Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Awful Play of Mine Tanks in the Turnip/American Short Play Fest

Did my part to lower the quality of Manhattan theater on Monday night. :-)

My short play "How to Suck a Million Toes Without Being Electrocuted Once" was selected by Turnip Theatre and the American Globe Theatre for their 13th Annual Fifteen Minute Play Festival and produced there (merifcully for only one showing) Monday night. It isn't all that awful of a script, although I think I sent two or three plays to the contest and remember being a bit surprised that this was the one selected. It is a pretty facile, easy little domestic comedy. About ten minutes long. Written in haste and repented at leisure in some ways.

This play has had six or so productions in the US and Canada. It is popluar because it is very accessible and easy to follow humor, I guess. Concerns a young couple-- the woman has been recently devasted by the loss of their dog, Porkchop, who was blind and mistook the rubber nubbin on the end of an electrical cord for the husband's toe (his favorite chew toy) and electrocuted himself to death. She is now on a crusade to do articles for consumer magazines to prevent a similar tragedy from happening to others. The husband thinks Porkshop was a droodling, retarded burden they should have put down long ago. So, they come into conflict over this issue. Blah, blah, blah.

I am not much of a short play writer. My talent is full lengths. I don't bring the same depth of attention to the short plays that I bring to my full lengths and it shows. This festival certainly made me vow to do better with my short play writing before I submit any others. To spare the audience. And myself. Ugh.

I am probably coming down a little harshly on the script. I think that in terms of script writing, the play was pretty middle of the road compared to the other four plays performed Monday night (Luigi Jannuzzi's "Trash Talking Thespians," Chris Saunders' "A Period Piece," Gretchen O'Halloran's "Web." John Pizzuto's "Heartstrings"). It was in no way a stand out script, but held it's own with a few of the pieces.

My performers, however, had problems. The actors lost their lines about three minutes into the play. Someone accidently opened the door to the theater looking for late seating and waved an apology to my actors. They just never really got it back after that. So, about three minutes in, just after the door opened-- they start trading lines back and forth like "Well, I don't really know what to say." "Well, I don't know what to tell you. "Well, I really don't know what you want me to say." "Well, neither do I."

For the first moment or so, I sort of thought I must have written such garbage filler and thought to myself "Wow, I must have written this a lot more conversational than I thought. No wonder I never liked this play." Then it soon became apparent that the lines were gone, utterly, for both actors. The woman playing the wife was carrying a clipboard. I didn't know then and still don't know why the script wasn't on the clipboard if they had line problems. But instead, after several minutes of back and forth filler, the play was rewritten as follows:

WIFE
Well, you know what?
HUSBAND
What?
WIFE
I think we have completely forgotten our lines.
HUSBAND
Wha--? Huh?
WIFE
And I think we should start this over from the beginning.
HUSBAND
Oh. Wha--?
WIFE
We are going to start this over.

And then, I think the actress playing the wife marched off stage, pulling the confused and astonished actor playing the husband after her. I am not sure because I had a hand over my eyes and was feeling the way I used to feel when I was a young child watching "Leave it to Beaver" reruns. Beaver would do something so unbelievably embarassing and get caught at it and I would have to hide behind a chair and be unable to look at the TV until Ward or June made everything better with a little parental lecture at the end of the episode. Ward or June did not show up on Monday. Instead, we started the play over. They got through it this time, in a highly para-phrased, cole-slaw sort of way. I got a lot of pity praise and sympathy afterward from Luigi and Gretchen, the other two playwrights in attendance, which I thought was astonishingly sweet and nice of them.

Anyway, wounded narcissism aside for now, the rest of the evening was really quite wonderful. I am veteren 10-15 minute play festival attendee and my expectations are generally pretty low for short play fests. But, I was stunned at the quality and high performance values of the rest of the plays.

Chris Saunders' "A Period Piece" in my opinion really schooled the rest of us on how to write a short play. It was completely outstanding. Showed a Victorian woman having a love spat with a punk rock-looking modern ne'er-do-well adulterer. She is using heightened Victorian speak, he is using coarse modern cant. Then in the middle of the piece, her era-appropriate Victorian boyfriend comes up and takes up the fight, and the punk's modern-era young male lover comes up and takes up the fight with his boyfriend. So, you see the same fight playing out separated by a few hundred years. It is really spectacular-- my dippy synopsis doesn't do it justice.

And I thought John Pizzuto's extremely ambitious "Heartstrings" came off very well. They had 6 person cast, including a concert-level violinist, a child actor, and a story spanning 40 years-- and pulled it off extremely effectively. It really did what it promised-- tugged at those heartstrings in a wonderful way.

Luigi and Gretchen's plays were also wonderfully done. I thought Luigi's "Trash Talking Thesbians" had a wonderful, gentle, and immediate quality and his two actresses were really natural and convincing. Gretchen's piece had wonderful twists and turns and never went where I expected it to, so it was wonderful to watch. Her actresses were also wonderful to watch.

Anyway, that is what happened at the Turnip Fest. Chaos and mortification. I may attend the finals-- it is such a strong group of plays the finals are sure to be a great show.

1 comment:

B2 said...

Johnna, I think you should rewrite the play to include such fourth-wall destruction as you detail accidentally occurred at the Fest. It's got a nice little Ionesco/Godot/Stoppard feel to it.