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Jeremy's Ramblings, Babblings, and Other Pretentious Bullshit.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
 
I could soon be on my way to making more money from my playwriting. In my seven years of writing plays, I have received a whopping $450 for my troubles (jealous?). But I have come to realize that I have a few plays that are simply taking up space on my hard drive.

So yesterday, I sent three of my scripts to a publisher in Texas that specializes in plays for high schools. And considering how I discovered the company, I don't see why they should not accept them.

A couple of days ago, I was sitting at the Hunger Artists theater, getting ready for a rehearsal of "Little Women" (opening November 18th...shameless plug), when one of my co-stars walks up to me and drops a script in my lap. I take a look at the cover and am immediately filled with excitement.

The script is from a local playwright who specializes in comedies that are the theatrical equivalent of a Pixi Stik. His scripts are lack any sort of theatrical weight, his characters are devoid of any human qualities and his plot devices are unoriginal.

Now, don't get me wrong. I appreciate a good stage comedy. When done expertly, "Arsenic and Old Lace", "Noises Off" and "Play It Again, Sam" can come across wonderfully on stage (although I'm still convinced that, no matter who is involved in the staging, "The Odd Couple" was, is and always will be a puddle of foamy emu poop). However, this particular playwright (who considers himself a trained professional) still has a lot to learn about how to construct a tight comedy.

My excitement over receiving this gift derives from my guilty pleasure toward so-bad-they're-good entertainment. Plays and movies filled with lame jokes, miscasting, awkward direction and cheesy effects are my bread and butter. There's something almost endearing about "Troll 2", "The Wasp Woman" and "Girl in the Gold Boots" in the way that they fail so miserably in attempting to be a substantial work of horror/comedy/drama.

This particular script involves one of the most tired plot devices of the last century or so: The "Freaky Friday"-style switcheroo. This reincarnation of that old chestnut involves two faculty members of a high school faculty (one a psychologist and one a music "specialist") switching places for one school year (the name of the school is Benedict Arnold High School. Oh, the wit!). And when this happens, to quote the back of the script, "Chaos reigns!"

Now, I would like to personally issue a proposal that, in the world of theater, chaos stops reigning, wacky fun stops ensuing and zaniness stops happening. At least in the plot synopses. I think it's pretty evident that if two teachers switch places, a troupe of actors try putting a show together without their leading actress or a man with a funny accent moves into your house, that things will not be normal. In fact, if you're watching a play at all, things should not be normal.

I would now like to present you with a few choice dialogue samples from the piece. *AHEM*...

RUFUS: If you two gentlemen change places and pull it off for one school year, I'll give you $500,000.

THORPE: You usually have one or two fabulous tales to tell. What is it this year? Did you kidnap the Princess Hanakalua from a remote Pacific island?

BENTLEY: Boy, you've got violinist's hands!
PETER: Is it contagious?

BENTLEY: She's pouring something into a gourd.
ALVIN: You're out of your gourd!

COUNSELOR: Say, Mr. Cooper, my son will be graduating from high school next year and is interested in psychology. I want him to study where you did. Where did you get your training?
BENTLEY: Juilliard School of Music!

HEPHZIBBAH: Everyone in the rest room I was in was a man. How did they all go into the wrong rest room?

There are the two men, one nervous and jumpy, the other care-free and outspoken (an odd couple, indeed). There are the trophy wives, who serve the play only to discuss their husband's problems (and whose big scene takes place outside, that's right, a hair salon). There's the principal's wife (the absurdly-named Hephzibbah), who is so near-sighted that she has to literally walk right behind her husband to see him. There's the waiter at the posh Martinique's Restaurant, who has nothing better to do than stroke his moustache and eavesdrop on our character's conversations. There's the rich, eccentric uncle who travels around the world and undoubtedly wears a monocle.

Then there are the number of faculty and students (who are so unbelievable that, in real life, other students would accuse them of being narcs) who haven't seemed to notice that two of their teachers have dressed up like each other and switched places. Why is it that minor characters in chaos-reigning comedies have to be so stultifyingly stupid to the point where you expect them to start drooling?

And just when I thought I was home free from the pool of banality that I was swimming in, the last sentence of the last page kicked the crap up a notch: "All four of the characters look at each other, then to the audience--wink." It ends with a wink! A fucking wink!!! The only way to make it worse would be if they all did a Toyota jump and froze in mid-air!

I set the script down on my lap and realized that I had not read a script this horrible since my sophomore year of high school when I was in Craig Sodaro's audience participation mystery spoof "Touchtone M For Murder". It's that bad, ladies and gentlemen!

However, when I decided to research the publisher that would actually print a play this horrible, I found that they specialized in high-school-appropriate plays. I thought back to my high school drama department in northern Idaho, which was simply laughable. Our resources and budget were miniscule, our talent limited and our productions innocuous and lacking in any sort of ambition. Not exactly the kind of nurturing environment for someone who wants to spend a life in theatre (we did do a just-this-side-of-legal production of "Cats" my junior year, but even then, my choir teacher and I had to sidestep past the drama department to get that show done).

I thought about how my school would struggle just to find a quality piece of entertainment that would meet with the ultra-conservative standards in that reddest of all red states. I remembered how we would get stuck doing pieces like the one I had just read.

And I thought about some of the lesser play scripts that I had written. There were plenty of harmless, humorous one-acts that I wrote as a teenager. I also recently wrote a low-budget adaptation of "Taming of the Shrew" for Brey's high school (which they ended up not using). Slight, but amusing, entertainment. I didn't have any plans to shop those scripts out to local theaters. So why not put them on the market so that a high school drama department like the one I had could perform them?

After all, wouldn't it be nicer for them to do a show that's funny and family-friendly, but from a writer who is closer to their age than the other playwrights? And whose plays don't suck as bad as the one that I read?

So, yeah, I could soon be headed to a high school play catalog near you!

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