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.

Friday Update — Beginning Research into Contemporary Theatre

Farmington, NM 2015

I have been contemplating my play “Centaurs” and trying to work out what I need to change.  It just isn’t exciting enough.  It doesn’t involve the audience enough. I know there’s something missing, but I can’t pinpoint it. Therefore, tonight I have been surfing YouTube for performances of great plays and surfing the Internet for what are considered the great play of American theatre.  Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a generally accepted canon of the greatest American plays:  “The Iceman Cometh”, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”, “Death of a Salesman”, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, etc., with “Angels in America” probably being the most contemporary on most lists.  Although all are terrific works, none seem to have something innovative enough to interest me.  Therefore, I have started looking into contemporary theatre.  This is turning out to be quite interesting.  Contemporary theatre, based on the few videos I have seen tonight (and on past experience too, of course), seems to have the minimalist, dreamy, postmodernist, almost mystical qualities that intrigue me.  I will continue my research for probably a few days to come, but I am already coming up with ideas about interaction with the audience and monologues.   Combining those with my own past experience in public speaking and acting (I was once in two short Tennessee Williams plays), I feel I may be on to something.