Planning Intense and Hilarious Theatricality, Composing, 09/02/2015

I don’t think I’ve ever worked on as tight a deadline as on Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. It is, after all, the highest profile publication I’ve ever had, a major book from a major professional publisher of philosophy in a focal series. After three years of so little interest in the project, it still hasn’t fully sunk in how enthusiastic my contacts at Palgrave are about it.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not also cooking up ideas for other projects as well. My Alice script is still on pause while I work through my communications program, and Lee my collaborator on that project is in no hurry.

This post, I’d like to float an idea to my readers about some theatre ideas I’ve been thinking about since late last year. For one thing, I’m going to make some changes to the script for You Were My Friend, particularly changing a scene midway through the story where we’re first introduced to Madison’s job security anxieties. Instead, I’ll focus on getting to know their family backgrounds a bit better, perhaps Madison and Vicki’s relationships with their fathers.

Like the earlier scene (which still plays damn near perfectly) about their major romantic partners at the time, it’ll subvert the usual tropes of women talking about men. That scene about their ex or on/off boyfriends started with a funny story from Madison about the sort-of hipster douche she keeps seeing despite her better judgment, and ended with a harrowing story of how Vicki’s whirlwind secret romance with a man ten years older than she was ended up getting her thrown onto the street. 

I think the new version of the third sequence will start the same way. Vicki will come home from a long shift to find Madison exasperated after another terrible quality sexual encounter with her not-boyfriend. As Vicki leaves and returns a few times to change out of uniform, Madison’s father calls her for an awkward conversation, and afterward, she ends up unloading a story of a piece with American Beauty or Revolutionary Road

Vicki responds with a story about her parents’ divorce that, when described in the abstract, is just as horrible, but she plays it for laughs. And the audience will laugh along with her. Nonetheless, when Vicki needs to turn to her parents for help at the end of the play, the audience will have already had their unresponsiveness set up, even though they were laughing about it originally.

But I had an idea for a totally new play. Here’s the pitch: Like Death of a Salesman, but it’s funny and there are lesbians.

It’s title is It’s The Best I Can Do!. I think this will end up being a common idea in my theatre work, that my titles will be phrases that my characters could conceivably say at a key moment in the story, but don’t because that would be ridiculously corny.

There are four characters, all with about equal focal time. It’s easiest to start with James (but most people call him Jamie), a part-time accountant who works by freelance contracts from a home office after he left his old firm due to workplace stress. His role is to become increasingly confused, frazzled, and desperate as the story goes on.

Jamie’s wife Amy is a top executive for a chain of coffee shops (maybe they’ll be analogous to Second Cup). Jamie’s brother Adrian, recently divorced, was downsized out of his managerial job a little while ago (maybe he worked at Tim Horton’s in administration). Because Adrian is so desperate for something to keep him from going stir-crazy in his one-bedroom apartment, he talks Amy into getting him a job as a barista at a Third Mug location. I think this would work as the first scene of the play.

Then, due to a comically complicated situation involving when direct deposits actually make it into his bank accounts, Adrian’s rent check bounces, and his landlord visits his job at Third Mug trying to track him down for the money (he’s not living in a very pleasant building), but he isn’t even working that day. As a result of this humiliation, Adrian’s boss fires him, and he spends the rest of the play on an increasingly ridiculous bender. 

While Jamie is chasing down his brother, Amy is having a breakdown of her own from the pressures of her executive job where she has to act harder than her own personality can handle in a patriarchal environment. She also has to deal with their mortgage and payments on two cars, among other household expenses that were set when she and Jamie were both working high-powered jobs. Jamie’s part-time income is a little less than it used to be, and the strain is wearing on her, as is resentment at having had to shoulder so much extra financial and emotional burden on the household. 

Using the name Cordelia makes some
King Lear images float around this
story as well.
This is where Amy and Jamie’s old college friend Cordelia appears, having spent years working in America developing a Gawker-like media network and now in a relaxed, but high-paying, job arranging finance capital for tech firms (which mostly amounts to networking startups with the larger companies that buy them out). Cordelia is at first a sympathetic ear to Amy, but eventually her comments betray a sense of contempt for Jamie and Adrian.

So as one man who barely held onto his sanity chases after another man who has thrown his away, two women look on this mess and eventually decide to cut their losses. Essentially, and by the end of the play literally, Cordelia is seducing Amy to leave her husband for her. 

Cordelia is Amy’s way out of the binds in her life, through which she can embrace happiness and fulfillment. 

Perhaps tomorrow, I’ll go into some of the philosophical ideas that underlie this story as I think about the narrative. About happiness, life, and death.

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