Archive for the tag 'John Bush Jones'

Farewell, My Lovelies…

May 10th, 2011

On the afternoon of 9 May 2011, the English Department of the University of Kansas gave a festive “milestones celebration” in the North Gallery of the Spencer Research Library for three of its new retirees, presided by Chair Marta Caminero-Santangelo, and organized by Administrative Assistant Robert Elliott.  The retirees (Mike Johnson, Jim Hartman and I) were expected to say a few words. Here’s what I prepared for the occasion.

Many, if not most, of the people here know me as, until recently, the one and only person who has been teaching playwriting in the English Department since 1989, the same year I founded English Alternative Theatre to nurture, develop and produce the plays being written by my students.  But, my history with the department goes all the way back to spring of 1969, and not many people here know how I came to be at KU, so I thought I might share the story with everyone present.

These days, if I am filled with feelings I cannot begin to describe when I’m watching the hit television series MAD MEN, it’s because I lived through the same exciting period in the 1960s as an advertising copywriter for J. Walter Thompson in the Philippines.  Many of the ad campaigns that I worked on had won various industry awards, and my colleagues in Manila thought I was “good enough” to make it on Madison Avenue in New York.

Thus, travelling on just a tourist visa, I left for the United States with my hefty portfolio in June of 1968.  To my disappointment, after they looked at my portfolio, the people at J. Walter Thompson in New York said that, ironically, I had too much experience.  They were only interested in hiring cheaper, beginning copywriters.  They suggested I try my luck with employment agencies, which I did, and they in turn told me that I could lie about my experience and start at $18,000 a year, or else I could sit and wait for a $30,000 job to open up at one of the ad agencies in the city.  Not wanting to sell myself short, I chose to wait.

Day after day, I sat by the telephone, waiting.  Nothing.  Six months went by, and I began to worry, because my tourist visa was running out.  I had only two options.  I could be deported as an illegal alien, returning to Manila with that damned portfolio, my tail between my legs, or I could exchange my tourist visa for a student visa.  And then I remembered that, back in 1964, I had met a peripatetic historian from the University of Kansas, who had been in the Philippines first as a soldier during World War II, then as a Fulbright scholar, then as a frequent visitor in the course of his academic research.  Although I did not have any of my college transcripts from Manila with me, I turned to Grant Goodman to convince the registrar at KU to accept me as a foreign student.  And, believe it or not, that’s how I ended up in Lawrence, Kansas.

As a side note, two weeks before I left the East Coast for the Midwest, the telephone finally rang, not once, but twice, with lucrative job offers from The Wall Street Journal and from Alka-Seltzer, both of whom were starting their own in-house agencies, and they were interested in someone with my background and qualifications.

Too late.

I had dropped out of school after two years of college in Manila because I was bored with my teachers, but now I felt I was ready to reenter the groves of academe.  Had I gone to work for either The Wall Street Journal or Alka-Seltzer in New York, I would not have had the joy of studying with, among many others, Ed Wolfe, Ed Ruhe, Ed Grier, Paul Kendall, John Bush Jones, Jack Oruch, Max Sutton, Hal Orel, Beverly Boyd, George Worth and Jim Hartman.  I would not have formed lasting personal friendships with, among others, such wonderful colleagues in the department as Carolyn Doty, Bud Hirsch, Mary Davidson, Mary Catherine Davidson, Jim Carothers, David Bergeron, Geraldo Sousa, Amy Devitt, Dick Hardin, Bill Scott, Bob and Dorice Elliott, Marta Caminero-Santangelo, Brian Daldorph and Phil Wedge.

When Grant Goodman himself retired from the History Department 22 years ago, he let it be known that he did not want to be presented with an autographed 8 x 10 glossy of then-KU Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs Judith Ramaley, a position which, incidentally, no longer exists in Strong Hall.  I’ve never met our new Provost, so I don’t think there’s any danger of my receiving an autographed 8 x 10 glossy from him.  Truthfully, I am quite happy with all the pictures in my mind’s eye, of everyone I’ve named, of everyone here today, to say nothing of all the wonderful student playwrights, actors and designers I’ve been fortunate to work with through English Alternative Theatre, to remind me that the journey has been worthwhile.  Indeed, it has all been more than worthwhile.

These days, given the economy, I’m thankful I never got into the habit of reading The Wall Street Journal, so there is no reason for me to imbibe the “plop plop, fizz fizz” of an Alka-Seltzer.  Actually, I’ve never in my life ever had an Alka-Seltzer, not even the mornings after the nights of heavy drinking after some of our more memorable and sometimes even deplorable departmental meetings.  I hope I live long enough to tell all the steamy stories on my website at

Thank you for the memories, one and all, everyone.  A special thank you, too, to all my friends and colleagues who have given so generously to the KU Endowment Association for the annual Paul Stephen Lim Asian-American Playwriting Award which has been established by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Woeman: A Recreation in Two Acts

July 17th, 2009

Requirements: 5F, 1M

Setting: A small studio apartment in an old building near Columbia University, New York City.  Saturday afternoon, late June, the present.

Plot:  Something has happened to Charlie Womack, a photo-journalist in his mid-30s. All we know is that he is in the hospital, and that his mother has called an impromptu meeting in Charlie’s apartment.  Arriving at different intervals are Luette, Charlie’s 15-year-old daughter; Hildaberta, a German exchange student who lives in the same apartment building and who has been having an affair with Chairlie; Edgarda, Charlie’s ex-mistress, an older woman who continues to pay his bills; Geraldine, Charlie’s beautiful ex-wife and Luette’s mother; and, of course, Matilda, Charlie’s formidable mother, a registered nurse in her mid-50s.  Charlie himself appears only in flashbacks, as each of these women share painful stories about their respective relationships with Charlie.  The final image in the play is that of Charlie sitting on his bed in a catatonic state, as the five women strip his apartment, taking things that belong to them or that they might have given to Charlie in happier times.

Theme:  Thresholds of physical and psychological pain, and how much a man can endure before he snaps.  The conceit was to write a play about five important women in the life of one man, and how each of these women appeals to one of his five senses.  The man is “complete” as a human being only when all five women are in seeming harmony in his life.  What would happen to such a man if these women were to withhold or withdraw their support suddenly, in quick succession, within a 24-hour period?  Would such a man be reduced to catatonia?

Notes: Sometime in 1977, two students at the University of Kansas told me stories about themselves which stayed with me, stories which would not go away until I put them down on paper.  One story was told in excruciating detail by Steven Johnson, at an evening gathering, about a car accident he had been in, in which his right hand was nearly severed, but reattached (badly) by surgeons through a series of operations. He showed us his hand, how he could not move his fingers separately. Move one finger, and all the other fingers move simultaneously, “as though waving goodbye.” I asked Steve if he would tell the story again the following day so I could tape it.  He did, and his story appears almost verbatim in Woeman.  The other story was told by another young man, at another evening gathering.  His name was David Moses.  He was very drunk, so I have no idea if the story he told was in veritas or not, about what his father did to him when he was still a child, when his parents were undergoing a particularly nasty divorce.  I did not ask David to repeat his story on tape, and I have taken some liberties with the details as the story is told in Woeman. Through the years, I hear occasionally from Steven Johnson, and he fills me in on various female celebrities he claims he has been sleeping with in New York and Los Angeles.  As for David Moses, he went to Boston after he graduated from K.U.  Last I heard, he had died of A.I.D.S….More inventively, Woeman also has built-in echoes of the tragic story of Dryas from Greek mythology. As for the the title of the play, again it is a made-up word.  Most obviously, it implies that the play is about a man who is full of woe.  More subliminally, I wanted to suggest a variation, perhaps a more ancient spelling, of the plural form of “woman.”  And finally, although I wrote the lyrics for the song “Trees” which is sung by the character Geraldine in the play, the haunting music was composed by Craig Swanson.  Craig also posed for the figure of the man in the poster. The painting is by Lawrence painter Dennis Helm, who subsequently also died of A.I.D.S.

History:  The play was first produced in the William Inge Theatre at the University of Kansas, Sept. 28-Oct. 3, 1978.  Jack Wright was the director, and Del Unruh designed the set. Rusty Laushman played Charlie Womack.  The women were played by Joan Oberndorf, Deborah Moke, Heather Laird, Kathleen Warfel and Diana Sinclair.  The production was entered for competition in the original scripts division of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  During the feedback session, the KCACTF respondent (I forget her name) said that she “hates plays with flashbacks,” so we knew immediately that, unlike Conpersonas, neither the play nor the production was going to advance to the next stage of the competition.  Woeman was subsequently produced Off-Broadway in New York at the Marquee Second Story Theatre by Judith Joseph’s Shelter West Company in March of 1981.  It was directed by Eduardo Ivan Lopez.  Anthony Di Novi played Charlie Womack.  The women were played by Mary Charalambakis, Kevin Madden, Sandra Soehngen, Christy Brotherton, and Judith Joseph herself played Charlie’s mother.

Sampling of reviews:
“Lim’s play is rich in resonances, allusions and symbols.  His sensitivity and imagination show a literary intelligence.” — Glen Loney, After Dark
“A psychological who-dun-it….The playwright cleverly and successfully weaves the informative flashbacks…into the present.” –Joanne Pottlitzer, Other Stages
“Lim has written characters of substance, depth and complexity….An emotionally exhausting study of the impact of divorce and the inevitable failure of human relationships….Riveting….A human drama that aims for the gut.” — John Bush Jones, The Kansas City Star
“Lim has a gift for both urbane and cruel dialogue….His new play…ends with an impact that leaves the audience gasping.” — Mary Davidson, Lawrence Journal-World

Availability:  From Aran Press, and also from the author.

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Homerica: A Trilogy on Sexual Liberation

July 17th, 2009

Requirements: 33 Characters can be played 6F. 11M or (if absolutely necessary) 5F, 9M.

Setting: A basement space in the Village in New York City, used three different ways for the corresponding time periods depicted in the play.  In Act 1, “Bull’s Books,” it is an old apartment-cum-antiquarian bookstore, early evening on Veterans’ Day, sometime in the late 1960s.  In Act 2, “Sammy’s Swingles,” the space has been converted into a swinging singles’ bar, late afternoon of Veterans’ Day, sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s.  And in Act 3, “Mothers Superior,” the same space is now seen as a multi-purpose office-cum-priory, early afternoon of Veterans’ Day, sometime in the near future.

Plot:  In “Bull’s Books,” the aging proprietor of the antiquarian bookstore is going out of business and leaving for his home England.  The only books he is bringing with him are The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Lulu Plays by Frank Wedekind, Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, Querelle de Brest by Jean Genet, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and Forbidden Colors by Yukio Mishima. In his solitude, the old man begins to “interact” with the sexually-charged characters from the six books, who all make fun of his old-fashioned ways and his repressed sexuality.  In “Sammy’s Swingles,” the once-popular singles bar is going out of business, but there will be one final sleazy celebration in the space.  Patrick the bartender is getting married to Brigida the bouncer, and Rev. Billy Crackers is performing the ceremony.  Among the guests are Bob and Carol and Fu and Alice, a black drag queen named Midnight, a white hustler named Cowboy, cocktail waitresses named Linda and Georgina, and a deaf mute named Jack.  Things come to a frenzied climax when the bride gets gangbanged in the restroom offstage.   In “Mothers Superior,” a once-profitable operation being managed by a group of enterprising Irish nuns is going out of business because women in Third World countries (including the nuns in Ireland) are now so “liberated” that they too no longer wish to serve as surrogate wombs for wealthy women in North America who have neither the time nor the inclination to bear their own children. The business is saved when Dr. Shimbun, a brilliant Japanese obstetrician, discovers how the fertilized eggs of humans can be implanted and carried to term in the wombs of female baboons.  This scientific breakthrough has the blessings of the Primate of Rome, Pope Olazzo the First, who drops in to visit the nuns and the baboons, accompanied by his own special acolyte, a pubescent 14-year-old boy.

Theme:  The excesses and also the possible consequences of sexual “liberation.”

Notes:  “Homerica” is a word I made up, hoping to invoke the spirit of the blind Homer, and to evoke a different sort of odyssey in America.

History:  “Homerica” was produced in Lawrence, KS by Kansas University Student Union Activities, March 1-6, 1977.  It was directed by Paul Hough, with actors not only from Lawrence but also from the Kansas City area.  The complicated set was designed and constructed in Kansas City, then trucked into Lawrence and reassembled in the Kansas Union Ballroom.  Audiences were outraged by the play and, at a couple of performances, some people left angrily during the Second Act, after the preacher joins the gangbang offstage and we hear him shouting, “In God we thrust!”  Six years later, in June of 1983, I directed another production of the play at Leicester University in England.  There, the audience laughed more heartily and seemed to have a better time than their American cousins in Lawrence, KS.

Sampling of Reviews:
“A dazzling, virtuoso kind of theater! Homerica ultimately shows the destructive, regressive, dehumanizing effects of so-called sexual freedom with dire consequences for the entire human race.  The play comes to this bleak vision through three acts, each more crazily comic than the last….Pervading the whole, however, is Lim’s verbal wizardry and an electrifying theatricality.”
–John Bush Jones, Kansas City Star Magazine
A freaked-out farce–a kind of You Can’t Take It With You as revisualized by Heironymous Bosch.” — The Kansas City Times
“Lim takes his shots at marriage, family heritage, older ways of life, the Catholic church and motherhood.  Despite all the horror…the audience laughs as all these nostalgic institutions are shamelessly degraded….One of the most effective social dissertations of today.” — University Daily Kansan
Outrageous satire…wickedly funny.” — Leicester Mercury

Availability:  From Aran Press, and also from the author.

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