I'll come back to explain why I am taking an online playwriting class, why I have been spending time with members of a Baltimore rockabilly band (circa 1950s/60s) called the Roc-A-Jets, and why all of this is extremely scary.
The prospect of writing a play makes me feel like this, with a lot of nail-biting and crying at random people added in:
Some quick background. In a former life (right out of high school), I went to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts to study dramatic writing. It was the only school that had a real writing program for undergraduates (everywhere else, you had to study English with a creative writing minor). I wanted to be a writer and NOT in a minor way.
Naturally, as I was nearing graduation, I realized that I was a poet, not a playwright or screenwriter. I remember walking into Mark Dickerman's office, trying to convince him to let me write a book of poems, instead of a screenplay, for my senior thesis project. His reaction can be summed up in one word: "Ha!"
(Don't even ask about the thesis project. That was a big lesson in "write what you know" and I knew nothing about the world of professional wrestling.)
It's been over 20 years. I have been working successfully, all this time, as a poet and educator. And now I feel like I'm back in Mark Dickerman's office saying, "I want to write a play." And he is saying, "Ha!" in my memory.
Enter, Liz Duffy Adams. I am taking her online playwriting course. I'm hoping I can still ride that bike, but training wheels won't hurt while I'm getting started.
The first exercise was to write a bad play, just 3-5 pages, including things the writer does not like to see in theater. Take a guess -- what's on my top ten list of things I hate in a show?
BTW: The exercise required using a word we think is funny, repeated ad nauseum (like "ad nauseum," I guess the point is repeating the word until it is more grating than funny -- like, "What you talkin' bout, Willis?")
My all-time favorite funny word is "pamplemousse," French for grapefruit.
Laugh with me, laugh at me, I don't mind. Throw a few french grapefruits at your screen. As a friend pointed out, it is leap year. If you're going to take a leap, better take it now.
WALKING THE DOG
CAST OF CHARACTERS
JUNIOR: a ten-year-old boy.
DEIRDRE: his teenage sister.
FATHER: their father, a businessman.
MOTHER: his wife, a homemaker.
Note: All characters are played by white men age 18-26. All except Deirdre wear space-suit versions of 1950s PSA attire. MOTHER wears a white apron decorated with cherries over her space-dress. DEIRDRE is dressed in a TV version of 1980s punk gear. She wears a pair of giant silver headphones over her neon pink hair.
SETTING: A family room of the distant space-future. Everything is silver and metal, with white and black accents, including a chrome couch, a wall of nine flat-screen televisions (each tuned to a different channels) running throughout the play, a white floor. The walls are white with giant silver “bubbles” or circles. Near a metal pocket door (left) is a metal tree with silver leaves. At right, a roundish “door,” really just an opening.
Two bean bag chairs.
(At RISE, the beanbag chairs are occupied by JUNIOR and DEIRDRE. JUNIOR is reading his e-reader. DEIRDRE appears to be listening to music. The pocket door slides open and FATHER enters. He puts a silver case down next to the tree. JUNIOR looks up. DEIRDRE does not notice his entrance.)
Hi, honey! I’m home.
(MOTHER enters from right. She goes to FATHER and kisses his cheek, kicking one leg up as she does. Her shoe flies off and lands on the couch, slides off. She moves to pick it up.)
Darling, my sweet pamplemousse, did you have a wonderful day?
I’ve been crunching numbers for fifteen hours. The last thing I want to do is talk about work. I’d rather talk about pamplemousse.
(I am not a songwriter, but if I were, there would be a big, showy number here a la “Put on a Happy Face,” where the characters would toss around French grapefruits with smiley faces drawn on them.)
How was school, kids? Did they serve pamplemousse at lunch?
(While JUNIOR speaks, FATHER sits on the couch to take off his shoes and quickly slides off. Everyone ignores this. FATHER stands. He tries to put a foot on the couch to take his shoe off. His foot slides off. He falls again. He gets up. Opts to take off his shoes while standing.)
It was great. My quantum physics teacher showed us how to create a black hole. We each got a pamplemousse to test our black hole’s gravity.
(FATHER walks to the bean bag chair and ruffles JUNIOR’S hair.)
I bet your black hole had the suckiest gravity in the class. Am I right son? Did it crush the bejeezus out of that that juicy, yellow pamplemousse?
You betcha, Father. Speaking of pamplemousse, are we eating soon, Mother?
(MOTHER says nothing. She is slumped against the tree, near where she picked up her shoe. DEIRDRE goes to MOTHER, lifts her shirt up in the back, winds a gadget on her back like a wind- up toy, and returns to her beanbag chair and music.)
What did I miss?
(Humming Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” MOTHER moves to the couch, sits, slides off. Everyone ignores this except the dog, which starts barking. Big musical number here, “I Fall to Pieces” as a jaunty tap routine.)
Junior asked about dinner. That’s my growing boy. But he’ll have to walk the dog first.
Dinner! I knew I was forgetting something.
Aw… do I have to? It’s supposed to be Deidre’s turn. She is such a pamplemousse. She always tries to get me to do her chores.
(MOTHER moves to DEIRDRE, lifts one headphone away from her ear.)
Earth to Deidre. Come in Deidre. This is Mission Control. Over.
(JUNIOR laughs. DEIRDRE scowls and turns her music louder. The dog barks. MOTHER sits on the couch, slides off. Everyone ignores this.)
What that girl needs is a firm hand. And a dose of pamplemousse wouldn’t hurt her, either.
Oh, go ahead then, Mr. Lord and Master. Show us how it’s done.
This, I have to see. Even a firm hand disappears when it gets too close to a black hole like Deidre.
(JUNIOR and MOTHER sit on the couch, slide off together in a heap. The dog jumps on them, barking aggressively.
FATHER sings, “A Black Hole like Deirdre,” in the style of “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria.”)
You know Rover doesn’t like it when you fuss.
(FATHER walks purposefully toward DEIRDRE. He stands before her. She looks up, pulls her headphones down to her neck. Does not speak.)
Deirdre, Junior says it’s your turn to walk the dog.
(DEIRDRE makes the “whatever” sign with her fingers, starts to pull her headphones back on.)
I am the Lord and Master of this house. I demand that you walk the dog.
(DEIRDRE shrugs, stands up, bows at her father, motions the dog toward her, pulls its leash out of her pocket, picks the dog up, puts it on the couch. Cue techno music. The dog walks a few steps on the couch and slides off. DEIRDRE picks it up again. It slides off. She picks it up again. It slides off. DEIRDRE repeats this process during the next exchange.)
She’s got you, there, Daddy-o! Ho, ho! That’s funnier than saying “pamplemousse” twelve times.
Can I walk the dog, Father? Deirdre, let me have a turn.
(JUNIOR grabs for the leash.)
You’re such a pamplemousse.
(DEIRDRE shrugs, hands the leash to JUNIOR. Instead of the dog walking a few steps and sliding off the couch, the dog’s robotic feet gain traction, moving the couch, which scoots in the direction of the pocket door (left). The couch crashes into the silver tree, with one end blocking the door. The dog catapults through the round doorway (right), dragging JUNIOR behind it. MOTHER stares after JUNIOR and the dog.)
Was that the kitchen or the walk-in freeze dry vacuum?
(DEIRDRE returns to her bean bag chair, puts on her headphones.)
Oh, pamplemousse! The couch is blocking the port. How am I going to get to work? I’m up for that big promotion tomorrow. What will I tell the boss?
(FATHER goes to sit down on the couch. Slides off. Crashes into the tree. Holds his head in his hands. Does not get up. FATHER sings a song in which he fantasizes about confronting his boss.)
You can blame the dog, Honey. It works for Junior. Rover is always eating his homework.
(The dog enters, right, with a cardboard cut-out of Junior in its mouth. The dog settles into its bed, gnawing on Junior.)
It’s a disaster! Junior will never be normal in time for dinner. Oh, I forgot dinner. Again!
(MOTHER rushes off, right. Quickly returns with a large silver pot, smoke pouring out from under its lid.)
My pot roast with candied pamplemousse is ruined!
(MOTHER sits on the couch. Slides off. Spills the pot roast. Does not move from the floor. Pulls a branch off the silver tree. Chews it.)
Who cares about the pot roast? My career is over!
(FATHER sits on the couch. Slides off. Lands in the spilled pot roast. Does not get up, but puts a finger in the gravy. Tastes it.)
Not bad, Mother. Too bad about Junior. Pot roast with candied pamplemousse is his favorite.
(The dog approaches, carrying the cardboard cut-out of Junior. Drops it in the spilled pot roast. Jumps on the couch, where it continues to gnaw on Junior’s arm. Does not slide off the couch.)
Good boy, Rover.
(Big dance number, “Good Boy, Rover,” in which the characters take turn dancing with the cardboard cut-out of Junior.)
I’ve always liked that dog. But Junior’s not so bad. I just pretend not to like him or candied pamplemousse. Gotta maintain my street cred.
(DEIRDRE stands, pulls out a large Star Trek-style phaser that’s been hidden inside her bean bag. It has the words “Anti Deep Freeze Vacuumer” written on it. DEIRDRE goes to the couch, tries to tug Junior away from the growling dog. They pull back and forth. DEIRDRE yanks Junior away. He flies across the room. The dog slides off the couch and lands in Father’s lap. DEIRDRE picks up the cut-out of Junior. She tucks Junior under her arm and goes through the door, right. A blue glow appears in the doorway.)
Was that the kitchen or the walk-in freeze dry vacuum? Maybe if you freeze dry me before work tomorrow, I won’t get fired.
I believe in you, Darling. And my belief will be enough to keep your job safe. If you just remember that I believe in you, you’ll get that promotion. And if you truly believe, with all your heart, in my belief – with all my heart -- in you, the boss will throw in – with all his heart – a bonus lifetime supply of pamplemousse.
(DEIRDRE enters with a restored JUNIOR. The arm of his space suit is tattered and a little bloody.)
I don’t care what Mother and Father say, you’re not a rotten pamplemousse, Deirdre.
(JUNIOR goes to hug DEIRDRE. She puts a finger in front of her mouth and shushes him, and winks hugely at the audience.)
But can she fix the pot roast with candied pamplemousse?
(ALL laugh, sitcom style.
The big finale is a musical ode to pot roast with candied pamplemousse and the importance of regular sit down dinners that maintain the ideal family of one man, one woman, 2.3 children and a dog – even in chrome-couched future.