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Jeremy's Ramblings, Babblings, and Other Pretentious Bullshit.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
 
On Friday, I bought the ultimate in wireless technology: A manual typewriter. It is a beautiful Olivetti Studio 44, dating back to 1952.

Isn't it a beauty?

For the past few days, I've been carrying it around, crazily typing out everything from play ideas to promotional materials for "4.48 Psychosis" to my Oscar nomination predictions (more on that later). Writing on a computer is problematic for someone who is as easily distracted as I am, and handwriting gives me too much of a cramp. So this is the perfect way of having a portable writing device with me wherever I go. Plus, hearing the old school sound of "click-click-click-click-click-click-DING!!!" is really quite satisfying.

So, with my new typewriter sitting proudly in the passenger seat of my car, I drove to Costa Mesa on Saturday and strolled into the second week of the eight-week playwriting class that I am taking at South Coast Repertory. The class is being taught by Noah Haidle, who made a splash at SCR when he wrote two brilliant, controversial pieces at the age of 24. One of those pieces is now playing off-Broadway in New York.

There I sat in the SCR Boardroom, staring at the poster of Ed Harris in their 1981 production of "True West" with about a dozen other writers. I was listening as several of the other members of the class were reading my latest play "Orange Alert" out loud. They told me how much they liked the developments from the seemingly normal O.C. world of the first act to the crazy, screwed up world of the second act.

Then Noah leaned forward and stated that he thought the piece felt like two different plays that did not match. He felt cheated when the beauty and realism of one of the storylines in the first act tragically turned out to be pretense in the second act. He wondered about the political themes that are presented.

And then I noticed something unusual happen. Those that were defending the play were now criticizing it. Suddenly, the term "two different plays" was being bounced around the room like a four-square ball. People were seemingly either reaching for things to criticize or they were going against what they had previously said. Could it be that they were agreeing with Noah because he was Noah? Seeing as these individuals were the same ones who spent fifteen minutes in the previous week's class desperately picking at his brain, this does not seem so farfetched.

I walked out of the class remembering why I've always hated the idea of being "taught" playwriting. Two different plays. From the very beginning that's what people said about "American Way", from those that first read it to the reviews of its first production. That tends to be my style. Taking an audience down one road, making them believe something is happening, and then pulling the rug out from under them and showing them what the play is really about. What makes that wrong?

People complained about how some scenes made them uneasy, took unhappy turns or left them with questions. Isn't that what a lot of good plays do? Does every play have to continue down one path to its inevitable conclusion? Isn't surprise an important element of storytelling? And for the love of God, just because someone who makes a living as a playwright disagrees, does that mean you have to betray your own opinions just to agree?

A few days have passed, and I have since rescinded my feeling of hating playwriting classes. I realized that the comments of Noah and those who agree with him, while misunderstanding my intentions, did serve a very useful purpose. They made me realize what I was intending with my play. The sudden shift in tone, and the consequences of these romances turning very, very foul, is representative of the awakening we get in the people and environments around us when we start seeing their faults and dark secrets. Yes, it settles into this leisurely pace in Act One and then suddenly becomes jarring, frantic and somewhat unsettling in the second half. But then again, doesn't life do that to us from time to time?

So thanks Noah and fellow classmates. I can't wait for next Saturday.

On a random topic jump, the Academy Award nominations came out today. Here are the categories I care about:

BEST PICTURE
Brokeback Mountain
Capote
Crash
Good Night, and Good Luck.
Munich

BEST DIRECTOR
George Clooney - Good Night, and Good Luck
Paul Haggis - Crash
Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain
Bennet Miller - Capote
Steven Spielberg - Munich

BEST ACTOR
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Capote
Terrence Howard - Hustle & Flow
Heath Ledger - Brokeback Mountain
Joaquin Phoenix - Walk the Line
David Strathairn - Good Night, and Good Luck.

BEST ACTRESS
Judi Dench - Mrs. Henderson Presents
Felicity Huffman - Transamerica
Keira Knightley - Pride & Prejudice
Charlize Theron - North Country
Reese Witherspoon - Walk the Line

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
George Clooney - Syriana
Matt Dillon - Crash
Paul Giamatti - Cinderella Man
Jake Gyllenhaal - Brokeback Mountain
William Hurt - A History of Violence

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams - Junebug
Catherine Keener - Capote
Frances McDormand - North Country
Rachel Weisz - The Constant Gardener
Michelle Williams - Brokeback Mountain

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Brokeback Mountain - Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
Capote - Dan Futterman
The Constant Gardener - Jeffrey Caine
A History of Violence - Josh Olson
Munich - Tony Kushner and Eric Roth

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Crash - Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco
Good Night, and Good Luck. - George Clooney & Grant Heslov
Match Point - Woody Allen
The Squid and the Whale - Noah Baumbach
Syriana - Stephen Gaghan

A fairly predictable set of nominees for what looks to be a fairly predictable Oscar ceremony. The one big surprise is that "Syriana", which was based on a book by Robert Bahr, is in the Original Screenplay category (since it's been nominated for Adapted Screenplay everywhere else).

And who knows. Maybe "A History of Violence" and "Match Point" will take home screenplay Oscars, despite their unsettling shifts in tone.

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