Letters to Holly

Tuesday, March 25

A Possible New Play

When our performance ended Sunday, the director handed me another script for a murder play he'd like to do this year. In fact, this was the play he almost staged this year. He gave me the copy and told me to tell him honestly what I think of it.

I read Absolutely Dead yesterday, and it's remarkably similar to our play. I think it's because there's a sub-genre of mystery plays crafted specifically for older theatre repertories, and we can call this subset Evil Youngsters Are Punished. Because so many "little" theatres are powered by retirees, they mount shows geared toward a similarly aged audience. These theatres are usually meager in funds and resources and can't compete with the flashier companies that attract younger crowds and actors with risky or expensive productions. Little theatres can't take a chance on offering a show that will repel their core patronage, and they develop a niche. One always knows the kind of show they'll offer and the general tone of them.

Which isn't to say bigger theatres are always more interesting; my hometown company can't break away from the old stalwarts of theatre, and they're fare is inspiring for neither the cast or audience. There will always be theatres that take the safe, dull route of offering Our Town and Oklahoma! and Oliver and many shows that don't start with the letter O. I imagine the fear of losing a fanbase is palpable for the theatre committees, and they generally schedule shows when they know they have the actors to try them. No theatre around here will mount 12 Angry Men because it's so damn hard to find 12 men of any disposition for community theatre. This dearth leads to gender-bending efforts like the female Odd Couple. Why is Greater Tuna so popular? You only need two guys and a heap of costumes. It's a cheap show.

Which is how the kind of script I was handed gets made. Absolutely Dead calls for eight people, six of them over the age of 50. A retirement party in Connecticut (also the setting of our play) has family and friends bicker over who will replace the patriarch at his company. A big storm hits, no one can leave, the father dies, and then others start dropping like flies. The only ones left are the young kids who, of course, are in cahoots. But we learn that she's setting him up and has helped fake all the deaths. This elaborate hoax is all to get him to confess to a murder eight years prior. The revived adults corner him, the girl abandons him, and he's dragged off to jail. Then the adults toast their cleverness and success against the Evil Youngster.

So you can imagine which role I would be in the running for. And I might be more inclined to audition (read: show up and be handed the role) if I didn't have three performances left in the current Evil Youngsters show I'm in. As flattered as I am to be considered, the new play has a lot of problems. Let me apply my bullets:

  • The name. Absolutely Dead is a giveaway that someone ain't. Its a horrible name for the show as it doesn't give one the feel of what's to come. Hostile Takeover or Dirty Business or something referring to the corporate subplot would be better. I think the giveaway name is meant to let the audience immediately know that the Evil Youngsters are a step behind the Wily Seniors from the get-go.
  • The plot. I'm fine with the storm-trapped tension amid a sequence of murders. But the fake deaths occur solely to draw out a confession for an old murder. Why not simply apprehend the Evil Youngster for all the attempted murders he's committing this night?
  • The morals. The boozy wives are revealed to also be faking their intoxication, and, besides that, drinking is as fundamental to these kinds of plays as the murder weapon. It's excusable drinking for an often-moralistic audience. But not only do we find out that the two young lovers are actually half-siblings (after a long-ago neighbor romance), but we learn that everyone except the Evil Guy knows about it, including the Fake Evil Girl. In fact, the Evil Girl withholds this information even as she literally woos him into completing the murder scheme. So does everyone else. They all secretly encourage his efforts to court her so he'll be comfortable in confessing to her later. But this is ignored so the audience can cheer Evil Guy's downfall. This needs its own bullet point ...
  • The FUCK? This gaggle of old people are OK with the Evil Guy sniffing around his half-sister? She's OK with making out with him (onstage; so there would be that perk for playing the guy, I suppose)? She's also OK with pretending to murder her dad if it leads to Evil Guy admitting he killer her mom? Why don't all these people simply confront him if they all suspect him? Why and how do they manage to craft this elaborate plot without him knowing it? They all know he killed someone before; why risk him actually killing someone during the ruse? How can they know a storm will arrive and keep him in the house? Of course, he has to think he's a smartie so the old audience can be smug in his downfall. This is porn for old people.
If we ignore these details, the atmosphere of the play could be good. It would be tense and violent. But if anyone bothers afterward to consider what deliberation and skulduggery occurred to make the events possible, I think they'd feel cheated of a good story. I gotta give him the script back tomorrow at our rehearsal.

I noticed yesterday that an Asheville theatre -- the one where I played Gooper -- is producing a stage version of Misery. Now THAT could be fun. You have maybe four cast members, a small set (bedroom, hallway, etc.), and one person who spends most of the time in bed. I'm probably too young to play the bed-ridden author, but it would be different from the play I'm still in to get my attention.

Your Sis is taking Friday off to help prepare the cast party out our house. She started Saturday, and I think she's eager to apply her infamous teaching work ethic to something outside a classroom. I'm considering the subject for my first painting in ten years, and we're going to cover up the garden soil to burn away the overgrowth.

Dad is doing OK. A little thinner up top and on the scale, but he feels alright.

Picture of the Day
Cute Batman

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