Two weeks ago I started a new semester in which I’m concentrating on all things dramatic. By that I mean I’m taking two classes – ‘Introduction to Theatre’ and ‘Playwriting’. I love the theatre. I love the ‘play’ and I’ve been involved in amateur productions in many capacities for most of my life but actually writing a play is kicking my ass! Not because I can’t envisage the actors on the stage – in fact I can see them clear as day in a set concocted in my mind following stage directions to a T. What is tripping me up is the drama.
I just got a rough draft of a short play that I wrote back from my professor – in it, a married couple have a conversation. Sounds dull? Yip, it pretty much was and my professor, rightly so, told me exactly that. “Flat” and “uninteresting”. That isn’t to say that there may be a play hiding somewhere in the draft but it is utterly missing the critical ingredient, the aforementioned drama. And so my new quest is to learn how to write dramatic characters that are not clichéd stereotypes but are complex, and real but happen to talk and act in a heightened way. Of course, these characters have to engage and entertain a paying crowd as well! We just finished reading and studying a wildly funny (and hugely dark) play by Ed Falco called Possum Dreams. The play pits a married couple against each other over the course of an evening when secrets are revealed and confessions are made. The two characters are intricate and genuine but do, at times, fall into the ‘clichéd’. After all, the catalyst for the action is a 40-year-old man that hits a midlife crisis and has extra-martial “sexual encounters”. But, the beauty of the clichés and the way that they play out is that they are both spookily real (I literary could hear real people from my actual life saying some of the lines from the play) and fantastically, dramatically, entertaining all at the same time.
I’m not going to give away spoilers as the play is soon going to be staged off-Broadway (see the flyer) but what transpires in the play is nuts, like, seriously nuts. So much so that if your best friend met you in the pub the day after and told you about his night you would be insisting that he was a bare faced liar. But amongst the shenanigans Falco dismantles so many deep rooted notions about the institute of marriage in such a beautifully skilled way that it makes me want to be him when I grow up!
And so it is back to my dysfunctional couple and how to give them depth & growth & drama and a story that unfolds in a engaging way that makes also a statement – oh, and did I mention the play only lasts ten minutes! Thankfully, I love a challenge.
p.s. Off to book my flights for NYC for Possum Dreams … see you there?