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Class #1 - 10/3/17

  • This class will be more receptive to your needs as playwrights with a bit more experience.  You don’t need to be walked through the nuts and bolts of things anymore, so I'm going to give you the option of bringing in pages, no more than five please, whenever you want.  I’ll also be putting the time to work on your pages earlier in class so that if we have a class where everybody is bringing in stuff to work on, you won’t be given short shrift because I wrote a wonderful lecture.  

  • This class has more of a focus on the kind of play you’re going to write.  You know the basic tools of playwriting, conflict, characters, action, and dialogue, and when we workshop pieces we’ll be going back to those tools.  But I also want you to think about the kind of play you’re writing, and the kinds of play you might be writing, and what those kinds of plays entail.

  • In-Class Writing Exercise - Write down these five things:

    • A one or two sentence plot synopsis of the play you’re going to write.  Title too, if you have it.

    • How would you classify your play?  Comedy, drama, black comedy, suspensful, absurdist, realistic, experimental, choose any grouping of words you want.

    • Who is the main character (or if there are two main characters, pick one)?  Tell me three intriguing things about her/him?

    • What do you think is the most interesting aspect of your play, what will draw people in?

    • What concerns you the most about writing this play?

  • “On the One-Act Play”

    • What is important about the one-act play?

    • There is no break.  The play begins and twenty minutes, thirty minutes, forty minutes, sometimes sixty minutes later, it is over.  It is contained.  Ten minute plays have their own rhythms to them, though people are breaking the form all the time, but within their name they have a clock running on them.  Your audience, and if you’ll remember from our last class together, I am very much focussed on what the audience is experiencing, your audience knows how long a ten-minute play is going to be.  And that might seem obvious and silly, but there is something to that fact that differentiates it from a one-act play.  Your audience for a one-act doesn’t know when it will end, it just knows that there will be no intermission.  That you will be done telling the story when you’re done telling the story, no breaks.

    • We need to take advantage of that fact.  You’ve got them for that time period, that unknown time period.  So what does that mean for us as writers? 

      • The pressure is on.  I’m not talking about for you, thought it is, it always is, but for the audience.  They don’t get a break to stand up and stretch, to talk to their friends and say, “What did you think?  Isn’t that one actor really good, he’s a friend of mine?  I would never do what the main character did.”  That’s the thing.  You are immersing your audience in a world and they don't get to come out of it until it’s over without an extreme effort on their part.  They have to get up in the middle of a performance, collect all their belongings, walk past everyone in their row, say excuse me, excuse me, and deliberately leave.  With the performers still performing as they do.

      • We have a little room for indulgence.  We can make our audience experience things in total that were it a full-length, they might ditch at intermission. 

      • What good is it in A Number, which is a longer one-act than most, probably running about an hour?  The play is built on a series of visual repetitions.  Each scene has the same two actors, but it’s not the same two characters every time.  The father keeps meeting and interacting with his son and his clones, so it all kind of blurs for us, which is right and wrong.  These are distinct people, but they’ve not been given the gift of distinction.  The way the repetition works best is not to take a break from it, but to keep seeing it happening over and over again.

      • One of the subjects of the play is the falling apart of the father's world when this knowledge about cloning comes to his son.  Because the identity of the younger actor on stage keeps changing, we can only hold onto the father, and so we must go through this with him, and he does not get respite from his predicament.  Nor does he deserve it.  Given an intermission, I think the deterioration of the father’s existence would lose its impact and immediacy.

      • So why even have a break?  If we want people to experience our work in full, to live it, why give them an opportunity for escape?  A couple of reasons. 

        • The human body can only take so much sitting.  You’re writing for people to see.
        • A good act break can accomplish a lot.  If you have a cliff-hanger, you can generate more excitement in your work, not less.  I know there was a Hamlet production a few years ago that had a really interesting act break.  The play-within-a-play is over, Claudius is praying, Hamlet is about to kill him, dagger up in the air, and intermission.  Even though you know, if you know the play, you still want to come back to see what happens.
        • A good act break can also act as a device to reframe what you’ve seen thus far.  The second act break of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is when Martha cheats on George and when George decides to kill their fictitious son.  The landscape of the world will change when we return.  At the end of Act I of The Sound of Music, Maria returns to the abbey to take her vows, but the Mother sees that she’s not ready and tells her to go back and see if she’s in love with Captain Von Trapp.  She’s no longer just there to be a governess, and the world we’ve seen has been reframed.  I picked that at random.  I looked up the act breaks to musicals, and they all do that.  Any good play uses its act break to either create a cliff-hanger to bring you back or to let you know that when you return from your drink in the lobby, you will be seeing a new framing of what you’ve been watching.  If they can’t promise that, then it’s just to stretch your legs, and it’ll be difficult to get you back. 
      • Not having a break means we have to be economical about who or what we’re showing.  What parts of the story do you need to tell and who do you need to tell it?  We have a little more room than we did in the ten-minute, we can have a few more characters if we need them, and we can even have a subplot or two if we’d like.  Ideally, though, they need to pretty directly tie into, if not mirror our main plot.
      • Caryl Churchill has her cake and eats it too by having a four character play with two actors.  So she’s a good playwright and budget-minded.  We talked too in Beginning Playwriting about starting at the latest possible moment and ending at the earliest possible one.  She absolutely adheres to the first part of that tenet.  The opening of the play seems to be the moment that Salter learns that there are a number of clones of his son.  Or at least the moment he knows his son knows.  This moment is not like any other moment, everything changes from here.  We think we know what he knows, but we learn that he is hiding information.  Everything, though, everything in the play stems from this moment, and, in a way, from the decision Salter made before the play that brings us to this moment.
      • But does Churchill get out at the earliest possible moment?  Could she have ended it with scene 4?  Maybe.  What do you think she’s doing with the scene with the perfectly bland Michael Black, who’s thirty percent lettuce?  I think she’s thwarting Salter.  He wants another connection, you know he does.  He wants a son to depend on him, but not too much, who will care for him and about him, but probably not too much either.  He wants a son on his own terms, and Michael Black doesn’t need him at all.  Not for comfort or support.  Michael Black is his own self-contained system who finds this delightful, who finds connection in his family and in his discovered clones.  Does he like his life, “I do, yes, sorry.”  In a shorter play, the visceral impact of the killing of Bernard 2 would be sufficient, but what Churchill wants is an echo of these scenes you’ve seen before, where a son goes to Salter and needs him for support, as a punching bag, as any of these things, and the last echo is the same two people but with no connection.
      • I think the last thing a one-act does really well is it sets out its thesis and then explores that in this contained setting.  That’s a really dry way of saying it, I know, but I think the best one-acts are about an idea and a case study in the exploration of that idea.   Edward Albee has a beautiful quote about this, “When you write a play, you make a set of assumptions — that you have something to say, that you know how to say it, that its worth saying, and that maybe someone will come along for the ride. That's all.”  A Number is about nature vs. nurture.  These clones who are genetically the same are different than each other, because of how they’re raised or is there something intrinsically different?  Is it how a child is treated, and can a parent learn?  Does Salter change?
      • You have a bit more time now, so you have more room to explore.  You don’t have to jump from plot point to plot point.  You have space in which to move around.  Utilize that not by wasting time or going off on flights of fancy, but by finding other aspects of your idea that you can explore.  Scene 5 is Churchill using that in order to create a fuller picture of that idea.
  • In-Class Writing Exercise - Write  down what you think the idea of your play might be.
    • There are still a number of rules, and by rules I mean suggestions, and by suggestions I mean rules, that we had in the ten minute play that still apply here.  Should we limit the number of places?  Yes.  Can we have a place change?  Sure, if you need to.  But figure out if you need to.  It’s a one-act play not a feature film, so an audience isn’t necessarily expecting constant moving of sets.  A set change, I’ll remind you, is also a way of relieving pressuring and distancing your audience from the reality you’ve created.  If you need multiple sets, think about putting them both on stage at the beginning so that the movement between them is less an abrupt shift and more of a natural progression in your story.  Churchill keeps it all in the same space and by doing that she achieves a number of things.  As I said before, it’s a repetition of images and by keeping it all in the same visual frame, that repetition is strengthened.  Also, it’s Salter’s play and it’s his space where we’re experiencing it.  By never leaving it, we never forget that.  Plus, it’s a character-focussed play.  We’re not meant to care all that much about where they are.  Why do I think that?  I’ve talked a lot about how every choice needs to be deliberate.  Here’s what Churchill chooses to say about the setting:  The scene is the same throughout, it’s where Salter lives.  That’s it.  I don’t think she even mentions a single prop in the text.  All she cares about is the people on stage and their relationships.  To acclimate an audience to a new set would take away from the immediacy of the drama.  You’ll note: it’s not that she puts nothing for the setting.  If she put nothing, a director who gets her/his hands on this play might try to open it up, have a scene in a Bernard’s apartment, or at a coffee shop, or, I don’t know, by a swimming pool.  Churchill says no, it’s always the same place, it’s always where Salter lives.  Do what you want with that space, but it’s not changing.  That’s place, we’ve talked about how long it should be, and that’s at your discretion, somewhat, and characters are the same way.  Should you have a cast of thousands, probably not, but I’m always willing to be pleasantly surprised.  Use as many characters as you need, and when you figure that number out, make sure that number couldn’t be one or two people lower.  If it absolutely can’t, you're good. 

  • Homework: Two choices

    • Write a monologue for your main character, the one you mentioned before.  I want you to write it as stream-of-consciousness.  This character does not to be talking to someone specific, just what is going through her/his head.  And, this is important, I want to know what leads up to the beginning of your play.  Give me what’s going on in this character’s head in the minute or two before the play starts.  

    • Write an invented scene with two of your characters.  Two to three pages, and place them in a completely different context.  You don’t need to explain why they’re there, but you have to have them deal with their space.

      • Space station, old west, haunted house, the deck of a cruise ship, spelunking in a dark cave, marching in the Macy’s Parade, any incongruous context.

Class #2 - 10/10/17

  • Questions from assignment:

    • For the scene:

      • What did you learn about your characters by placing them in this odd situation?
      • What did the new setting tell you about your original/preferred setting for these characters?
      • If the setting didn’t make a difference, shouldn’t it?  How will being specific about the setting tell us more about the characters, the stakes they have, and the plot of the play?
    • For the monologue:
      • What did you learn about the character?
      • What did you learn about the story?
  • "On Drama”

    • Today we’re going to talk about drama, not the overarching discipline in which we are working, but the dramatic one-act play, as opposed to the comedic one-act play.  This is the start of three lectures where we’re going to talk about the general genre of your work.  Drama, comedy, experimental, that’s this and the next two weeks.  These are, obviously, really broad genre categories, and there’s often a lot of overlap between them, so don’t think that because I’m breaking this down into three different lectures that I want giant concrete walls between them in your work.  

    • When all this theatre stuff started, it wasn’t comedy and drama, it was comedy and tragedy.  Tragedy meant you started with a protagonist in a place of prominence and then brought him or her low.  Comedy meant the opposite, take a person in a low or dark place and bring them up to win in the end, where winning often meant marriage.  That’s been the simple analysis of it, but even with a cursory look at things, it doesn’t quite bear out.  Medea is a tragedy where the main character is actually in a terrible way at the beginning of the action, to take revenge she kills her husband’s new wife and also the children she had with him, and then gets away unscathed.  It’s a tragedy, but it veers more towards drama then the typical Greek tragedy.  Fun fact about Medea, when it was presented at the City Dionysia, the ancient Greek playwriting competition, it placed third.  Out of three plays.  The world wasn’t ready for it yet.

    • When we get to Shakespeare, we still have tragedies, but we also have his history plays, which are basically dramas, and the problem plays, which only get labeled as comedies because there are marriages at the end, but Measure For Measure doesn’t have a lot of jokes in it.  By the time we hit the 19th century, Ibsen and Chekhov are writing straight-up dramas as we would recognize them today.  Chekhov called them comedies, but ...

    • Drama can be about anybody, it need not have a character of great prominence.  Willy Loman, Blanche DuBois, Troy Maxson, these are not people of high social standing, but they are the featured characters of dramas.  Dramas can also be tragic, still, that has not disappeared as an option, but you can also have a drama where someone is changed, but not necessarily doomed.  Your drama can even, gasp, have jokes.  There are some hard jokes in Zoo Story.  Life, if that is what we are trying to replicate on stage, is rarely all serious. 

    • Trifles:

      • What’s happens in the play?

        • It’s disguised as a whodunnit.  You have a sheriff, a county attorney, and a witness to a crime.  You’re expecting this play to be about the solving of a murder, but all of the investigation by these three characters basically happens off stage.  It’s about solving the motive, and Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale judging whether or not this was justified, and you’ll note they’re judging another women, the unseen Mrs. Wright.  The men investigate the death of a man and the women investigate the motive of a woman.

      • What’s the play about?

        • I talked last week about how a good one-act play sets out its thesis and then explores it.  Let’s look at the first exchange in the play.  All the men come in and huddle around the stove.

          COUNTY ATTORNEY: This feels good.  Come up to the fire, ladies.

          MRS. PETERS (After taking a step forward): I’m not--cold.

          This is a play about fundamental differences between men and women in this society.  What the men call trifles in the play are actually important things that tell Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale about the mindset and the actions of Mrs.Wright.  The men are cold and tell the ladies to come up to the fire, and Mrs. Peters who is shown to be more of a rule-follower than Mrs. Hale, takes a step forward to do it, but then stops herself because she’s not cold.  Mrs. Hale doesn’t even move.  The women have a fundamentally different understanding of the room, which is the world the play gives us, than the men.

          As the play goes on, it becomes even less about the case of Mrs. Wright and more about Mrs. Peters’ transformation from someone who follows what society says without questioning it to a person who understands the unfairness of the situation that they’re in. Mrs. Hale sums it up nicely with: “We live close together and we live far apart.  We all go through the same things - it’s all just a different kind of same thing.”

          By concealing the bird at the end, Mrs. Peters has agreed to save Mrs. Wright, to absolve her of her crimes, and she’s proclaiming solidarity with the other women.  That is more important to her than the law, to which she is supposedly married.

      • How is this drama?

        • Well, for one, it’s not comedy.  So it checks that box.  It’s not tragedy either, well, maybe for Mr. Wright it is, and how perfect a name choice that is, but is it a serious situation, marked by conflict, with an outcome that irrevocably changes the protagonist?

          Do you think Mrs. Peters is forever changed by this moment.  I do.  I think nuance has creeped into her worldview.  That seems like such a small change, but boy is it significant.  To accept that the world is no longer black and white, that’s kind of a remarkable thing.  It might also be considered a trifle by some, but not by me.

          What Glaspell is also doing is making us complicit in the cover-up.  And, because I think she’s a really good writer, she’s making us okay with it.  The men are not listening to anybody but themselves, they talk way too much when they’re on stage, especially Mr. Hale, so we’re not inclined to believe them.  We only have the words of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters and we trust them because they don’t have an agenda.  When they decide to hide the incriminating information from the men, we feel it’s a good decision, but if at the start of the play we were to ask the audience, “Are you cool with covering up evidence for a murder” I don’t think we’d get a lot of automatic yeses.  

      • Title talk: 

        • What are the trifles in the play?  How do they matter to the story being told?

      • Any issues with this play?

        • Action takes place off stage.  But does it?  The real action is front and center.

    • Before we go into Zoo Story, think about what the dramatic, read: serious, elements of your play are.  Even the most frivolous plays have to have serious elements to them or they won’t be interesting on stage.  The silliest, most door-slammingest of farces have real consequence to them: be it money, or a marriage, or one's station in life.

    • Zoo Story:

      • What’s happens in the play?

        • Peter is trying to read (is he?) in the park when he is accosted by Jerry who is looking for ... a conversation?  A confrontation?  A person willing to kill him?  It’s not clear, but by the end of it, Peter has seen what humans are capable of, both in Jerry’s story and in his own actions.  By the end, Peter’s been to the zoo too.

      • What’s the play about?

        • The play’s thesis, I think, is in Jerry’s lines near the end of the story of Jerry and the dog:

          “I have learned that neither kindness nor cruelty by themselves, independent of each other, creates any effect beyond themselves; and I have learned that the two combined, together, at the same time, are the teaching emotion.  And what is gained is loss.”

          Peter is in a bubble.  Listen to how Albee describes him: “A man in his early forties, neither fat nor gaunt, neither handsome nor homely.”  He is perfectly plain, he is 30% lettuce.  He is reading a book in Central Park on a Sunday afternoon.  He has responsibilities at home, one would assume, what with his two children, but he has the luxury of just sitting here, reading, while the world goes on.  He has not addressed any of the things that bug him.  You notice that when Jerry asks him about his children, Peter is defensive to a point of ridiculousness.  He does not want to think about these things.  There's also the possibility that Peter is a closeted man, who is sort of getting close to things without participating in them.  Either way, he has an unexamined life.  And he treats Jerry like an animal in a zoo.  Not just Jerry.  He says, of Jerry’s landlady:

          “It's so ... unthinkable.  I find it hard to believe that people such as that really are.”

          He finds difficulty in conceiving of people outside his social circle.  What Jerry does is immerse Peter in his life.  He starts by trying to make a connection, asking Peter about Peter’s home life, telling Peter about his own.  That doesn’t really work, and so he tells this story, hypnotizes him with it, and it breaks through to Peter.  It shakes him up.  He says, “Why did you tell me all this?” and “I don't understand,” and “I don’t wanna hear this,” and we think he’s changed.  Jerry says, “I suppose you don’t quite know what to make of me, eh?” and then Peter brushes it all off with "We get all kinds in publishing.”  Jerry’s lost his foothold.  He’s just another anecdote.  And so he tickles him, he shows good humor and kindness, and then he elbows him off the bench. He combines kindness and cruelty to teach Peter.  

          He teaches Peter about what it's like to lose something.  To not just have the things he has because he exists.  Jerry is clearly someone dealing with loss.  Peter asks him why he doesn't just move from his horrible apartment, as if Jerry can have any apartment he wants in the city.  He takes away one tiny thing from Peter, a park bench, and Peter could've just left, but he doesn’t.  Why?

      • How is this drama?

        • Somebody dies at the end.  That's usually means you're in a drama.  You can see it as a tragedy.  It's the loss of Jerry’s life, and it's definitely the loss of Peter's smug complacency. 

          There's a lot of comedy in Zoo Story, but I don't think anyone walks away from it and describes it as such.  It’s also considered an absurdist play.  I find that it walks the fine line between absurdism and realism, in this little subgenre I call abrealism, and if you’d like to learn more about that, I'll direct you to my master's thesis.

          Is it a serious situation, marked by conflict, with an outcome that irrevocably changes the protagonist?  Do you think Peter is changed forever by this?  I definitely do.  Assuming he gets away with it (if he doesn't get away with it, obviously it’s a big change), but assuming he gets away with it, he has to live with this, how he acted, what he was capable of, and how the story made him feel.  He cannot go back to his bubble; it has burst.

      • Title talk:  

        • What does the zoo mean?  Is the zoo story an anecdote or is it the thing we're watching?

      • Any issues with this play?

        • Lots of speechifying.  Odd reactions from Peter, but are they that odd if we think of the title?  Is it the way a person might react to watching an animal’s behavior, especially an animal in captivity?  Delighted or horrified but not willing to look away.  Yet, when confronted, capable of previously unthinkable things.

  • Homework: Two items

    • Write a monologue from the perspective of a non-main character in your play.  As long or as short as you want, but that character has to talk about something that happens in your play, but cannot mention the main character.

    • Pick a character in your play.  And tell me a secret of theirs that they've never told anybody.  Show me what your character wouldn't want anyone knowing about her or him. 

  • Next week: Comedy, The Cleaners, and Unveiling, and bring in any pages you want to hear.

CLASS #3 - 10/17/17

  • Questions from assignment:

    • What did you learn about these secondary characters?
    • Did it help to see them as independent of the main character, or do they work just for that function?
    • Did anything about them surprise you?
    • What did the secret tell you about your character?
    • Can you use that secret?
  • "On Comedy”

    • Today we’re going to talk about comedy.  Last class, I said that at the beginning of theatre it was comedy and tragedy, but that’s not exactly true.  Actually, it was just tragedy and tragedy, for about fifty years of the City Dionysia.  Then they added in comedy, but it still took them about thirty years to give any prizes for comedy.  And because it’s ancient Greek, a bunch of philosophers have some ideas about it, which I only tell you because they are either useful or amusing.  Plato hated comedy, because he hated most every artistic thing, because of his theory of forms, but also because he thought laughter led to low-self control and violence.  Plato was fun.  Aristotle, on the other hand, says that comedy makes you happy, and that’s good.  And in comedy there’s farce, there’s romantic comedy, and there’s satire.  He also thinks that comedy doesn’t need to involve sex.  Anybody know the most famous ancient Greek comedy now?  It’s Lysistrata by Aristophanes.  Anybody know what it’s about?  Greeks also had satyr plays back then, which are closer to burlesque than anything else.  So there are your four comedies type, farce, romantic comedy, satire, sex comedy, and though I’m not a dedicated follower of Aristotle, I think these are useful terms for us.

    • We talked about the general progression of theatre last week, so I’m going to stay away from repeating that, but let me tell you a couple of broad things about comedy before we delve into the specifics of these plays.

      • Comedy has to have serious stakes.  A good definition of drama is: a serious situation, marked by conflict, with an outcome that irrevocably changes the protagonist.  And for the definition of comedy, I’d add: with jokes.  There is almost no difference between good comedic and dramatic writing except for the jokes.  There are comedies where it means life or death for the protagonist, where he or she has love at stake, a career, a family, all of those important, serious things.  Because if the stakes and the situation weren’t serious, why does the audience care? 

      • What do the jokes do then?  I think, and this is my own theory of comedy, is that they allow you a little bit of distance from the performers and unity with the audience.  Comedies are always better with a big, boisterous audience, while you can see dramas sitting alone and it won’t make as much of a difference.  Why?  I think because laughter puts you at a distance from the performers, but who wants to be on an island.  It’s hard to see the comedy in a situation you’re in unless you can sort of mentally remove yourself from it and see it from above.  The jokes are the playwright’s way of recognizing the silliness, absurdity, strangeness of the situation and commenting on it.

        Is this a backpedal from my feeling about keeping up the pressure on the audience?  Maybe a little.  Or at least let’s look at it as a different kind of pressure.  When you’re writing a comedy, you’re pressuring them to see the humor in a situation.  This may involve laughing at a ridiculous thing, laughing at a clever thing, laughing at a dark and disturbing thing (one of my favorites), but it does involve eliciting a reaction.

        In a drama, these moments of comedic respite, comic relief, can provide a good cap on a moment, or can let you reset before the pressure starts mounting again.  We’re allowed to give our audiences a break once in a while, as long as you’re going to hit them even harder the next time.

      • Comedy ages worse than drama.  Sophie’s Choice, having to pick which one of your children survives is not really going to lose its resonance for humans anytime soon.  But some jokes only work because of the cultural and societal references of when they’re made.  Comedy also often makes fun of social customs and structures, and those are always changing.  Language does too.  A word that’s known and funny now, may be unfathomable a few generations from now. “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh?  Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal - you sockdologizing old man-trap.”  That’s a line from Our American Cousin.  Anybody know that play?  Those are the last words Lincoln heard.  Why did Booth choose that line to shoot him?  Because it got a huge laugh every night.  Anybody find it hilarious now?  Slapstick will always work, but “HE trips and falls” as a stage direction is only going to get you so far in your playwriting. 
      • Write what’s funny to you.  I can’t guarantee that it’ll be funny to everybody; in truth, I can guarantee that it won’t be funny to everybody, but if it’s not funny to you, it’ll come off as stilted and forced.

    • Unveiling

      • What’s happens in the play?

        • Michael and Vera have Vanek over to their house in order to unveil their new decorating job, but really in order to convince Vanek to conform to the way they act/see the world.  They push a little too hard, almost forcing Vanek out, and finally Vanek returns in an act of pity.

      • What’s the play about?

        • This is a play that shows how time and context can change the view of the audience of the play.  When we watch or read it now, it seems like it’s primarily about consumerism and the ideas of conformity, and it can absolutely be played like that.  The audience who would’ve read it then, or seen it (under secret circumstances if it was in then-Czechoslovakia) would’ve had a very different view of it.  These are people who have wealth now which means that they have conformed to the ruling government’s views, perhaps getting paid off for it.  And if Vanek is an old friend of them, one who is a “writer,” they must have had some sort of sympathy for him.  They want Vanek and his unseen wife to join them because it makes them feel less guilty and less alone. 

        • Either way you look at it, it’s about the illusion of happiness in things and privilege.  Michael and Vera try everything they can to convince Vanek (and the audience) how happy they are and they do nothing more than making us realize just how untrue that is.  It is a play with a pretty simple idea, that money can’t buy happiness, but I think it explores it in an interesting way.  It’s not about a couple that has no money, gets money, and isn’t happy; it’s about a couple that now has money, isn’t happy, but is trying to convince themselves and the world that they are.  We can only guess at what they’ve done to achieve this wealth, and they were clearly hoping that by having money, it might erase their pain.  But they’ve done the deed, they’ve rung a bell you can’t unring, and so their choices are, admit how wrong they were, OR smile through it all and get as many people on your side to believe so that you start believing it.

        • The final moments show you just how empty they are.  They’ve clearly embarrassed Vanek, made him uncomfortable, driven him to leave with their desperation.  But when he finally comes back, as an act of pity, that is enough for them to believe he is convinced and that they can go on.  Think of the message that sends to an audience who is considering betraying their ideals.  The play isn’t saying: don’t do it because you won’t be happy.  It’s suggesting: don’t do it or you’ll have to spend your life pretending you’re happy.

      • How is this comedy/What kind of comedy is it?

        • It’s not a romantic comedy.  I think it’s a combination of satire and farce, with some sex thrown in but it’s not really a sex comedy.

      • What’s funny about it?

        • The repetition.  They become weird consumerists robots with their repeating of “you’re our best friend” and the cuckoo clock marking punctuation.
        • There are genuinely funny jokes, where the small talk slowly turns mean, a compliment of Vera’s cooking turning into a slam on Vanek’s wife Eva’s cooking.
        • The heightening of it.  Advice on decorating turns to advice on cooking turns to advice on lovemaking, all cloaked in friendship.
        • The incongruity of things.  The place is littered with objects that don’t fit together or have been robbed of all their meaning.  The confessional, the Madonna statue, etc.
      • Any issues with this play?

        • Vanek can be seen as a very passive character, and he’s definitely an audience surrogate.  If you were directing, how would you direct Vanek?  If you were rewriting it, what could you give Vanek to do/want?

        • Who is the protagonist in the play?  Is that person forever changed?  Is it Vanek or is it the couple?  Does change occur?  This is a question that comes up in plays that tip toward the absurd.  Sometimes the change isn’t a dramatic life change, but a recognition that one cannot escape from an absurd situation.  Prometheus is a character, but Prometheus’ situation will never change.

        • What is the conflict?  Is there conflict between Michael and Vera or is it all between them as a unit and Vanek?

      • Title talk: 

        • What is being unveiled?  What is still veiled in the play?

    • The Cleaners

      • What’s happens in the play?

        • Rita has taken a new job as a crime scene cleaner with friend of a friend Jerry.  Rita needs the money, but Jerry is interested in Rita.

      • What’s the play about?

        • The play is about messiness in general.  Lindsay examines a messy situation, dating, especially dating when you have kids, when you have troubles, etc., and she puts it in the context of people cleaning up a literal mess, but a mess like she’s never seen before.  These are people who are cleaning up messes, bad decisions made by people, and in doing this together, they are cleaning up their own messes.

        • Question for you: Who is the protagonist?  Who has agency and who is changed?  Or are they both protagonists?  This can absolutely happen in a romantic comedy.  Are Harry & Sally co-protags?

      • How is this comedy?

        • It’s not really satire. I would say that it’s a combination of romantic comedy and farce.

      • What’s funny about it?

        • The incongruity of someone trying to make a pass at someone while in the midst of cleaning up body and brains.

        • There are genuinely funny jokes, because Lindsay Joy lives up to her name.  She’s also adept at going the other way with jokes, tags that you don't see coming.  Patenting the cleaner, for example.

        • The heightening of it.  How the person died.

    • Homework: Two items

      • Write (at least) the first two pages of your play.

      • Tell me the picture I’m going to see on stage when the play begins and the picture I’ll see when the play ends.

    • Next week: Experimental Plays, Dutchman, and The Long Christmas Dinner.