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…

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.

Update: Shadows and Stars, Lycanthrope

I haven’t written more on Shadows and Stars recently. I am deciding on a major revision or two and on the final length.

I have resurrected the first novel I worked on way back in the 90’s: Lycanthrope. This is my take on the legends of werewolves but set in present-day rural Arkansas. I am using stream-of-consciousness to make the story more immediate and powerful. I hope to end it with 50,000+ words. The writing is going surprisingly fast. I have been working on it for about 2-3 days and already have 4,000+ words, which, being stream-of-consciousness, I intend to edit or revise very little. The writing is straightforward now, but I hope to develop some plot and character twists to make it more interesting. It should be very interesting for those who enjoy character development and first-person point of view. I am striving to bring out the narrator’s twisted psychology.

I still have a couple of short stories I am working on and a play, “Incommunicado”, which is turning into a complex love story involving a man and a woman who are struggling with their inner demons.

I got a lot done on it recently when I traveled to Midland, TX, to visit the wife. I kept a voice recorder handy as I drove and took down a lot of notes and ideas, incorporating them into the script when I had time after arrival. I haven’t worked on it since returning to Arkansas though. I am going to experiment in developing it by writing up a long dialogue between the two main characters using stream-of consciousness/ automatic writing or whatever the popular term is now. This will hopefully lead me to new ideas and insights. Originally, this was to be a one-act play involving two characters. Now it will probably be three acts involving three characters. It will be set in the present in a remote ghost town in the Gila mountains of southwest New Mexico.

More to come as time permits.

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


Review of Titus Andronicus, October 13, 2019

Anthony Hopkins in the eponymous role of Titus Andronicus

After I watched Equus on Sunday, I decided to ramp up the drama into horrific tragedy by watching Julie Taymor’s  bizarre 1999 film version of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

This film is bloody enough in its own right, but it transcends the usual graphic horror found in Stephen King novels or teen slasher flicks by showering the innocent as well as the not-so-innocent with the soul-wrenching agony of parents watching their children  and the children watching their siblings suffer horrible deaths and torture.

Think of Titus Andronicus as Shakespeare’s predecessor to Game of Thrones with the horror turned up a notch but without the mercy that occasionally pops up.

Wikipedia notes that Shakespeare wrote this to “to emulate the violent and bloody revenge plays of his contemporaries, which were extremely popular with audiences throughout the 16th century [per Joseph Quincy Adams’ Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus: The First Quarto, 1594 published by Scribner’s Sons, 1936].

Shakespeare knew how to work with his audience’s emotion.

Unlike other Shakespeare plays, this one is not based on a historical character. It is set in an unspecified time in Rome after the reign of Julius Caesar. Titus is a general returning from a successful campaign against the Goths (who defeated the Romans at Adrianople in 378 CE followed by the Visigoths sacking Rome in 410 CE).  He has brought with him the Goth queen Tamora and her three sons. To pay homage to the gods during the interment of 25 of his soldiers, Titus sacrifices the eldest son of Tamora, who begs for her son’s life. Titus continues with the sacrifice.

The emperor of Rome has died and just after the execution of Tamora’s son, the emperor’s son Satuninus ascends to the throne. Saturninus wants Titus’s daughter Lavinia for his bride and Titus gives her to him, even though she is in love with Bassanius. Just after Lavinia takes her place beside Saturninus,  Titus gives him an additional gift of Tamora and her two remaining sons.  Saturninus practically drools over Tamora. Lavinia immediately runs off with Bassianus, but Saturninus has the woman he craves, so he decides not to bother with Lavinia. This makes Tamora the empress of Rome. Things keep getting worse and worse for Titus and his family as only Shakespeare can do.  Lots of gore and blood and screaming. If John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Dario Argento, and Guillermo de Toro could team up for a movie, this would be the movie they would make, but in King James English. Lots of limbs and heads coming off.

Julie Taymor sets this in a fantasy time, where swords and guns, horses and cars,, togas and suits are used with anachronistic abandon. From what the Wikipedia article on Titus Andronicus says, she did this to show the timelessness of violence. In one of the few obscenities I will use on this website, I will say NO SHIT, JULIE. VIOLENCE IS TIMELESS. TELL US SOMETHING WE DON’T KNOW.

But then, her production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is also unusual including the gender of the wizard and main character, Prospero, is changed from a man to a woman. Still, If she hadn’t translated these films to cinema, who would have. I am grateful that I got to see them in whatever form, so long as they remain reasonably true to Shakespeare’s script. Setting a Shakespeare play in another time is not unusual. Kenneth Branagh did it with Hamlet and Baz Luhrmann did it with Romeo and Juliet.

Still, with Taymor the effect is still a tad weird. She starts out in the modern day with a boy of about 11 playing violent games with toys on his kitchen table. He is then whisked away to the fictional time and world of Titus Andronicus, where he spends several scenes loitering in the foreground and watching the main characters, before he becomes Titus’s grandson toward the end of the movie.

In my humble opinion, the movie could have done without the character of the modern boy. It’s too distracting from the story and the dialogue. I don’t mind so much the setting being in a fantasy time and world, but the boy is an unnecessary detail that adds nothing to the plot or to the overall story.

Personally, I would have preferred that the movie be more historically accurate, even though the characters are fictional.  Julie should have just picked a post-Christ era of the Roman empire and ran with it.

Mel Gibson could have done it better.

Anyway, if you are into horror, like I am (though I don’t go for really graphic stuff), this may be the Shakespeare play for you.

Overall, it was a decent production and NOT BORING. I was definitely wide awake and pausing the movie when I had to take the dog out. I don’t do that for all films.  The plot is intriguing and the characters sympathetic with good and evil in each, though often one outweighs the other.

As with all Shakespeare plays made into movies and sticking to the original script, the King James English is tricky to learn at first, but it can be done. I have watched several of these films and it takes a while to adapt, but it helps it you read the closed captions. Once you adapt to it, you will wonder what happened to the beauty of the English language over the centuries. There are some beautiful and incredibly poignant passages in the dialogues, made even more poignant when you understand the overall situation the speaking character is in.

I would write more, but I have a headache from being in the declining phase of a cold and will close it here. Maybe I will write more later. I have wanted to watch Titus Andronicus for a long time and finally got around to it today. I am glad I did.

I recommend this movie highly, especially for all Shakespeare aficionados.

Review: “Equus” the Movie (1977)

On Sunday, I watched Equus (1977) starring Richard Burton and Peter Firth. This is a powerful movie.

When I first heard about Equus, I thought it would focus entirely on the character of Alan Strang, an English teenager who blinds six horses and is sent to a mental institution by the courts. However, the movie (I have not seen the play, though I have started reading its script) seems to focus more on the character or Dr. Dysart, the psychiatrist who analyzes Alan Strang to find out his motives for blinding the horses in the stables where he worked.  In short, he was insane, but what made him insane?

I won’t go into a lot of detail about what Dr. Dysart finds or how he finds it, because that is the mystery to be solved.  Watching how both these characters change is fascinating. The movie analyzes both, perhaps giving a bit more emphasis on Dr. Dysart. I think this is because Dr. Dysart represents an educated audience looking into the soul of Alan Strang. What Dysart finds effects him deeply just as I think it effects an audience deeply, because what Dr. Dysart finds makes him examine his own relationship to the world and to God as well as reflecting on his own existence.  At one point, Dr. Dysart begins to so intensely understand Alan’s viewpoint that Ithe tells Mrs. Dysart that he actually envies Alan.

Both the movie and the play were written by Peter Shaffer, who won a Tony award for it and for his following play Amadeus, which was made into a much more successful movie than Equus.

The movie was directed by Sydney Lumet. An interesting difference between the movie and the play is that the movie is staged very realistically in offices, homes, a stable, etc. but the the play’s script has the stage set in a very minimalist, in a sense, abstract fashion. I would love to see a performance of Equus.  The minimalism would keep the audiences mind(s) focused on the characters and their interrelationships and not on the set or on anything that is peripheral or tangential and of no importance to the narrative.

I have to wonder how Peter Shaffer developed the character of Alan Strang. He wrote an exceptional portrayal of a madman and how he became mad. I understand that he based the play on a news article he read about a young Englishman who blinded six horses and then started loo,king into that story. That character is brought to life vividly by Peter Firth. I have to ask myself as well how Peter Firth developed his portrayal of Alan Strang.  The ideas of Shaffer and Firth on this character seemed to mesh wonderfully for an awe-inspiring performance.

It is interesting to note that, in one sense, this movies shows how the change in one man stimulated the change in another man.

I am no actor, but to me the acting in this movie was top-notch. Richard Burton gave a performance that on par with his performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Peter Firth played Alan Strang.

All in all, this is a fascinating movie with strong performances that reach deeply into the characters’ souls and will very likely reach into the souls of the audience as well and cause them to reflect on their own existences just as Dr. Dysart does.


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.