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Day thirty-four – Filling the void Part 3

December 7, 2017

Some noteworthy things happened over the summer of 2013.

At the wrap party for the one-act plays in the spring, Donna (who’d been in one of the other plays) and I told one another in the most luvvy way how fabulous we’d each been. We were starting to become friends and said it would be great if we could find a one-act play we could be in together the following year. We agreed we would each try to find something suitable.

We didn’t have a great deal of luck, but eventually I stumbled across a volume of four one-act plays, each written for two, shall we say mature, women. One of them rather appealed to both of us. We arranged a get together at the large home of another actress, inviting three others for a wine and cheese and play reading evening. As soon as Donna and I read the first one, we knew it wouldn’t work. The second play, read by two others wasn’t all that either, nor was the third. But the fourth, well, my goodness, it was a little gem. Called Theatrical Digs, it involved an elderly, retired actress and a younger actress meeting and having a conversation in two deckchairs at the beach. Catherine, the oldest woman at the gathering, read the part of the retired actress. Impossible to believe it was a cold read. Within seconds she was a fully rounded character. That play should definitely go on the group’s back burner, but it was no help to Donna and me.

Driving home afterwards, back to square one, I suggested perhaps we should just write something ourselves. We had some discussion about what the scenario might be. One possibility was two childhood friends meeting up for the first time in many years and catching up. That particular scenario prompted me to tell Donna my all-time favourite joke, which she thought was hilarious.

Not long before that play reading night, I finally took myself to see my doctor. I wasn’t sure what the problem was, but I knew there was something wrong with me. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so I won’t go into all the details, but suffice to say I was diagnosed with severe depression and started on a prescription of meds.

I’m not sure what happened. Certainly I hadn’t been on the meds long enough for them to kick in. Perhaps there was some sort of placebo effect. Anyway, a couple of days after the play-reading get together, I found myself wondering if there was some way to use my all-time favourite joke as the core of a play.

I’ve probably posted the joke somewhere before, but in case I haven’t, here it is:

There are these two southern belles who went to school together, but haven’t seen one another for a few years. They run into each other and start perambulating. The first one says “You know, sugar, when we got engaged, my beau, he gave me a fourteen carat diamond ring.” And the second one says, “That’s nice.” Then the first one says, “And when we got married, my beau, he gave me a Lincoln Continental town car.” And the second one says, “That’s nice.” Then the first one says, “And you know, sugar, for our fifth anniversary my beau took me on a five star luxury cruise around the world.” And the second one says, “That’s nice.” The first one goes on bragging for a while, then finally says, “So, sugar, what all did your beau give you when you got married?” And the second says, “Oh, he sent me to finishing school.” And the first one says, “Finishing school? Lord a mercy, why on earth did he send you to finishing school?” And the second one smiles and says, “Oh, I used to say ‘Fuck you’ all the time, but now I just say ‘That’s nice.’”

Out of that came the idea for That’s Nice, a one-act play about Charlotte and Emily (names chosen deliberately), two senior editors at a once prestigious publishing house who spend the duration of the play hiding from their awful best-selling authors. Once started, it was written in two or three days. I couldn’t believe what a roll I was on. Hadn’t been able to write like that for years. It was a miracle! I was cured before the meds even had a chance to kick in! Unfortunately that didn’t turn out to be the case, but Donna really liked the play and, with some minor tweaks after we arranged a reading with others, it was good to go.

Elsewhere, in the run up to the annual theatre festival, there had been some surprising and disturbing homophobic incidents on the island, including the defacement with biblical quotes of the posters for Lesbian Etiquette, one of the festival shows. Like most people on the island I was outraged.

A couple of days after these incidents began, I was talking on the phone to Mark. I congratulated him once again on his performance in The Gin Game. He said he was slowly but surely getting through his bucket list of roles he’d like to play. One of the roles on the list was Atticus Finch. After a moment’s hesitation I suggested that, while it was entirely possible for a seventy-year-old man to have a ten-year-old daughter, the optics might not be optimal and he might have to let Atticus go. And then, with courtroom dramas on the brain, I suddenly realised what the perfect response would be to all these homophobic Bible quotes. Except I couldn’t remember the name of the play. “Spencer Tracey!” I said urgently to Mark. “Monkey trial!” And he reminded me: Inherit the Wind. Yes! I said. That’s it! Turned out he had a copy of the film, which I borrowed. Yikes, I thought while watching it, how could we ever stage this in our tiny performance space? But this was the film version and they always open things up. I ordered a copy of the play. Yikes, I thought when I read the script. A two-level stage representing courtroom and town? There was no way we could do that. But I would figure it out somehow.

Although I had never directed any sort of play before, I was determined. And so I told the board: I want to direct a production of Inherit the Wind next spring. And they agreed.

Mark was keen to play Drummond, the Clarence Darrow-inspired character. I really wanted Donna to play the cynical reporter. Arranged to meet her and her partner Garry for a pint and announced my plans. Both agreed it was a massive undertaking, but also a very important statement. I loaned her the script and Mark’s copy of the film. A few days later I ran into them in the village. Garry informed me in no uncertain terms that he wanted to be in the play. Of course he wanted to play Drummond and there were problems surrounding a professional actor appearing in an amateur production, but both things could be overcome. Mark was loath to surrender Drummond, but did admit that he would be a better bombastic Brady. So, my two male leads were sorted and all I had to do now was cut 34 speaking roles down to a remotely manageable number and figure out how the hell we could stage the play.

inherit_wind

Okay, folks that’s it for today. Stay tuned for part 4.

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