counting stitches): One, two, three . . . Well, my dear Rex, you’ve changed a good deal yourself.
REX(Vehemently coming back.): I have not changed.
MOIRA(Dropping her knitting and looking around at him.): Well . . . Really.
REX(Hotly): Of course I know what you mean. Perhaps it’s natural enough for you to think so.
MOIRA (Coolly): Yes, I should think it was.
REX: And yet I did think you were intelligent enough to understand. But even if I had changed as completely as you thought, I still don’t understand why — why you are like this.
don’t understand why — why you are like this.
MOIRA: This again. (Puts up hand to him) My dear Rex, I’m awfully glad to see you again. Do come, sit down and let us talk about everything.
REX(Dolefully): Glad to see me. (He sits at end of sofa) I didn’t think you’d let me in the door.
MOIRA: You didn’t? (Springs up suddenly, drops knitting.) Rex, you didn’t expect to come by the ladder, did you?
REX: Well, no —
MOIRA: I believe you did. This romantic hour, your boat, your whistle — just the same — I know you looked for the ladder.
REX: No, no, I didn’t. I tell you I didn’t think you’d see me at all. But what have you done with it, Moira?
MOIRA: The ladder? (Walks across to table, opens drawer, drags out rope ladder, comes back to couch.) Here it is.
REX: So—you’ve kept it.
MOIRA: Yes — as a remembrance.
REX: Only that?
MOIRA: Absolutely. If you like I’ll give it to you now.
REX: To me.
MOIRA: Yes. You might find use for it some time.
MOIRA (Laughing): Well, you know, my dear Rex, you are incurably romantic—and then, you’re still young. As for me, my days of romance are over.
REX: I don’t want that. I want you back as you were before.
MOIRA: You want to make me miserable again. No, Rex.
REX:(Kneels on couch, leans toward her and takes her in his arms. She does not resist.) I can’t believe you mean it. Kiss me. (She kisses him. He draws back suddenly and lets her go.) You do mean it. You don’t care any more. (He drops down on couch. She leans over and caresses his hair.)
MOIRA: Now, Rex, you are just a boy, crying for the moon. As long as you haven’t got it you are dying for it. When you get it you go on to something else. I understand you very well and I think you are the most charming and amusing person I know, and I shall always be really fonder of you than of anyone else.
REX:(Jumping to his feet.) The moon. You are the moon, I suppose, and you are certainly as inconstant. How can you change like this? I come back to you loving you as I always did, the same as ever, and I find you completely changed; your love for me gone as thought it had never been. And you tell me it is no new love that has driven it out. I could understand that, but this… It is true, as Weiniger said, women have no soul, no memory. They are incapable of fidelity.
REX: Yes, fidelity. Haven’t I been essentially faithful to you. I may have fancies for other women but haven’t I come back to you?
MOIRA (Looking at him with admiration): Oh, Rex, you are perfect; you are a perfect man.
REX: Well, I can say with sincerity that you are a complete woman.
MOIRA: After that I suppose there is no more to say. We have annihilated one another.
And the final bit of interest about Constancy, and what probably made it infnitely funnier to the Provincetown crowd was the fact that: (from
Since the subject of Constancy was a thinly-veiled representation of the end of the love affair between Mabel Dodge and John Reed, which took place only months before, it would have to have been recently written.
Yeah, Boyce based this on real folks she knew. John Reed is the guy who the movie Reds is about. He came from money in Portland, but devoted his life to journalism (he covered both the Mexican and Russian Revolutions), progressive ideals (he put on a benefit at Madison Square Garden for the Paterson Strike and ended up dying in Russia of typhus. Mabel Dodge Luhan
led an interesting, yet troubled life. She was a banking heiress, eloped at 21, a widow at 23, she had affairs with both sexes, used peyote and attempted suicide at least twice. Feel free to learn more about her here, here and here. She did some writing for the Hearst papers, but is more known as a patron of the arts and building a neat house, which was later owned by Dennis Hopper.
Boyce and Dodge had become close friends and confidantes in recent years and, rather than creating a satirical roman-a-clef of Dodge and Reed, as the content of the play is often described to be, Boyce follows the major thrust of most of her writing: capturing “the difficulties of creating new forms of intimacy between middle-class women and men.”(5) Rather than just an “amusing dialogue,”(6) or “spoof,”(7) or “farce,”(8) as it has been described, this play can be seen as the story of a woman who rids herself of her dependency (or in contemporary psychological terms “co-dependency”) on a younger man whose idea of fidelity is that he “would always come back,” even after affairs with other women.(9) She matures while he remains as before and, because he cannot understand her change, believes her to be the one “inconstant.”(10) Sarlos judges that the play is dramatically weak because the female character’s strength “prevents dramatic conflict.”(11) Murphy feels that “its lack of resolution is telling” because these new Modern advocates of free love “had not found a way to resolve their uneasiness around these issues.”
The actual staging of the play is documented, too. Again from the Provincetown Players site:
The famed July 15 performance took place on the oceanside veranda of Boyce and Hapgood’s rented cottage. Kenton reports that the house had “a great living room large enough to hold a few players and a fair audience.” Rehearsals had been held “on the beach and in back yards.”(15) Constancy required a sea set: Boyce transplanted Dodge’s Florence villa where Reed and Dodge had stayed to a house by the sea. The famous silk “ladder” that Reed had climbed up to Dodge’s bedroom from his own was replaced in the play with a rope ladder down to the sea that the female character Moira has symbolically removed, thus requiring the male character Rex to enter through the door. Robert Edmond Jones performed duties the night similar to those he’d become famous for: turning unusual spaces into theatrical settings. He used the wide doors that opened onto the veranda into a kind of proscenium arch, the actors performing just beyond it with the “sea at high tide the backdrop and the sound of its waves was its orchestra, while Long Point Light at the tip of Cape Cod carried the eye ‘beyond.’”(16) Kenton described the setting as “the backdrop of the moving ocean with its anchored ships and twinkling lights.”(17) O’Brien, as Rex, began the play by whistling from down below on the beach and then walking around and up to the veranda for his entrance.(18) Kenton describes the set pieces for the play as “a long low divan heaped with bright pillows,” and “two shaded lamps, one on either side of the doorway” as the lighting.(19) Glaspell wrote that Jones “liked doing it, because we had no lighting equipment, but just put a candle here and a lamp there.”(20) Deutch and Hanau report that “The Hapgood house was crowded for that first performance . . .”(21) Boyce wrote to her father-in-law two days after the performance:
You’ll be amused to hear that I made my first appearance on the stage Thursday night! I have been stirring up the people here to write and act some short plays. We began the season with one of mine. Bobby Jones staged it on our veranda. The colors were orange and yellow against the sea. We gave it at 10 o’clock at night and really it was lovely—the scene, I mean. I have been mightily complimented on my acting!!!(22)
Boyce does not mention Cook in the act of “stirring up” others to write plays. This does not refute Cook’s role, but at the minimum shows a stronger involvement on the part of Boyce that summer than the mythology has ever acknowledged.
Eenemies still gets produced every now and again.
This now brings us to another short play of Boyce’s: the melodramatic The Two Sons.
The plot basically concerns an “artistic” son (Paul) who lives with his mama (Hila) on Cape Cod. Stud-muffin brother/son Karl shows up and puts the moves on Paul’s woman (Stella). This is some ripe melodrama. The most interesting thing here may be some gay subtext.
Mom knows more about Paul’s supposed love life than Paul does.
The earliest documented homosexual use is a 1914 description of a party in Long Beach, California, when some “chickens” were invited to meet some prominent “queers”. It was the most commonly used term (together with fairy) before World War II. It was used mainly by “ordinary” and “straight-acting” gay men in preference to a host of words for effeminate gay men: nellie queens, margeries, fairies, pansies, nancy-boys.
I think given the crowd that Boyce ran in, she probably meant the word queer to have two meanings. And 1915 isn’t too far femoved from 1914, albeit on the opposite coast.
“You’re as handy as a woman” from his own mother!
So many people feel like this. Unusual for a parent to either a) know their child that well b) speak so bluntly.
So Karl and Paul meet towards the end and things get heated and Paul pours out his own feelings and he links his relationship with women to that he has with his mother. Paul is self-aware.
Wait, what??? Paul was the “queer” one. Even his mom said so. That dreamboat of toxic masculinity Karl may have a secret.
So now Paul’s girlfriend (who went sailing with Karl) says that Karl was gay and toold queer stories.
Again, from the Rictor Norton site:
For example, in Mary Pix’s play The Adventures in Madrid, which was performed in 1706, a girl dressed as a boy is pursued by a man named “Gaylove” who calls her his little “Ganymede” and “fairy”.
Speaking of codes, Gertrude Stein in her story “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” (published 1922 but written 1908–11) describes a female couple who are more than just merry: “They were guite regularly gay there, Helen Furr and Georgine Skeen, they were regularly gay there where they were gay. To be regularly gay was to do every day the gay thing that they did every day. To be regularly gay was to end every day at the same time after they had been regularly gay.”
And well, it is a melodrama after all.
This play is good for the possibility (not mentioned in the scholarly work I read) that Boyce was trying to write for two audiences. One in the know and the other happily ignorant. This play was published.
The Provincetown Players website mentions:
The third play on the third bill of the Players first New York Season in 1916 was most likely produced as a last minute decision. Mary Heaton Vorse wrote John Reed in Baltimore about the bill and told him: “They’re hurrying on that play of Neith’s The Two Sons for the third bill with only a week of rehearsal.”
A week of rehearsal? Hehehe. Sounds like some theatre companies I could name.
Lucy Huffaker thought Boyce’s play was the “best thing she has done,” but [Louise] Bryant wrote Reed that, in her opinion, the play was a “glaring failure,” claiming the audience was “giggling and toward the end roared with laughter. It was really terrible . . . I’m sorry for Neith, but hope it makes Jig realize things.”(12)
Wow. Sucks for Neith. But we have one more play of hers to go over.
HE: This is the limit!
SHE: [calmly] What is?
HE: Oh, nothing. [She turns the page, continues reading with interest.] This is an infernal lamp!
SHE: What’s the matter with the lamp?
HE: I’ve asked you a thousand times to have some order in the house, some regularity, some system! The lamps never have oil, the wicks are never cut, the chimneys are always smoked! And yet you wonder that I don’t work more! How can a man work without light?
HE: [irritated] But our time is too valuable for these ever-recurring jobs! Why don’t you train Theresa, as I’ve asked you so often?
SHE: It would take all my time for a thousand years to train Theresa.
HE: Oh, I know! All you want to do is to lie in bed for breakfast, smoke cigarettes, write your high literary stuff, make love to other men, talk cleverly when you go out to dinner and never say a word to me at home! No wonder you have no time to train Theresa!
Uhh, He, is Theresa a dog or a maid?
The story behind this: Hutchins and Neith decided to write a play with husband writing the man’s words and wife writing the woman’s words. So technically Boyce didn’t write that line, but she inspired the guy who did.
Basically it’s an arguing couple. No big deal there. The fact it was written by a real-life arguing couple makes it a bit more interesting.
SHE: You are in a temper again.
HE: Who wouldn’t be, to live with a cold-blooded person that you have to hit with a gridiron to get a rise out of?
SHE: I wish you would read your paper quietly and let me alone.
HE: Why have you lived with me for fifteen years if you want to be let alone?
SHE: [with a sigh] I have always hoped you would settle down.
HE: By settling down you mean cease bothering about household matters, about the children, cease wanting to be with you, cease expecting you to have any interest in me.
HE is trying to be provocative.
SHE: He was a good man…. But to get back to our original quarrel. You’re quite mistaken. I’m more social with you than with anyone else. Hank, for instance, hates to talk–even more than I do. He and I spend hours together looking at the sea–each of us absorbed in our own thoughts–without saying a word. What could be more peaceful than that?
HE: [indignantly] I don’t believe it’s peaceful–but it must be wonderful!
SHE: It is–marvelous. I wish you were more like that. What beautiful evenings we could have together!
HE: [bitterly] Most of our evenings are silent enough–unless we are quarreling!
SHE: Yes, if you’re not talking, it’s because you’re sulking. You are never sweetly silent–never really quiet.
HE: That’s true–with you–I am rarely quiet with you–because you rarely express anything to me. I would be more quiet if you were less so–less expressive if you were more so.
SHE: [pensively] The same old quarrel. Just the same for fifteen years! And all because you are you and I am I! And I suppose it will go on forever–I shall go on being silent, and you–
SHE even has some sort of boyfriend. Told you they argued a lot.
SHE: Do you really think we have nothing in common? We both like Dostoyevsky and prefer Burgundy to champagne.
HE: Our tastes and our vices are remarkably congenial, but our souls do not touch.
SHE: Our souls? Why should they? Every soul is lonely.
SHE has a point.
SHE: Well, then I suppose we may be more congenial–for in spite of what you say, our vices haven’t exactly matched. You’re ahead of me on the drink.
HE: Yes, and you on some other things. But perhaps I can catch up, too–
SHE: Perhaps–if you really give all your time to it, as you did last winter, for instance. But I doubt if I can ever equal your record in potations.
HE: [bitterly] I can never equal your record in the soul’s infidelities.
SHE: Well, do you expect my soul to be faithful when you keep hitting it with a gridiron?
HE: Preachers don’t do the things I do!
SHE: Oh, don’t they?
It goes one and on.
SHE: Oh, very well, if you’re so keen on it. But remember, you suggest it. I never said I wanted to separate from you–if I had, I wouldn’t be here now.
HE: No, because I’ve given all I had to you. I have nourished you with my love. You have harassed and destroyed me. I am no good because of you. You have made me work over you to the degree that I have no real life. You have enslaved me, and your method is cool aloofness. You want to keep on being cruel. You are the devil, who never really meant any harm, but who sneers at desires and never wants to satisfy. Let us separate–you are my only enemy!
SHE: Well, you know we are told to love our enemies.
HE: You have harassed, plagued, maddened, tortured me! Bored me? No, never, you bewitching devil! [Moving toward her.]
SHE: I’ve always adored the poet and mystic in you, though you’ve almost driven me crazy, you Man of God!
HE: I’ve always adored the woman in you, the mysterious, the beckoning and flying, that I cannot possess!
SHE: Can’t you forget God for a while, and come away with me?
HE: Yes, darling; after all, you’re one of God’s creatures!
SHE: Faithful to the end! A truce then, shall it be? [Opening her arms.] An armed truce?
HE: [seizing her] Yes, in a trice! [She laughs.]
Fight, fight, fight. Make love. This one might be worth performing these days.
This pretty much rounds out our profile of Neith Boyce, a woman for all seasons who wrote a few plays.
On Monday we’ll see a monologue by her for Monologue Monday.
celebrate the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ even though the Bible never says to celebrate it
pretend to be nice to their neighbors one day a year
force introverted children to pretend to be reindeer in dumb little kids’ plays at school <<<< YESSS this!
Coma-inducing flashbacks aside, there is a WEALTH of Christmas plays from the past to choose from. Our choice nugget of Christmas theatre past shall be Christmas in Many Lands, which, ironically enough, is the only work not credited to an author in the book Little Folks’ Christmas Stories and Plays.
Ada M. Skinner is the editor of this lovely tome from 1915. From the play:
Time: Christmas Eve
Place: A living room in a German cottage. A Christmas tree stands at one side. As the curtain rises, a small boy and girl in German costume are trimming the tree and singing.
Hmm…World War One seems to have had little effect on these children.
Hans and Gretchen sing:
Santa Claus to-morrow comes, Bringing gifts in plenty; Drums and trumpets, guns—a score, Flags and sabers and still more, Yes, a whole great army corps— Would it might be plenty!
Bring us, dear old Santa Claus— Do not pass us blindly— Musketeer and grenadier, Grizzly bear with panther near, Horse and donkey, sheep and steer— Bring us all these kindly.
Ach, so. They’re singing about war during Christmas. How appropriately German. Since Santa isn’t German, is he a POW???
Hans and Gretchen ruminate on the meaning of St. Nicholas and they want to visit kids in other countries in an airship. Hopefully not to bomb them.
Hans: I think it would be fun to have an airship and go about the world to-night and see what all the little children are doing.
Gretchen: Where would you like to go?
Hans: I’d like to fly over the sea and visit Cousin Heinrich in America.
Gretchen: I’d be afraid to fly so far. I’d go to Holland; it’s such a little way.
Hans: Oh! I’d fly up in the mountains of Switzerland.
Gretchen (thoughtfully): I think I’d rather have the children come and tell us about their Christmas. I’d be afraid in an airship.
Thank God one of them is thoughtful and realizes flying internationally in an airship in 1915 from Germany might be dangerous.
Hans (eagerly): Let’s shut our eyes and wish they would come. They’ll be sure to if we wish hard on Christmas Eve. We’ll have a Christmas party!
(Both children shut their eyes and are silent. A fairy enters. She is dressed in white, spangled with gilt. She has a star on her forehead and carries a wand. She dances about the stage, singing; then stands in front of the children. Shewaves her wand over them, and they open their eyes.)
Gretchen (rising in surprise): Who are you, Fairy?
Fairy: I am the Christmas fairy, and I have come to answer your wish. I grant all the wishes that good children make on Christmas Eve.
Wait….there’s a Christmas fairy???? Does Santa know?
Hans (earnestly): Oh, dear Fairy, will children really come from America and from Switzerland and from Holland to tell us about their Christmas?
Fairy: They will come because you wished it, and from other countries as well. (She dances around the room once more, and vanishes. Hans and Gretchen run to the door and look after her. They clap their hands and dance around the room for joy.)
Hans: We’re really going to have a Christmas party! Let’s go on trimming the tree. (While they are doing this, they finish the song.)
But, indeed, you know our need, Know our heart’s desires; Children, father, and mamma! You know, too, our grandpapa! Yes, we all are waiting—ah! Waiting, you know, tires!
Note: Holland, Switzerland and America were all still neutral in 1915. I bet if they’d ask for French or Russian kids, their Christmases would be bloodier different.
(The sound of a bell is heard and a little girl enters, ringing a Swiss bell. She is dressed in a Swiss costume.)
Swiss child: I come from the lofty mountains of Switzerland to give you greeting. (The two children run to welcome her.)
Hans: Did you come in an airship?
Swiss child: No; the Christmas fairy brought me. What a beautiful tree!
Hans: Yes; it’s our Christmas tree. Don’t you have one? Doesn’t St. Nicholas bring you presents?
Swiss child: No; the Christmas Lady comes to us. She wears a white gown and a red cap, and she carries a basket of toys on her back. But only good children get toys. She brings a switch for the bad ones, and they must keep it all the year and get whipped whenever they are naughty!
Hans still has his airship hang-up. But let’s look again at what the poor Swiss kid said again about the Christmas Lady:
She brings a switch for the bad ones, and they must keep it all the year and get whipped whenever they are naughty!
I’m familiar with Christkind but this Dame de Noël is a new and unpleasant one.
(They dance slowly around the tree, singing. While they are singing, a hard clacking of wooden shoes is heard at the door. The children stop to listen, and a little Dutch girl enters. She carries a wand with a star on the end and has a basket of sweetmeats on her arm.)
Gretchen (coming to greet her): Here is our little neighbor. I’m so glad you have come. Do the children in Holland have a Christmas Eve like ours?
Dutch child: We don’t have a pretty tree like that, and we don’t hang our stockings before the fire. Good St. Nicholas comes to visit us in the evening. He brings toys for the good children and a big birch rod for the naughty ones.
Those italics were in the original.
[insert joke about St. Nicholas’ “big birch rod” here].
So Swiss and Dutch Christmases involve the prospect of child abuse. That explains alot.
The kids all talk about what sort of animal their respective abusers versions of Santa ride. Sleipner is the Dutch one…but…but…
The eight reindeer in the American version of Christmas lies comes from Sleipner, who was a horse/reindeer thing with EIGHT DAMN LEGS.
The poet Clement C. Moore (probably) replaced Sleipner with eight reindeer. Probably because an eight-legged horse is more terrifying than all the big birch rods in the world.
A child runs in, dressed in Russian coat and furs. She is glistening with snow.)
Russian child: Oh! Your fire looks warm and bright! Christmas is cold, indeed, on the snowy plains of Russia. I am sorry for poor Babouscka to-night.
Gretchen: Come up to the fire and get warm, and tell us who Babouscka is. (All seat themselves around the fire.)
Russian child: Babouscka! Don’t you know about her? On Christmas Eve every little Russian child expects a visit from a little old woman called Babouscka. Long, long ago, on Christmas Eve, Babouscka was sweeping her house when Three Wise Men came to the door and asked her to go with them to bear gifts to a little child. She said she would go when she had finished sweeping, but they said, “We may not wait. We follow a star.” So they went their way. Afterwards Babouscka was sorry she hadn’t gone with them. So she started out alone to find the child, and ever since, on Christmas Eve, she wanders about to every house where there are children, seeking the wonderful child the Wise Men talked about. But always, when she asks for the child, the answer is the same, “Farther on! Farther on!”
Gretchen: Poor Babouscka! I hope she will find the child sometime. Let’s go on with the song. Perhaps some one else will come. (They continue singing.
Now I think we’ve veered into elder abuse….and that Russian is rather chill despite the World War.
A French child enters.)
Hans: Oh! Here comes a little maid of France! I know her by her pretty cap. Come, tell us what you do on Christmas Eve, and who brings your gifts.
French child: Christmas is a holy time with us. The Christ Child himself brings the gifts. We call him Le Petit Noël.
Hans: Do you hang up your stocking for him to fill?
French child: No; we put our shoes by the hearth at night and Le Petit Noël comes down the chimney and fills them.
Finally, a more normative Christmas. Again, French kid is chill despite a World War. Then the English kid pops up.
An English child enters.)
English child: A Merrie Christmas from Merrie England!
Hans: Oh! another guest! How lovely of you to come to our party. Do you have Christmas Eve parties at home?
English child: Oh, yes; Christmas Eve is the merriest night of the year with us.
Hans: Tell us all about it. (The children seat themselves about the hearth, the English child in the center.)
English child: Early in the morning we go to the woods and gather evergreens. Then we trim all the rooms with holly, mistletoe, box, and bay; in the evening we light the great yule log.
English child: Well, it’s a big log that we always burn in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. All the family meet together on Christmas Eve, and we have a beautiful tree like yours. Every one gives a present to every one else, and we sing and tell stories and have a happy time. Then early on Christmas morning the waits come round and waken us, singing Christmas carols. At dinner we have a great big plum pudding, and mother puts brandy on it and sets fire to the brandy, and it makes a pretty blue flame.
Ah, well, if mummy is lighting the pudding on fire, it’s all good I suppose.
The English child explains what “waits” and caroling are. Then the Swedish youngster appears.
As they finish the carol, a Swedish child enters.)
Swedish child: What a beautiful Christmas party! I’m so glad the Christmas fairy brought me.
Hans: Oh, are you another little maid from France?
Swedish child: Oh, no; I come from the frozen north—from Sweden.
Then the Swedish child explains who brings them presents:
Swedish child: Oh, yes; the Christmas gnomes do that! They are a little old man and a little old woman who come to every home in Sweden, bringing gifts for all in the house. The old man carries a bell and the old woman a large basket filled with gifts. In Sweden every one is remembered on Christmas Day, and a sheaf of grain is fastened to a pole at each house so that not even the birds are forgotten.
Aww. That’s so thoughtful – even birds aren’t forgotten.
Gretchen: Hark—some one is singing! (They all listen. Irish child sings behind the screen.)
At Christmas time in Ireland There is feasting, there is song, And merrily the fife and fiddle play; And lightly dance the colleens, And the boys, the evening long, At Christmas time in Ireland far away!
(Irish child enters, singing.)
Oh, there’s nothing half so sweet In any land on earth As Christmas time in Ireland far away!
Hans: Christmas time in Ireland!
Irish child: Yes, Christmas Day is a dayof feasting and merriment. Where did you get that pretty tree?
Hans: It’s our Christmas tree. Don’t you have one?
Irish child: No; I never saw one before.
Hans: Doesn’t St. Nicholas come to you? Don’t you get presents?
Irish child (shaking her head thoughtfully): No.
Haha! Sucks to be Irish..
Irish child: No; we don’t get gifts at home. We give them to the poor.
Oh, never mind, then.
The children then explain what a Christmas tree is to the Irish girl, who has a hard time comprehending anything besides a Yule log. Then they ask her to finish her song. Then…
(Just as she finishes the song, the American child runs in. They all rise to greet her.)
American child: I’m late because I had so far to come. The fairy carried me high over the seas from America.
Hans: America! I’m so glad you have come! I wondered what the American children were doing to-night.
American child (looking around): Why, I think you must do just what we do on Christmas Eve. You have a tree—you put evergreens around—and you hang your stockings up for Santa Claus to fill.
Hans: Santa Claus? St. Nicholas comes to us.
Gretchen: He’s the same, Hans, only they call him a little different.
Dutch child: Does he come on his horse?
American child: No, he is drawn in a sleigh with eight reindeer. He comes down the chimney and fills our stockings with toys and candy, when we are asleep.
Dutch child: Doesn’t he bring a switch for the bad ones?
American child: Oh, no; Santa Claus never leaves anything but toys.
Dutch child: I wish he wouldn’t bring it when he comes to us!
Poor Dutch kid gets beaten. Only a wholesome All-American Christmas can defeat the nefarious foreign traditions.
Gretchen runs to the window and looks out.) Oh, here are the village children! They have come to our Christmas party. (The village children run in. All greet each other and join in singing.)
This tree was grown on Christmas Day. Hail, old Father Christmas! Old and young together say, Hail, old Father Christmas! Bright the colored tapers shine; Hail, old Father Christmas! Bright to-day the love divine. Hail, old Father Christmas! Bright and light our Christmas tree, Hail, old Father Christmas! Bright and light our hearts must be. Hail, old Father Christmas! Dance, then, children, dance and sing, Hail, old Father Christmas! All the merry chorus ring. Hail, old Father Christmas!
And there you have it, a 1915 exploration of Christmas traditions in Europe and America.
proof that American Christmas is superior to any dirty foreign Christmas full of pyromania and child abuse.
And in that vein, here’s one rockin’ Christmas album: