Update November 13, 2021: Progressing on Lycanthrope

I am trying to come up with ideas on how to conclude Lycanthrope. I think focusing more on developing the protagonist’s (Peter’s) character through interior monologue would help not only reveal more of his nature, particularly through showing his perspective on the world, but would help generate more ideas on how to wrap up the book.

As I surfing YouTube last night, I came upon a one-man, one-act play version of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground starring Larry Cedar as the collegiate assessor. Excellent production. This is the kind of interior monologue I am talking about.

I have started to read Notes from Underground several times, but never could finish it before being pulled off onto something else. I am enjoying this production. It seems to be holding true to the text as I recall it, though, of course, this production is a severely abridged version of the novel. Any audiobook version of Notes… lasts about five hours, whereas the stage production lasts about 90 minutes. I enjoy productions like this one, set in the appropriate period, because they help me visualize the events. I still need to sit down and read the novel through in one sitting though to appreciate it as it was intended to be appreciated.

However, I do find Cedar’s interpretation of the collegiate assessor fascinating. I like his active acting style. Though I am not an actor (though I have one or two WIP’s that are plays), his technique seems ideal for the stage and particularly for a one-man show, which demands that the protagonist keep the audience riveted. Some people may consider it somewhat melodramatic, but I would disagree. I think it is ideal for the play and for expressing what is going on in the characters’ minds. I recommend watching this production to anyone, particularly to those with an interest in 19th century Russian literature.

Going to his YouTube page, I see that Larry Cedars has several similar one-act plays to be viewed, including at least one based on one of Kafka’s work. I will make it a point to watch as many of these as I can.

Another Trip Down Memory Lane Courtesy of the Internet

Last night’s ego-surfing turned into a pilgrimage down Memory Lane. In addition to finding one of my old photos in a new webzine article and finding one of my old videos at The Bleeding Critic, I also found where I had commented on an article about a Tennessee Williams’s one-act play in which I once acted: Portrait of a Madonnna. I played the role of the porter. The article to which the link leads contains the entire text of the play.

It was 1997 and I had not been out of the Navy long. I had returned to my home town of Frankfort, KY for a while. I was an aspiring photographer then. I don’t recall at the moment how it happened but I became involved in a local theatre group as an actor and as the photographer that shot the cast photos.

For a run of about a few weeks, I played in two one-act plays by Tennessee Williams. One was Portrait of a Madonna, as mentioned above. I don’t recall the name of the other, but I played a drunk whose wife drags him to visit some friends during Mardi Gras. If I recall the name, I will update this post accordingly.

Over the last few years, I have endeavored to see as many plays as I can in order to study playwriting, staging, and the art of the theatre in general. Unfortunately, I have not gotten to see many performances in person. However, I have been watching the movie versions of plays as much as I can. I try to watch the films versions that are noted as being close to the original stage production. I now have a small collection of the works of Shakespeare on film. I watch the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” occasionally. I have seen “Equus” starring Richard Burton. I have tried to watch “Waiting for Godot” a few times, but I keep falling asleep. I have the move versions of “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “Cat on A Hot Tin Roof”, and “Night of the Iguana” on DVD. I will get more plays on film, particularly of Tennessee Williams’s plays, as soon as I can.

Tennessee Williams,, 1965
Tennessee Williams,, 1965

I really enjoyed acting and wish I had stayed with it longer or gotten involved with it again at some later point. I had done a lot of public speaking while in the Navy, so I was comfortable on a stage. Memorizing the lines was a bit of a challenge, but being able to interact with the other actors and going through all the practice and blocking and deciding on costumes was really fun. Of course, I enjoyed the applause at curtain.

Acting is not all that far removed from day-to-day life. We all have to think about how we appear to other, what actions we should take in the presence of others, what we should say in front of others. It almost comes naturally in a sense. The benefit of theatre is that you get to practice your lines and prepare your wardrobe to produce the image you want to project to your audience.

If I had the chance now, I would definitely become involved in acting again.

Since 1997, I have been working on a few plays of my own, though only one or two very short ones have been finished. Currently, I have two longer plays in the works and one short one that I have submitted to a competition in New York.

The one that has been submitted is the stage adaptation of my flash fiction story ‘Murder by Plastic”, which was published on FictionontheWeb.co.uk in 2015 and which has received some good comments from readers. The contest is looking for plays of about ten minutes in length and which can be stage by 5-6 people or less with a minimal amount of props. I should hear in January whether I am a semi-finalist. there’s not a big financial award if I win, but they will produce the play.

I have an idea for a one-act play of about a half-hour or more. I not yet completed the first draft. It is called “Incommunicado”. It is a about a man who, after a DUI, has been off the bottle for a year, but now that all his court-ordered punishment and probation is over, goes to a small village in the remote mountains of southwest New Mexico, to drink and write. However, he has an internal struggle, because he has grown to like sobriety. His writing is also challenged by meeting a woman, with whom he has a fling over the weekend, despite having a girlfriend in Albuquerque. One inner battle facing him is whether he will stay with his girlfriend or his new lover.

The longest play is three acts, about 1.5 hours, and is about a man and a woman who have been cheating on their spouses for over a year just for the sex and drinking and riotous fun. I call it “Centaurs”. The man and woman have been keeping their identities and backgrounds from each other, because they don’t want any attachments. However, they begin to find themselves attracted to each other when another woman becomes involved.

I have been working on “Centaurs” for about twenty years now. I started it as a short story, but then decided that a play would be a much better fit for the story. Writing it as a play seems a lot more fun than writing it as a short story and challenges me creatively in new and exciting ways.

Anyway, that’s my take on my involvement in the theatre for the moment. Maybe I will write more at a later date. I will, of course, provide updates as my writing and (hopefully) production of these progress.

I want to hear your thoughts. Please provide comments.

July 10, 2020 Update: Equus and Writing Incommunicado

Photo of a poster for EquusI started reading Equus awhile back, and, even though I was enjoying it, put it aside for whatever reason and didn’t get back to it until a few days ago.

This is a fascinating story, definitely drama and tragedy, but also something of horror as well. It is based on an actual event the author Peter Shaffer heard about in 1973. He wrote the play shortly thereafter. If you are not familiar with the story, it is set in England in the early 70’s. A psychiatrist interviews a 17-year-old boy, Alan Strang, who blinded six horses. Initially, the boy responds only in advertising jingles, but gradually he is able to tell of the events and motivations that led to his horrendous act. I have never seen Equus performed, though I would love to. The staging in the book is quite imaginative and I would love to see how it’s carried out.

I saw the film version with Richard Burton, which dates from the mid-70’s (as best I recall). It’s good, but not as good as the film adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in which Burton also starred.

As you probably know, since July 1, I have put aside Shadows and Stars to work on my play Incommunicado. It’s about a man who retreats to a ghost town in the Gila Mountains of New Mexico for a drunken weekend of writing and escape, but ends up fighting personal demons.

I picked up Equus again primarily to help me format the script for Incommunicado, but going through the story again is eye-opening. I see nuances I did not notice before. I also now appreciate even more the creativity Peter Shaffer must have had when writing Equus. I also appreciate the staging more, because I can see how his minimalist design focuses the audience’s collective mind on the essential events of the play’s events and the Alan Strang’s story. I can also appreciate how Shaffer knew something of psychology or was able to learn it quickly in order to create a plausible, intriguing backstory for Alan Strang. Even Alan’s nonsensical, endless recitation of jingles has a reason behind it.

Selfie with Lotus in background near Arkansas Post, September 4, 2019

This will help me formulate some ideas for Incommunicado. I have got most of the first act down and parts of the second and third (I had originally planned Incommunicado to be a one-act play, but that won’t be long enough to get out my ideas). Most of the first act switches between monologue and soliloquy, with the main character, Quinn Gallagher, often addressing the audience directly. In acts two and three the focus will be on the dialogue between Quinn and a local woman named Suzie. Each act represents one day of Quinn’s weekend. Act 1 is his arrival on Friday. Act 2 is Saturday. Act 3 is his departure on Sunday. Of course, I am trying to make Quinn complex and intriguing. I am learning though, that for Quinn to have a complex and intriguing conversation with Suzie, Suzie must also be complex and intriguing and there must be some form of conflict either between them or between them and the world or some combination thereof. Otherwise, the play devolves into Quinn moralizing, philosophizing, and lecturing.

I am taking a minimalist approach to the set design and to the number of characters. In addition to Quinn and Suzie, there is only one other, Ruth Baxter, the owner of the Bed and Breakfast where Quinn stays. I might be more imaginative in set design now that I am reviewing Equus.

Of course, during this, I am also toying with how I can market the play now, and that consists mainly of mentioning in these posts whenever I can or in conversation. Choosing the topics discussed in the play will also help its marketability. I don’t cheapening the play by mentioning specific products (like I have seen in Stephen King stories), but choosing topics that have a universal appeal or to which many people can relate. For example, battling alcoholism is a major topic of discussion in Incommunicado.

If you get the chance, by all means see the play version of Equus (the option I recommend the strongest), read the book, or see the movie. There has been a recent production of Equus starring Daniel Radcliffe, and movie produced of it, but I have unfortunately not had the pleasure of seeing either. I will try to see both as soon as I can.

Don’t forget to like this post and subscribe to my website. I would love to hear your comments on this post.

A public service reminder from Phil Slattery

A public service reminder from Phil Slattery

 

A Little Bit of Trivia: My Acting Career So Far and My Upcoming Plays

May 1, 2019
At home in Aztec, NM

I have done a lot of public speaking in my day.  From 1985 to 1996, public speaking was one of my primary duties in my career as a naval intelligence officer. From 1998 to 2007, it was one of my primary duties working for the Interpretation division in Padre Island National Seashore.

In 1997, when I had been only a short time out of the Navy, I lived in my home town of Frankfort, KY, where I was trying to establish careers as a photographer and a writer. Neither was going anywhere initially, and, long story short, I joined the National Park Service. While living in Frankfort, I happened upon an opportunity to do the head shots for a small, local theater group.  I became friends with them and before I knew it, was playing roles in two Tennessee Williams one-act plays, which were performed on the same nights.

The first was the role of the porter in “Portrait of a Madonna“.  I did have some dialogue and I seem to recall doing well at the role, though the play ran for only a few nights over twenty years ago.  Here is a production by the Chicago Actors Studio, if you would like to see their version.  Ours wasn’t taped to my knowledge.

The second role was as Winston Tutwiler, the husband/drunk in “Lord Byron’s Love Letter“.  My role consisted almost entirely of sitting on a sofa and being inebriated. I am not certain if I had any dialogue.  It was fun though. I drank a considerable amount at that time, so I was a natural to portray a drunk, though I didn’t drink any for the role. If I recall correctly, I portrayed this role before my first appearance in “Portrait of a Madonna”.  I was in a hurry to dress in costume before walking out on stage, and being naturally absent-minded, I forgot to zip up my fly!  As soon as I made my entrance, I was to head to a sofa and flop down, half-heartedly listening to the other characters. It was then I noticed my fly being open. But realizing that this is not an uncommon occurrence among drunks, I stayed in character and blatantly zipped up as if it had been planned all along. I think I got a few giggles out of the audience.  Here’s one performance of it.  I don’t know who is performing in this video.  My role was that of the guy in the green shirt.

I found acting to be a lot of fun.  I would love to do it again.  The stage is really quite addicting. That’s probably why I have become fascinated recently with writing plays.

I have completed two small plays and I am currently working on two more.

The two completed ones are adaptations of my previously published short stories “Murder by Plastic” and “The Last Sane Man“.  Both should be around ten minutes on stage. I am looking now for somewhere to have them produced.

The next up in length is one called “Incommunicado”. I have developed a different vision for it than I have had previously.  I conceived of it maybe a year or two ago. It was originally about a man named Quinn Gallagher (yes, the same Quinn Gallagher as in my short stories “The Scent” and “The Slightest of Indiscretions”). In this play, Quinn has gone off to a ghost town in New Mexico’s Gila Mountains to write and celebrate being able to drink again after being on the wagon for a year after a DUI.  He intends to stay drunk for the weekend.  However, he finds he has enjoyed being sober, and this conflicts with his desire to drink again to escape life’s problems.  One way is easy but ultimately self-destructive, while the other means tough self-discipline, but is ultimately more productive and rewarding.  I originally thought of this more of an extended soliloquy, though I see now that I will have to bring in one or two of the local townspeople to add action and bring in more perspectives.  I hope to have this play last about thirty minutes. I am shooting to have this done by the end of May.

The last and longest play I am working on is entitled “Centaurs”.  It is about a man and a woman who are having an affair.  Both are married intellectuals, but they find their intellectual sides conflicting with their animalistic desires. They have decided to keep this relationship purely physical, but they find themselves falling in love. I intend for this play to be about 90 minutes in length and be three acts with a lot of audience involvement.

I will try to update this website regularly about my stage work.

Brace Yourself

Probably most, if not all, my long-standing friends will be shocked tonight to find out that I plan to attend a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” tonight at the San Juan College Little Theatre without being goaded into it at gun point y my wife.

I have long heard of this play, and this is my first opportunity to see it. The first reason I am going is to satisfy my decades-old curiosity. The second reason is to learn more about the Theatre and the craft of playwrighting. As you may know, I am working on a play of my own entitled “Centaurs”, therefore I am taking every chance I come across to see a play.

I intend to write a critique of “The Vagina Monologues” within the coming days and will post it here.

Post Dramatic Theatre Notes

Phil Slattery, 2015

I have been watching Tom Nicholas’s “What the Theory?” on YouTube.  The episode was about postdramatic theatre, which is an interesting concept.  As I understand it based on this video, postdramatic theatre eschews all the accepted principles of theatre that have been around for so many thousands of years that they are intuitive:  logical sequence or chronology, having reasons for changes, having a coherent narrative, the “fourth wall”, etc.

To me this is a mind-blowing, liberating concept.

Granted, I am no dramaturge.

But the trashing of this intuitive norm opens up thousands of possibilities.  The playwright now has unlimited freedom to do whatever he wants in order to convey whatever message or emotion or concept that he wants.

Of course, this opens up the question of where does postdramatic theatre end and performance art begin?  The boundaries are becoming very nebulous.

Thoughts?  Opinions? Suggestions?

Review of “Dancing at Lughnasa”

Dancing at Lughnasa
March 2, 2018
San Juan College Little Theatre

Yesterday, I saw Dancing at Lughnasa for the first time at San Juan College’s Little Theatre.    The play was written by Brian Friel and directed by Daniel Sullivan.   Dancing at Lughnasa premiered in Dublin in 1990 and won the Tony Award in 1992.

This was a poignant, innovative production.

Dancing at Lughnasa is about a man’s (Michael’s) memories of living with his mother, aunts, and their uncle in the fictional Irish town of Ballybeg in Donegal during the Lughnasa festival in 1936, when he was seven years old.  Michael narrates the play and often tells what happens to the characters in the distant future beyond the events of the play, building the audience’s sympathy and empathy for the characters. In the course of the play, the mother and aunts discuss not only the hardships they face, but they also argue about celebrating the pagan festival of Lughnasa in the area, because they are Catholic and the family matriarch disagrees with the idea of attending a pagan festival.  Strengthening this pagan vs. Christianity undertone is the recent return of the family’s uncle Jack from Uganda, where he has been serving as a missionary, but has picked up an admiration for the pagan festivals he encountered there.   The family eventually begins to wonder if the actual reason for Jack’s return is not for the reasons he gives, but perhaps because the Church did not tolerate his enthusiasm of the pagan ways.  Another underlying theme is the return of Michael’s father, who left Michael’s mother years ago, but returns briefly for a visit before heading off to fight in the Spanish Civil War solely as an adventure.  The “Dancing” comes into the play when Michael’s mother and aunts dance whenever their broken radio manages to play music on occasion.  To me, the dancing seems to symbolize their enthusiastic attempts to enjoy life in the face of change, hard times,

and hard times to come in the future that they cannot foresee.  In his narration, Michael reflects wistfully on all this and on what happens to his relatives in the future connecting with the audience in a very moving way.

I spoke briefly with the director, Daniel Sullivan, after the performance was over and found that one of my favorite facets of the performance was his idea.  In the original play, the narrator, Michael, stands to one side and narrates the events.  Mr. Sullivan’s innovation was to have Michael move among the characters during the course of the play and out through the audience as he gives his final, beautiful soliloquy.  This captures the audience’s attention and helps involve them more in the performance establishing a tighter connection than would have been possible with Michael simply standing at the side.

I am considering seeing this play again just to study its subtleties in script and performance.

I strongly recommend seeing this play to anyone with an interest in theatre.

Dancing at Lughnasa continues at the Little Theatre on March 3, 8, 9, and 10 at 7:00 p.m. and at 2:00 p.m. on March 11.