Archive for the tag 'Paul Hough'

Bowie, Burroughs and Me

January 12th, 2016

David Bowie died on 10 January 2016.  He was 69 years old, three years younger than I am.  The only album of his that I owned was Ziggy Stardust back in 1972 and, later, I was a big fan of three of his movies—The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), The Hunger (1983), and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (also 1983).  There were rumors that Bowie visited William Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas, but our paths never crossed.  Not in the usual way, anyway.  I have already written about all this in paulstephenlim.com (under the subsection “Limoscenes” for my play Lee and the Boys in the Backroom).  You can read the full entry there, but I am reproducing below the part that deals with David Bowie.

Because of my friendship with William S. Burroughs and James Grauerholz (see also my NAKED LUNCH entries in the “Limerances” section of this website), it was only a matter of time before someone would suggest that I adapt something by Burroughs for the stage. I forget now who made the initial suggestion. It might have been James Grauerholz himself, or it might have been Mary Doveton, the artistic director of the Lawrence Community Theatre, where my plays CHAMBERS and FLESH, FLASH AND FRANK HARRIS had originally premiered. I was intrigued by the suggestion, and immediately read all the published works of Burroughs. The dramatist in me responded best to the novel QUEER because it was the most linear of Burroughs’ books, and also because it was a tragic love story on many levels.

When James and William both agreed to let me adapt QUEER for the stage, they also gave me permission to look through and use carte blanche any of the unpublished correspondence during the time period of the novel (1949-1952) between William and his friends back in the United States, among them Allen Ginsberg. How can any playwright resist this offer? And so I looked through the letters in the filing cabinets in Burroughs’ house in Lawrence, and the structure of the play began to emerge and evolve.

I showed big chunks of the play to William and James as I finished writing them, and they both seemed very pleased. After they read the first draft, the only suggestion I got by way of feedback from James was that I should cut some of the puns I had introduced into the text. James told me that, although William was a wordsmith and loved wordplay, he was not really a punster. And so I combed through the script and cut out most of the puns, this being perhaps the only time I’ll ever confess to being caught with my puns down.

Back in 1987, I wasn’t sure if calling the play QUEER, like the novel, would be a good move, even in a liberal town like Lawrence, KS.  However, back then in America, within the homosexual community, even with thousands of people dying of A.I.D.S., it was well known that many gay men continued to have unprotected sex in gay bathhouses and also in the dark backrooms of gay bars and xxx-rated movie houses. I tried to draw a parallel between Lee’s promiscuity in Mexico forty years earlier, with what was going on within the gay community in America in the late-1980s. And, of course, there was that lusty song, “The Boys in the Backroom,” which the gay icon Marlene Dietrich had sung in the movie DESTRY RIDES AGAIN. I thought the song was rousing and carousing, maybe even arousing in a different context, and that’s why I decided to call the play LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM. In retrospect, maybe I should have had the guts to just call it QUEER, after the novel from which it had been adapted.

My friend Paul Hough was not available to direct this play. I did not think there was anyone else around who had the right “sensibility” for the material, so I decided to direct it myself for the Lawrence Community Theatre, May 8-12, 1987. Because William S. Burroughs is who he is, and also because James Grauerholz is a superb publicist, the production attracted a great deal of attention. I remember there being a great deal of talk about another production, Off or Off-Off Broadway in New York, but this never actually materialized.

James informed me later that I had never actually entered into a legal arrangement with William to adapt the novel and/or the letters, that there was no contract, that I had no right to pursue other productions of the play. Besides, he said, there were other “more important people” who were also interested in adapting the novel QUEER, not for the stage, but for the movies. Among the names he mentioned was David Bowie. But, to make matters worse, James dropped some hints that both he and William never really liked my play. Because of this, James and I stopped talking to each other for a long time. But we eventually made up before William died. We’ve never talked about the play again, and there has never been another production of LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM. Nor has David Bowie (or anyone else) ever adapted QUEER for the movies. But this may still be forthcoming.

Lee and the Boys in the Backroom: A Play Based on the Novel QUEER and the unpublished correspondence of WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS

July 24th, 2009

Requirements:  38 parts played by 8 M and 1F (Voice Only).  Additionally, Lee’s wife Jane and Allerton’s girlfriend Mary will be represented on stage not by live actors but by life-sized ragdolls.

Setting:  A bar, a bed-sitting room, a movie-house, and various streets in Mexico City, 1949-1952.

Plot:  Lee and his wife Jane are American expatriates living on the fringe in Mexico City.  Although Lee seems to have some affection for Jane, he is also unabashedly homosexual. He meets and falls desperately in love with Allerton, a young American who claims to be straight and who has a girlfriend named Mary.  Lee wines and dines Allerton, and ultimately seduces him with outlandishly comic and absurdist stories which we see dramatized; and also with the promise of hallucigenic drugs and mushrooms.  Because Jane and Mary are represented on stage by life-sized ragdolls with large eyes and pursed lips, they are aware at all times of what’s going on with these men in their lives, but they also remain essentially voice-less.  When the sexual liaison doesn’t work and Allerton finally leaves, Lee is devastated.  He sinks deep into an alcoholic abyss, and would not have recovered had there not been other friends around him who cared about his well-being.

Theme:  This is a play about sexual passion and yearning; about what we do to our loved ones while we  are pursuing other love interests, especially if the new objects of our affection are illusive and ultimately unattainable.

Notes:  Because of my friendship with William S. Burroughs and James Grauerholz (see my NAKED LUNCH entries in the LIMERANCES section of this website), it was only a matter of time before someone would suggest that I adapt something by Burroughs for the stage.  I forget now who made the initial suggestion.  It might have been James Grauerholz himself, or it might have been Mary Doveton, the artistic director of the Lawrence Community Theatre, where my plays CHAMBERS and FLESH, FLASH AND FRANK HARRIS had originally premiered. I was intrigued by the suggestion, and immediately read all the published works of Burroughs.  The dramatist in me responded best to the novel QUEER because it was the most linear of Burroughs’ books, and also because it was a tragic love story on many levels.

When James and William both agreed to let me adapt QUEER for the stage, they also gave me permission to look through and use carte blanche any of the unpublished correspondence during the time period of the novel (1949-1952) between William and his friends back in the United States, among them Allen Ginsberg.  How can playwright resist this offer?  And so I looked through the letters in the filing cabinets in Burroughs’ house in Lawrence, and the structure of the play began to emerge and evolve.

I showed big chunks of the play to William and James as I finished writing them, and they both seemed very pleased.  After they read the first draft, the only suggestion I got by way of feedback from James was that I should cut some of the puns I had introduced into the text.  James told me that, although William was a wordsmith and loved wordplay, he was not really a punster.  And so I combed through the script and cut out most of the puns, this being perhaps the only time I’ll ever confess to being caught with my puns down.

Back in 1987, I wasn’t sure if calling the play QUEER, like the novel, would be a good move, even in a liberal town like Lawrence, KS.  However, back then in America, within the homosexual community, even with thousands of people dying of A.I.D.S., it was well known that many gay men continued to have unprotected sex in gay bathhouses and also in the dark backrooms of gay bars and xxx-rated movie houses.  I tried to draw a parallel between Lee’s promiscuity in Mexico forty years earlier, with what was going on within the gay community in America in the late-1980s.  And, of course, there was that lusty song, “The Boys in the Backroom,” which the gay icon Marlene Dietrich had sung in the movie DESTRY RIDES AGAIN.  I thought the song was rousing and carousing, maybe even arousing in a different context, and that’s why I decided to call the play LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM.  In retrospect, maybe I should have had the guts to just call it QUEER, after the novel from which it had been adapted.

History:  My friend Paul Hough was not available to direct this play. I did not think there was anyone else around who had the right “sensibility” for the material, so I decided to direct it myself for the Lawrence Community Theatre, May 8-12, 1987.  Because William S. Burroughs is who he is, and also because James Grauerholz is a superb publicist, the production attracted a great deal of attention.  I remember there being a great deal of talk about another production, Off or Off-Off Broadway in New York, but this never actually materialized.  James informed me later that I had never actually entered into a legal arrangement with William to adapt the novel and/or the letters, that there was no contract, that I had no right to pursue other productions of the play.  Besides, he said, there were other people, more “important” people, who were also interested in adapting the novel QUEER, not for the stage, but for the movies. Among the names he mentioned was David Bowie.  But, to make matters worse, James dropped some hints that both he and William never really liked my play.  Because of this, James and I stopped talking to each other for a long time. But we eventually made up before William died.  We’ve never talked about the play again, and there has never been another production of LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM. Nor has David Bowie (or anyone else) ever adapted QUEER for the movies.  But this may still be forthcoming.

Availability:  From the author, for reading purposes only.

Report to the River: A One-Act Play

July 23rd, 2009

Requirements:  2M

Setting:  Nick’s dormroom, a small carpetted central area containing a bed, a table and chair.  Surrounding the dormroom is Jake’s campsite near the turnpike by the Kaw River in Lawrence, Kansas.  Morning, Bastille Day (July 14), mid-1990s.

Plot:  Nick, a student attending summer classes at the University of Kansas,  introduces us to the facts and mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a nine-year-old boy along the Kaw River in his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas nearly ten years ago. Nick’s mother was a teacher in an elementary school briefly attended by the boy and, through his mother, Nick learns about how the boy had been befriended by 27-year-old transient from Texas, and how the two used to go fishing together along the river in the depressed and dilapidated low-income section of the city.  After the boy’s dismembered boy is found along the banks of the river, the transient is charged with murder.

But all the evidence is purely circumstantial, and things are further complicated by the fact that the transient himsel has the mental age of a nine-year-old child.  During the trial, the transient changes his story and, Rashomon-like, presents four different versions of how the boy died.  Nick is absolutely obsesssed with this case and, in his mind’s eye, he becomes the boy in the flashback sequences showing us the relationship between the boy and the transient. By the time the play ends, we learn that it’s possible Nick might not have been a reliable narrator for the events which we have just witnessed.

Theme:  How well do we know the underbelly of the towns and cities that we live in, the bridges which daily transport us but which really do not connect the comfortable middle-class with the less-fortunate and the homeless among us?

Notes:  Like Nick in the play, I was fascinated by the newspaper accounts of the death of a nine-year-old boy in Lawrence; and how John William, a 27-year-old transient from Texas who had been living underneath the turnpike bridge, was apprehended and charged with the child’s murder.  What first caught my attention was the report that the homeless man himself had the I.Q. of a nine-year-old child, and that he had built a raft which he meant to float down the river all the way to St. Louis, taking his own Huck Finn along for the journey.

Later, when I learned that this particular homeless person had been befriended by the boy’s family, but that the boy’s mother eventually threw the man out of their house for some unknown reason, days before the family’s Fourth of July cookout, and that the boy’s murder happened shortly afterwards, I was hooked.  There was no turning back.  I had to write the play.

I attended all the court hearings, bought over $2000 worth of court transcripts, and had over 16 hours of taped interviews with John William at the Douglas County Jail. I even had a lawyer draw up a contract between myself and John William, giving me universal rights to his story.  Sherry Pigg, a reporter for The Topeka State-Capitol Journal, wrote a front-page story about this legal transaction, and it caused a furor not just in Topeka and Lawrence, but also in Kansas City.  Under the Bundy Law, legal proceedings were brought against me, but I was eventually cleared of all charges.  However, under the Victim’s Reparation Act, John William had to turn over to the Settlemyer family what little remaining cash I had given him for the rights to his story.

And then, in another article about the play I intended to write based on the case, Sherry Pigg accused me of exploiting and “profitting” by a child’s murder. I began to get anonymous death threats in the mail and on the telephone.  The Lawrence police gave me tips on how to protect myself–e.g., walk my dog at different times of the day; take different routes when driving to work; park in different places in town and on campus; and, most frightening of all, not to sit in front of open windows and doorways inside my own house, especially at night, because anyone could walk into my backyard and take a shot at me.  As a result of all this, I put my voluminous research away and did not write the play until the spring of 1997.

History:  My original intention was to write a full-length courtroom drama based on the case, using a dozen actors, including someone who can play the nine-year-old victim.  When I finished the first draft of the play, I sent it to my good friend Paul Hough in Kansas City.  He had directed many of my earlier plays, and I wanted him to direct this one as well.  Paul called me within days, said he had read it, said he had loved it, but that there was no way he could or would direct it.  He told me no parent would ever allow their child to be in such a play, that the rehearsal process would be much too damaging to a child’s mental well-being, and that he could not in good conscience ever subject a child-actor to such a dangerous theatrical process.  This shook me to the core and, in the summer of 1997, I quickly rewrote the play.

And that’s how Report to the River got turned into a one-act play with just two characters. It was produced by English Alternative Theatre at the Lawrence Arts Center, Oct. 9-12, 1997; and, yes, Paul Hough directed it with great passion and ingenuity.  It was designed by Phill Schroeder, who also played the part of the transient.  Michael Senften played the part of the college student who is obsessed with the case.  The play was performed again on January 22, 1998 at the Region V festival of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival held at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS.    In June 1999, the play was given a staged reading (again with Schroeder and Senften as the two leads) and it won the top prize in playwriting at the Edward Albee Theatre Conference at Prince William Sound Community College in Valdez, Alaska. It had another staged reading at the ATHE pre-conference program at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, New York City, July 29-Aug. 1, 2000.

Availability:  From One Act Play Depot, and also from the author.

Figures in Clay: A Threnody in Six Scenes and a Coda

July 22nd, 2009

Requirements:  3M

Setting:  Three chairs in Dr. Beatrice’s office.  She is a marriage counselor, and the three men talk to her in different combinations–sometimes individually, sometimes in alternating groups of two, sometimes all three together–but Dr. Beatrice herself is never seen or heard.  Early August, late 1980s.

Plot:  Three men, twenty years apart in age, with the youngest at age 24 and the oldest at age 64, are in a problematic relationship, not least of which is that they are living in the age of A.I.D.S., and at least one of them has been sexually promiscuous.

Theme:  The role that mentorship plays in relationships where a partner is considerably more senior and/or junior in age.

Notes:  The lives and continuing relationships of three characters from Mother Tongue are explored further in this play.  Although the text reads like a radio play, on stage the three characters shift seats between scenes, as though they are playing musical chairs.  Another image I was working with is that of characters going round and round, as though on a carousel in a carnival; or like the clay figures in a shooting gallery, again in a carnival.

History:  The play was given a staged reading at a special panel at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention on December 28, 1990 in Chicago.  It was directed by Paul Hough, to whom I dedicate the play because he “believes in the art and nurtures the spirit.”  The three men were played by Alberto Isaac, Peter (Miner) Matthey and Joe McCauley.

Short scene from the play:  In this scene, all three men are in the office of Dr. Beatrice at the same time. They have been talking about their early sexual experiences and also their respective sexual fantasies.

ERIC: David takes great pleasure in telling the most extraordinary stories about his past.

CLARK: Only problem is, his mind embroiders.  It is also quite capable of complete fabrications.  Maybe that’s why he’s a writer.

ERIC: One afternoon, when we were driving across the Pasig River in Manila, he said the bridge we were on can only be experienced at four o’clock in the morning.

DAVID: Shortly after high school, I discovered a bridge in Manila which had a life of its own, but only in the pulsating hours before sunrise.  At one end of the bridge was a park beyond which were all my old haunts:  the bars and discos, the jazz clubs….At the other end was a large market where all the farmers and fishermen from outlying areas would bring in their goods before daybreak.  To get from the bridge to the market, there was a steep stairwell, stone steps.  At four o’clock one morning, after I had been drinking all night with Freddie, I found myself standing unsteadily at the top of that stairwell.  I had unzipped and was about to relieve myself into the darkness when, suddenly, I heard a voice whispering softly in Tagalog.  “Over here,” he said.  “We are over here.”  I stumbled over to the voice, and that was the beginning of an incredible journey.  Perched like birds of prey on each one of the stone steps was a shadowy figure, a hungry presence.  There were other, not-unwilling victims because, ahead of me, I saw them descending, receding, disappearing into blackness…and every so often one of the birds of prey would shriek with triumph:  “This one is finished!  I brought this one to completion!

ERIC:  Tennessee Williams would have loved that story.

DAVID:  Alex Haley and the whole oral tradition notwithstanding, I find it queer how so many of my fantasies are oral in nature.  Maybe I should be in oralysis, not analysis.

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

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Mother Tongue: A Recreation in Two Acts

July 22nd, 2009

Requirements:  14 characters played by 4F, 3M

Setting:  The action alternates between an office and a classroom in a midwestern university.  If possible, platforms and a limbo area can also be used for the various flashback sequences. 

Plot:  David Lee, a Chinese-American writer teaching in the English department at a midwestern university, is at a cross-roads in his life.  He has moved out of the house he has been sharing with his partner of nearly twenty years, and he is living temporarily in his office while continuing to teach his classes and working on his new play.  The work-in-progress starts out to be about his mother Lilian, a fourteen-year-old child-bride who leaves her parents in China to marry an older man in the Philippines in the late 1930s, but it soon turns out to be about himself as he finds himself undertaking the same sort of journey his mother did forty years ago.

Theme:  The nature of language itself, what we lose and/or gain when we give up one language for another; how our thought processes and maybe even our values are determined by the language(s) we speak and write,  perhaps even dream in.

Notes:  Lilian in this play is played by two women.  We meet Young Lilian at age 14, and see Old Lilian in her early 50s. While much of Mother Tongue is autobiographical, not all of it is factual.  That said, it should make no difference whether people know me personally or not.  Ultimately, the story of David Lee’s mother in her journey from China to the Philippines, and of David Lee himself in his journey from the Philippines to the United States, is the story of many people who leave one country for another, who abandon one culture for another, one language for another.

History:  Thanks to Mako, the play was first produced at East West Players in Los Angeles, Feb. 17-Mar. 6, 1988.  Paul Hough directed, and Alberto Isaac played the part of David Lee.  There was a staged reading at a theatre conference sponsored by the English department at the University of Kansas later the same year, again with Hough directing, and Isaac playing David Lee.  The play was subsequently produced by Actor’s Actors Inc. at the Cultural Center in Manila (Philippines), Apr. 20-22, 27-29 and May 18-19, 2001. Chris Millado was the director.

Short scene from the play:  David Lee teaches Freshman Composition and Literature at the University of Kansas. The various classroom sequences are organic and integral to the main narrative and action of the play itself.  I hope that the scene presented below illustrates this point.

(Scene 6: A week later, the classroom.  Lights up on the blackboard already in place.  On the table is a batch of tidily-stapled essays.  DAVID writes two short sentences on the board–“Lilian sings.  David doesn’t.”–then turns around to face the class.  He picks up the batch of essays and looks at his watch.) 

DAVID:  We’ve got a few minutes left, so before I return these gems to you, I’d like to talk briefly about the semicolon, and hope that in future you will know how to use this particular punctuation.  (Short pause.)  The most common usage of the semicolon is to join two complete sentences.  “Lilian sings.  David doesn’t.”  The period is perfectly acceptable, but it isn’t ideal.  It’s too divisive.  It chops up what might have been one thought into two independent thoughts.  A comma is a no-no, so what are we to do? 

We could turn the whole thing into a compound sentence by using a coordinate conjunction:  “Lilian sings, but David doesn’t.”  “Whenever Lilian sings, David doesn’t.”  Or, for that matter, into a complex sentence by using any number of subordinate conjunctions:  “Although Lilian sings, David doesn’t.  “Because Lilian sings, David doesn’t.” 

But what if subordination isn’t what we want?  Ahhhh, that’s when we fall back on the semicolon.

(David erases the period between the two sentences on the board and substitutes a large semicolon.)

Think of the semicolon as a period on top of a comma, the halfway point between a period and a comma–not a complete stop, but also longer than a pause, a sort of intermission.  (Short pause.)  Are there any questions?

(He starts to distribute the essays as the lights slowly fade to black for the end of Act One and the intermission.) 

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

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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Conpersonas: A Recreation in Two Acts

June 28th, 2009

Requirements: 2M, 2F

Setting: Upper East Side New York apartment.  Thanksgiving weekend.

Plot: A Jesuit priest investigates and relives, with devastating consequences, the relationships that his identical twin brother had had with three people who may or may not have contributed to the twin brother’s suicide.

Theme: What happens when we confide in friends, sharing with them our deepest secrets.  Do we end up expecting a great deal more of these people?  If so, can these unfortunate people ever live up to our expectations?  Are these friendships doomed once the confidences begin?

Notes:  The title “Conpersonas” is a word I made up, suggesting not only the pros and cons of our various personas, but also the people who trick or con us daily in strange and mysterious ways.  As for the sub-head, this is the first of many plays which I describe as “a recreation” because I seem to be drawn to material wherein the central characters are examining the present by re-living or re-creating various moments in the past.  And, obviously, it is also my hope that my plays will entertain and provide, however fleetingly, some moments of recreation.

History:  I wrote this play in a playwriting class taught by Ron Willis at the University of Kansas.  It was produced almost immediately by KU, with David Cook directing. In the cast were Paul Hough, Peter Miner, Nancy Flagg, and Sheri Schlozman.  The production won the 1976 American College Theatre Festival Award for Best New Play and was presented in the Eisenhower Theatre at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.  The three adjudicators were playwright Robert E. Lee, critic Henry Hewes of The Saturday Review, and critic Sylvie Drake of The Los Angeles Times.  The play was published by Samuel French, Inc. but, to my knowledge, it has never been performed anywhere else.  The reviewers in Washington, D.C. mostly agreed that the play was “too complex.”

Short scene from the play: Mark, a Jesuit priest, is talking to Shelagh, an older married woman who was the mistress of Mark’s identical twin brother.

SHELAGH:  I bet there are three kinds of people who seek you out in confession.

MARK: And who, pray tell, might these people be?  The first kind.

SHELAGH: (Spitting out the words.)  Fags!  God, how they must drool, kneeling inside those hot and sweaty boxes, knowing you are on the other side of the screen, knowing you will be listening to their heavy breathing, knowing you will have to forgive them their lust!

MARK: (Quietly.) And the second kind?

SHELAGH: (Rapidly, bitterly.)  Fag hags.  Older women.  More experienced women.  Women who are bored with their husbands because their husbands are bored with them. Women who allow other women’s husbands to speculate about them–“Does she, or doesn’t she?”–because they need to be reassured that they are still young, still attractive, still capable of doing wild things in bed!  Women who submit themselves to the ultimate test of their femininity, the seduction of that which is sacrosanct and verboten, the conversion of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Women who make the tragic mistake of falling in love with men who…simply are not interested in women.

MARK: (After a long silence.)  And the third kind?

SHELAGH: (Sadly.)  Teenyboppers.  Oversexed and precocious.  The daughters of fag hags.  Little girls who don’t know better than to…compete with their own mothers. (Short pause, then bitterly.)  When she was small, Rhoda and I used to do things together, tell each other our secrets, share all our likes and dislikes. Why, until very recently, I was even helping her to save up enough money to buy her own car!  A small Pinto, I suggested, but no, she wants a Mustang, just like I have.  (She looks at MARK suddenly, and laughs.)  Oh, we still do most things together, don’t get me wrong.  Still mount the same hobbyhorses, if you will.  But we no longer like each other enough to burden ourselves with one another’s…confidences.  For that we go to…other people.  Your brother, for instance.

 

 

 

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