THE THIRTIETH CHALLENGE
Rewrite a play of someone else’s
You made it! (or you didn’t and that’s okay too- no really it is I’ve only finished about half the time when I try to do these. Kids, ya know? Life. Etc.)
If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Why do this? Well, for me it goes back to the essence of theater and promoting it as inherently an act of play - even the writing of it!- dangerous, delightful, adult, play.
It’s a bit of a yogic practice to be sure- good days and bad days- but it’s a mistake to try to hold back the waters and pray that it all works out when the dam bursts. It’s much better to live your life- idk why the water metaphor but--- building up muscles walking next to the creative river.
Anyway- last challenge. Here it is:
CHALLENGE: YOU. Rewrite a play of someone else’s. From this challenge. From classic works. From whatever. Boil it down to yourself with a sentence like “essentially this is a play about bad bosses- just like when I worked at Groupon (or whatever).” Then rewrite the play from your perspective, your life markers, yours and you and u.
Make it personal. A campfire story about how you got here.
And… add a dream sequence in the middle
Make it theatrical. Make it a rain dance.
Then smack us back down into the reality of the first part of the play.
Don’t forget to advocate for yourself.
Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
Obama says “Don’t boo, vote.”
I say “Don’t bitch, write.”
I love you for reading these.
I love you for choosing an artist's life. You are a leader in your community whether you feel like one or not. Whether they express it or not, other (muggle) people know you’re dangerous, powerful, and creative. They know you’re full of mystery and potential.
Honor yourself at the end of this.
Heal. Rest. Rest.
Celebrate it AS a thing. The end product is YOU- not the writing. The writing can’t happen without you, being in tune, doing that river walk (see above).
‘Til next year!
(I’m trying to do a riff on Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, with most of the genders flipped. The young trophy wife is instead a trophy husband, etc. So the professor, GWENDOLYN, has come with her new younger husband JONATHAN, to summer at the family farm of her late husband, now run by her daughter, OLIVE, and former sister-in-law, CONSTANCE. The local doctor, ESTHER, makes frequent visits. OLIVE pines for ESTHER, but she has her eye on JONATHAN, and it may be mutual. Which is even more awkward for ESTHER’s friendship with CONSTANCE, for she also pines for JONATHAN. Right now, I seem to be in a meditative phase where none of the characters are talking to each other; they’re instead engaging in conversation with inanimate objects. And so it goes…)
CONSTANCE kneels by a bed of autumn roses – a mixture of blooms in oranges and yellows and reds.
Such lovely things. It seems a shame to pick you.
The ROSES look to CONSTANCE.
If you live in there, and I live out here, how are we ever going to see and appreciate each other’s beauty?
You want me to cut you down?
It’s the only way I can be near you.
But you’ll die.
We’re all going to die. Flowers soonest of all. September is here anyway. Would you prefer I die out here alone in the chill?
No, of course not.
Take me inside, where I can be warm, with you. Let me brighten your rooms. You’ll tend me just as closely in there as you do out here. You’ll keep me alive as long as you can.
And if there’s someone you want me to impress and watch over for you, I can do that as well.
Beautiful autumn roses – lovely, sad roses.
We’ll be less sad together. You could bloom as well.
I have the clippers. I’ll be gentle.
Do it quickly.
I have you.
OLIVE sits at a piano.
The PIANO waits impatiently.
You’ve dusted me and polished me. Now play me. I’m not a piece of furniture. I’m meant to sing. But I need you to touch my keys.
I’ll disturb mother.
She and her books can walk outside. We are less mobile.
What if I play badly?
You’re not liable to play well if you don’t play at all.
I won’t offend you?
You only offend me by not allowing me to truly speak. I need your caress to set my voice free.
But the whole house will hear.
Let them. The silence in this place is suffocating.
You seem so sad.
There is nothing sadder than an unplayed piano. If you touch me, I’ll perk right up, I promise you.
OLIVE lays her hands gently on the keys, but don’t press down to play the notes yet.
Oh, the warmth of your fingertips. I’ve missed you.
I’ve missed you, too.
OLIVE plays first one chord softly, then another.
You sound so lovely.
We sound so lovely.
OLIVE starts picking out a little tune.
Dance with me!
OLIVE plays the PIANO with abandon, not caring who might hear.
JONATHAN finds the DOCTOR’S BAG, left behind.
The doctor’s bag, but no doctor.
JONATHAN moves closer to the bag.
It’s not like her to leave her tools behind.
The DOCTOR’S BAG speaks up.
She has another life.
When not looking after human life, she cares for the trees.
For that, I have no tools for her.
I’ve always wondered what she keeps in here.
Go ahead and look. I won’t tell.
If she valued her privacy, she wouldn’t leave me behind.
If you’re certain –
Take a peek. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t.
When JONATHAN still hesistates –
I won’t bite.
JONATHAN reaches into the DOCTOR’S BAG, carefully removing each tool and setting them in ordered rows next to the bag. He notes the location and order as he goes and arranges things in such a way that he’ll be able to reverse the process.
Last of all, he pulls out a small pocket flask for liquor.
JONATHAN opens it and sniffs.
Mostly still in there. It’s been a good day. Only one person died. And they were old, and not in pain.
Her lips have touched this flask.
Yours should, too.
JONATHAN looks around.
Piano music can be heard in a distant room.
DOCTOR’S BAG (cont’d)
Nobody here but you and me.
JONATHAN brings the flask to his mouth for a small, gentle sip.
Most medicine does.
JONATHAN picks up the stethoscope.
He puts the eartiips in his ears.
He places the diaphragm against his chest.
DOCTOR’S BAG (cont’d)
You can hear better if it’s against your skin.
JONATHAN slips the diaphragm inside his shirt.
It’s cold. It makes him jump just a bit.
Then he stands still to listen.
I have a heart.
GWENDOLYN sits, surrounded by stacks of books.
My brain used to retain a library of knowledge larger than this. Now bits and pieces, facts and quotations, just keep slipping out one after the other, day after day. And I don’t know I’ve lost anything until suddenly I’m reaching for a word and it isn’t there.
That’s why we exist. To hold things for you, for later.
I read you, but then it all falls out again.
Some. More than I’d like.
That’s why you keep us.
I keep you for vanity. So people know that I’ve read you. I command you. That you’re up here in my head. Something they haven’t even touched, couldn’t possibly understand.
No one’s quizzing you.
I’m terrified. The blood coursing through my skull, my heartbeat, it’s deafening.
Piano music is heard in a distant room.
The joy in that music mocks me.
It’s only music.
I’m scared. I feel so small.
Come here. Get lost in us for a while.
The BOOKS gather round and embrace GWENDOLYN.
We’ll keep you safe.
ESTHER, wearing work gloves and carrying a small bucket with gardening tools, walks up to a massive tree, towering out of sight.
In its shadow, she finds a small sapling.
Well now, you’re not going to get a lot of sun here, are you, tiny thing?
I keep stretching, but I can’t reach the sky and I can’t reach the light.
ESTHER kneels down beside the sapling.
It’s been so long since anyone even noticed I was here.
ESTHER touches the sapling’s leaves with a gloved hand.
It’s been even longer since anyone touched me.
I think the solution is just to move you about six feet to the left.
ESTHER gets out a small trowel.
I’ll try to be as gentle as I can. I may not get every single one of your roots. You’ll have to forgive me.
I can grow more roots, what I need is more sun.
ESTHER digs carefully around the sapling.
There now. I think that’s got it.
ESTHER digs her hands into the dirt around the SAPLING.
The SAPLING giggles.
ESTHER scoops the SAPLING up in her arms, roots dangling.
I dug a hole over here the other day, thinking I might need to move you.
ESTHER gently sets the SAPLING in the hole, then fills in the dirt around it and pats it down.
It’s so warm here. I’d forgotten what the warmth of the sun was like. It’ll take some getting used to.
There. That’s a start.
I wish I could offer you shade as a thank you.
ESTHER walks over to the massive tree while addressing the SAPLING.
You’ll be able to someday.
Just like this tree my father planted now shelters me.
ESTHER sits in the shade of the massive tree.
ESTHER takes off the gloves and gets a book out of her bucket.
The TREE speaks in a deep voice from above her head.
Welcome back, Esther.
Now let’s see, where was I?
ESTHER reads, leaning against the TREE, as the SAPLING wiggles in its new spot, settling in.
Piano music can be heard coming from the house just beyond the woods.