LiveJournal, you have served me well for more than a decade, but the time has arrived to migrate.

Future blog posts can now be found at the new Wordpress-based blog, Creative Control Mark II. I am slowly migrating the majority of these posts to that space and giving each one a cursory makeover. I will leave this blog active for as long as I'm allowed.

Thanks for being here as long as you were. That goes for both blog and audience.
  • Current Music
    Death Cab for Cutie, "Someday You Will Be Loved"
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Campaign Threshold.

Rick Santorum is not going to be elected President.

I am not a political scientist or a pollster. I have no advanced degrees that give me the authority to appear on a nightly news show and make that statement. The statement is true nonetheless. Rick Santorum is not going to be elected President.

That should make you furious.

Not because you actually want the man elected President. Heavens no. If you do I have nothing but pity for you. Right about now it seems to be even money that Rick Santorum could emerge victorious from this lengthy Republican primary exercise, clutching with his pale, bony fingers the mandate to defeat President Obama this November. Although, it should be noted, after the dizzying roulette wheel of media coverage and front-running, of Trump then Bachmann then Gingrich then Romney then Perry then Cain then Perry then Paul then Perry then Gingrich then Romney then Gingrich then Reagan then Reagan then Reagan then Reagan; after all that the finale of this particular melodrama will have to be seen to be believed. But when the dust finally settles, yes, there seems a distinct possibility that the champion of conservative America will be this man Santorum, this man whose sole claim to statesmanship is his ability to rock a sweater vest while preaching moral superiority and ego in some kind of cruel mockery of Fred Rogers; a man who 300 years ago would be standing in the center of the town square pronouncing accusations of witchcraft on every fifth woman he'd ever wished to see naked. This will be the best that the Republican Party, a party that once gave us Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, can offer as an option to the current leadership. A man with no ideas of his own and poor, ugly interpretations of the ideas presented in the Bible, propped up as a solution to the many serious problems this country and this world now face.

He may not win the nomination, of course, which would mean we have a mercifully shorter duration of this man's vomited nonsense rather than another eight months of it. It hardly matters, at this point. That we have been forced to endure Santorum at all, and others of his ilk before him, is an insult to the sorts of things the United States often tries to convince itself it stands for, in the morning, post-shower, looking at itself in the mirror and steering its perception away from the pallor of its skin, from the evidence of indiscretion wolf-tracking its way up the forearms. The country was founded by philosophers and scientists and aesthetes, men who were hardly perfect but who challenged themselves to be great in a manner that has been lost on the petty, insular power brokers now vying for the rank of Opponent. These candidates mock the rhetorical and oratorical acumen of the President because they have little of their own and they have no understanding of the power inherent in inspiring others.

No, instead, we are subjected to the daily absurdities of Santorum and his minions, of extreme, unproductive statements about the liberal socialist Islamic homosexual Nazi agenda represented by the Democratic Party, by Planned Parenthood, by the Girl Scouts. We are treated as dogs to be fed scraps of unwanted, blood-soaked meat and then vindicate that condescension by clamping our jaws shut and eagerly chewing.

Rick Santorum is not going to be elected President, we have been directed by the media to pay attention to him anyway, and that should make you furious beyond measure. At worst an election is a popularity contest and a pledge drive, at its best it is an opportunity to explore the crucible of differing opinion, to watch as a set of impressive people make a case for their own stewardship of society, to perhaps synthesize yet another brilliant strategy from the fundamentals of the strategies presented. The act of voting should be easy but the act of deciding who to vote for should be very, very difficult. That is not what we have here, in the prospect of a Santorum/Obama matchup; what we have instead is a multi-billion-dollar Waste Of Fucking Time.

There are hundreds of millions of people in America alone and we are ignoring so many of them to spend a single second listening to Rick Santorum expound on why rape victims should be overjoyed at their pregnancies and why gay marriage will doom the human race. There is a teacher somewhere who has just broken through a frustrated eighth-grader's block on geometry. There is a research scientist catching her third hour of sleep in the midst of a long night battling a metastasizing cancer cell. There is a little boy sharing a glass of lemonade with his younger brother. There are people doing even less than this who are of greater worth to this country than the man currently fear-mongering his way towards one of the most important events in American society.

I consider making a vow that this is the last time I will ever write the name "Rick Santorum." It exhausts me to look at it, to see the hollow sucking void the name carries with it everywhere it goes, to know that this hollow sucking void is thrashing about helter-skelter through the hearts and minds of my fellow citizens. I cannot make this vow. There is too much of this man, too much of him that has already spread out and infected and grown resistant to vaccine, and ignoring him will not simply make him go away. Whether tomorrow or next week or next year, he will again demand attention for his brand of American theocracy and again he will raise thousands of dollars in a single second to maintain his campaign for Ayatollah.

It's easy enough to say that we have ourselves to blame for men like Rick Santorum, but No. I, personally, am not willing to own that. I have not done anything to earn the karmic punishment of Rick Santorum and I refuse to accept any responsibility for his ascent. But I refuse, also, to accept the inevitability of Rick Santorum, to accept that he is the cost of doing business in an American democracy. I do not stay here and I do not choose to raise my son here while continuing to settle for such men.

No More Of You. That is my catchy four-word slogan, to be placed in my front yard. No More Of You.

Rick Santorum is not going to be elected President. It is obscene that it has ever gone so far as to make that statement necessary.


Your middle name was the easier. Khalil is Arabic for friend, a concept that your mother and I value greatly; a wealth that we arguably have the largest quantity of in our lives at this point; and a word you'd speak in Elvish if you wanted to enter the Mines of Moria. It is the name of one of my favorite poets, Khalil Gibran, whose The Prophet is one of the few works of literature I'd ever describe with the superlative essential, a masterpiece that you could open at random and always discover a multifaceted gemstone of wisdom, written gorgeously, to ponder until your heart burst. Gibran's first name is often spelled as either Khalil or Kahlil, but we chose the former due to its closer cosmetic proximity to my father's name Khalid.

Your first name took a deeper time and consideration, and ultimately a leap of faith; and this is why anytime we were asked if we had a name picked out for you we would say we did not, and when they asked if we had a short list the affirmative response would be tinged with noncommittal. Before we discovered your gender, we'd managed to put together a lengthy list of delightful women's names but had only nebulous, blurry visions of what we would call a son. The few names that managed to surface from that haze were not just researched, they were damn near dramaturged.

Then we held you for a moment, after the hospital staff had briefly cleared the room. We looked at your face and your expression and assessed the sounds you were making, we asked you directly just in case you'd respond. In the end you were, undoubtedly, Robin. There is so much to the name, Robin, so much that speaks to who your parents are and to the sort of boy and man we look forward to discovering, and it's not so much that you were named after any of these as it is that you now belong to the collective idea of Robin.

There is the bird, of course, the robin. It is a songbird, and your parents have a long and fulfilling relationship with both birds and music, so much so that your father has a raven's feather indelibly inked on his arm and your mother has a 6-8 conducting pattern inked on hers. Native American mythology tells us that the robin is both a cultural entertainer and a beast of great selflessness, whose distinctive red breast was earned after a night of beating awake a dying fire to help a father and son survive a cold, cold night.

There is Robin of Locksley, better known as Robin Hood, that most legendary of populist anti-heroes, a combination of class warrior and swashbuckler who may one day dazzle you with his exploits as he has done for millions of young boys in nearly every incarnation, including the animated fox, the dashing Errol Flynn, the woefully miscast Kevin Costner.

There is Shakespeare's infamous hobgoblin, Robin Goodfellow, also called The Puck, also called "that merry wanderer of the night," from A Midsummer Night's Dream. And perhaps this acknowledges both your roots in theatre and literature as well as the affinity we have for clever, cunning tricksters and creatures of magic.

There is good-hearted, noble little Robin the Frog, nephew of Kermit, one of our hero Jim Henson's most earnest creations. Eternally small, but blessed with vision, hope, and a lack of prejudice (it's noteworthy that his best friend seemed to be the gentle ogre Sweetums); Robin is something of a zen presence amidst the anarchic weirdness that is the entire Muppet domain, most special for being relatively average and for his ability to inhabit the chaos of his uncle's world in complete stride while occasionally taking a quiet focus of his own. You'll get to know him very well. We own the complete run of The Muppet Show on DVD. DVDs are those things that people used to watch back before the studios figured out how to pump the media directly into your cerebral cortex.

There are others, of course, whose reference I'm either forgetting or neglecting...comedian and actor Robin Williams, for example, for whom I've long had a fondness and respect; and the masked adventurer Robin, sidekick and balancing force for the Batman. I'm not mentioning all of these Robins to imply that you are expected to be like any of them. You will be your own Robin. You will be a different and wonderful Robin. You will be a Robin that joins this earthly and unearthly pantheon of Robins and imbues it with your own intrinsic Robin-ness.

And someday perhaps you will be thought of, when somebody else chooses to name their own son Robin.

But henceforth, every other Robin I meet is going to remind me of you, instead.
  • Current Music
    Belle and Sebastian, "Sleep The Clock Around"
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Bruises, Blemishes.

Below is a play I performed for my last six weeks in TOO MUCH LIGHT. I wrote the play initially in response to a story about Michigan legislators watering down an anti-bullying law on the basis of "religious grounds."

I'm posting it now because they're trying to do it again in Tennessee.

And I'll be damned if that shit ever goes by without a response from me.

Bruises, Blemishes
© 2011 Bilal Dardai

A series of tableaus. BILAL speaks to the audience while PHIL and KURT create images of roughing him up, playground style. Each transition is handled violently, with pushes and shoves.

Tableau 1: BD backed up against a wall.

BD: His name was Jason. He used to push me up against the school building during recess and demand all the money I had on me. I once gave him about 75 cents entirely in pennies that I’d kept in a small red treasure chest, that originally came from a box of Cap’n Crunch. We spent an hour in Principal Mikulcik’s office and he left me alone after that. I don’t know why he did it. Maybe he was saving up for a bike.

Tableau 2: BD held from behind, the other grabbing his collar and wound up to punch.

BD: His name was Aaron. I’d bike past his house on my way to Matt Horeni’s and he’d throw large rocks at me as I went by. He hit me once in the shoulder and knocked a spoke off the front wheel, and I started taking a different route to Matt’s instead. I don’t know why he did it. Maybe he was racist.

Tableau 3: BD pinned down on his stomach, one person on his arms and the other grabbing his head.

BD: His name was Junior. He sat next to me in English, making rude remarks about my mom, and he shoved me into walls when we passed each other in the hallway. I got transferred to another English class and he got disinterested. I don’t know why he did it. Maybe because he had to go through life with the name Junior.

Tableau 4: BD with his arms twisted behind him.

BD: His name was Mike. He’d mess with my food during lunch and knock me over during gym class. I struck him in the head with a combination lock and that seemed to get him off my case. I don’t know why he did it. Maybe because it was high school and I was fat and somebody had to.

Tableau 5: BD stands before the audience, the others pushing an invisible person against the wall.

BD: I don’t know their names. There are 26 of them, and they are all Republican legislators in the state of Michigan. Last week they helped pass something they called “Matt’s Safe School Law,” named after Matt Eppling, a student who was bullied to the point that he committed suicide. And these 26 Republican legislators included a provision in this bill granting legal protection to bullies if they argued that their behavior stemmed from “moral or religious convictions.” I don’t know why they did it. Even if the final law gets rid of the loophole, I won’t comprehend why they did it. Maybe they thought it would be a winning issue next election. Maybe they believe it’s just a natural part of growing up. Maybe they’re a pack of cruel, ignorant sociopaths, and maybe we should stop allowing these people to hold fucking office.



This is a thing I need to say. It's been four months since I've needed to say something in this space but this is something I need to say.

One day you decide that you'll learn to play an instrument. In many cases this is very nearly decided for you by the instrument itself--something in your fingers itches for the keys of the piano, something in your pulse demands that you hit drums. The instrument itself is the easier decision.

But what to play first?

I'm not speaking of the basics, mind you, of the curious alphabet of scales and notes, the Do, Do-Re-Do, Do-Re-Mi-Re-Do; the hours of boats rowed gently down the stream and then rowed back ashore by Michael, hallelujah. I'm speaking of the first song you choose to play, the first song you were no longer simply content to hear performed by others. You choose that song and then you stare deeply into the bones of the song and then will your own muscles and memory to swim alongside it. You whittle your focus down to a tiny pinprick and you play and you play and you play and you play and now your fingers shift automatically and now your eyes aren't looking at the frets and now you really can play "Norwegian Wood." And now you can play "Norwegian Wood" while you sing "Norwegian Wood."

But that's just on your own. At some point you may be required to play "Norwegian Wood" in front of people who are very familiar with "Norwegian Wood" and that's a terrifying, intoxicating challenge all its own.

An extraordinary thing happened earlier this year at a Paul Simon concert in Toronto. Simon announced that he was going to play his song "Duncan," originally released on his eponymous 1972 album. A woman named Rayna Ford, standing towards the front of the stage, called out that she had first learned to play guitar on that song. Simon, seemingly amused and flattered, beckoned the woman onstage...

...and had a roadie bring her a guitar...

...and let her play the song for his audience, backed by himself and his band.

There's no way to aptly describe it. You should just watch:

And I mention all this because I'm privileged this week to be working again, albeit briefly, with New Leaf Theatre. This Saturday, they'll be doing a one-night-only reading of Redeemers, a play I wrote that they first produced last November, featuring the original cast in the original pizza parlor (yes, pizza parlor) where it world-premiered.

New Leaf was not the first theater to produce a play of mine; I'm not drawing quite that neatly a parallel here. There's an emotional component, however, one that exists beyond the physical and practical, and grants them occupancy in the same space. I've either attended, written, or performed in every show that New Leaf has produced since October 2004, and I've done so based largely on a pair of one acts--Aaron Sorkin's Hidden In This Picture and Ronan Marra's Off the Hook--which they produced in 2002, and which, amid 72 other hours of hit-or-miss theatre that weekend, made my brain crackle with incipient fire. I lost them for two years, as they grew and established, and when their name passed my field of vision again I locked onto them with crocodile jaws.

Every time they've asked me to do something with them my heart gets that expression, the one that keeps popping up on Rayna's face throughout her unexpected recital, the one that says "I cannot adequately process this it is too epic and vibrant and beautiful to understand that it is actually happening and it is happening to me." And it vacillates back and forth with the other expression, the concentration-face, the part of her that's states "It is happening and you must rise up to meet it."

When I write a play now there is always a beacon in my subconscious that asks if I'd be willing to let the artists at New Leaf see it, and if I'm not able to answer in the positive I do what I can with the work to correct that. So I can relate to this Rayna in Toronto. Every time I've been fortunate enough to work with New Leaf it's been similar to being called onstage to play "Duncan" front of the people who first made me want to play that instrument well enough for others to see me perform it.

Anyhow. Redeemers this Saturday. Please attend if you're able. I don't actually play an instrument save my voice and this is why I'm willing to sing in public.

Vows I've Made, Vows I've Broken, Vows I'll Continue to Keep.

Below is a two-minute play called Our Oath, Your Office, which I wrote for Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind in 2009. It was first performed in January, the Friday immediately following Barack Obama's inauguration. I feel a need to revisit and share it in light of the deep fissure that this past week has rampaged its way through the ranks of the liberals (or the lefties, or the progressives) regarding the debt compromise (or debt debacle, or debt surrender, or "Satan Sandwich"1) that got signed into law hours before the nation suffered a catastrophic default.

I'm not going to lay down paragraph after paragraph of what I perceive about the deal or the President or my feelings on both parties' higher-ups and rank-and-file and grassroots. (Because that is what the comment sections of Facebook status updates are for.) I just want to be clear that when I sat down and wrote this and every night I performed it I meant every single word spoken, and that I mean it as much today as I did two-and-a-half years ago.

Our Oath, Your Office
© 2009 Bilal Dardai

Three pairs of performers standing in a row; each pair faces each other. The “A” performers hold a copy of a book that is important to the “B” performers. “A” performers speak in unison and “B” performers speak in unison except where indicated.

A: Please raise your right hand and place your left on this copy of…
A1: [title of book]
A2: [title of book]
A3: [title of book]

“B” performers do so.

A: I, [B performer's full name]—
B: I—
B1: [name]
B2: [name]
B3: [name]
A: —do solemnly swear—
B: —or affirm—
A: —that I will faithfully execute—
B: —the duties of an American citizen.
A: I will remember the principles—
B: —that drove me to vote for you.
A: I will work—
B: —for the change you represent.
A: I will not hesitate—
B: —to speak out against injustice.
A: Even if it is you who commits it.
B: Especially if it is you who commits it.
A: I will not deify you.
B: I will not deify you.
A: I will understand that you are a human being—
B: —and therefore fallible.
A: I will look to the future—
B: —and avoid dwelling on the past.


A: But I will also—
B: —to the best of my ability—
A: —do what I can to ensure—
A/B: —that we never allow a selfish, power-hungry idiot like George W. Bush to hold this office ever again.


A: So help me God.
B: Over my dead body.


My point being--when it comes to this country's politics, the motto I attempt to live by is Remember clearly, analyze objectively, and take responsibility.

Any time you convince yourself that something you don't really like "couldn't possibly be worse" than the something that disappointed you, you are daring the universe to show you just how wrong you are.

1 And seriously, "Satan Sandwich" is just childish. I expect so much better of some of the people I see using it.

The Condition My Condition Is In.

I am not blocked, I write in the text window. This is not block.

But it had been months, it seemed. It had been years, been centuries. Worse than that; it had been minutes, bound fast to the bottom of the hourglass, each grain landing square on the bridge of the nose and bouncing off to join the pile of eventual asphyxiation. Water torture made of sand.

Yet; I admit again, This is not block.

I can't with any credibility refer to it as block. If I assign an arbitrary date of affliction; say, four months past, an honest assessment of my  output leaves me with several exhibits of undeniable evidence that indeed, writing has occurred. There in the plastic bags on the shelves under the fluorescent lights are the work for Too Much Light, the Chicago One-Minute Play Festival, the appearances at The Paper Machete, the blogs written for both my theater company and my day employer and the blogs and articles and short film scripts written for clients of my day employer, the carefully considered Facebook status updates and tweets from numerous different accounts including those of the theater and the day employer, the business and personal emails...hundreds of thousands of assembled letters that illustrate and triangulate the current coordinates of my brain.

But there were also things I meant to write, things I desperately wanted to write, things I forgot to write, things I forgot how to write. There were sentences and stories that burst into existence like fortnight lilies; bloomed for a day and then walked into memory with nary a glance back. I mourn the defeats more than I celebrate the victories because that's just the way I'm wired, and then I misdiagnose the whole mess as block.

I can't recall which authors have written or spoken the notion that block is a figment, but I know I've heard it from several places, and while once upon a time I took these words to be spoken as motivators I've since come to the much plainer conclusion that Writers who tell you there is no such thing as block are arrogant, self-absorbed jerks. They are the trust-fund folks whose solution to every problem is to "buy a new one," the Olympians who tell the asthmatics that "it's just a five-mile jog," those beings who state casually that the answer to an engineering problem is to change the gravitational constant of the universe. It is not that there is no such thing as block, o wise but forgotten writers, it is that there is apparently no such thing as block for you. And while I won't begrudge you your good fortune, it does not give you the right to dismiss and mock the chronic conditions of others.

But again, I'm not blocked. This has been something else.

There's an exercise that I've been teaching in our workshops lately, based off of similar exercises from the theatrical discipline of clown, and that currently has the unassuming title of "Positive Reinforcement." A volunteer from the class is taken out of the room. Within the room, the audience is told that the volunteer, upon returning to the room, will have a set time limit to accomplish a simple but atypical task--for example, placing a chair atop a table and then sitting beneath the table. The volunteer will be guided to do this based solely on the feedback they receive from the audience, and the only feedback the audience may give is (a) applause, if the volunteer is doing something that brings them closer to the completed task or (b) silence, if the volunteer is not closer to their task. It's non-verbal "hot and cold."

The exercise is designed to do several things: one, it joins the whole room together in the attempt to collectively accomplish the task; two, it encourages active listening on the part of the volunteer and also within the audience as they work to arrive at the same set of directions; and three; it fosters a scenario where negative feedback is strictly verboten.

That third part is key. The silence is simultaneously the communication that something isn't going right and it is the space in which to strategize how that changes. In rooms where No is commonplace the adrenal gland responds first, pipes in with Fight or Flight, with "screw you" or "you're right I'll shut up now." And then some minutes later, somebody will realize that there's still a matter at hand. In the silence, in this exercise, you watch the volunteer experiment and make leaps of intuition, unhindered by the baggage of criticism.

So the critic, as ever, is me; I am the one making too much goddamned noise. I am denying as loudly as is possible without actually achieving audible vocal the worth of my work; I am consumed of a notion that a world that can accept the trappings of my imagination is a world with something deeply wrong with it. I recognize that these strange and persistent and wrongheaded fantasies of being struck by speeding vehicles, of stepping from tall places into the pitiless and clumsy arms of gravity; that these are not made of any desire to stop living but are instead extreme manifestations of impact...of a need to be propelled violently, albeit briefly, into a place of true quiet. This is not a noise that you drown with better noise and this is not a noise you can hide from or keep at a distance. It is a noise that must be dispelled and before it can be dispelled it must be named.
It's name is not, however, block.
The irony, I suspect, is that in order to end this noise I must in fact craft a name for it.
It is a conundrum, I conclude. Perhaps I should begin.
And then I do.
  • Current Music
    Tom Waits, "Time"
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Gone in 60 seconds.

For those curious, below are the three one-minute plays that I wrote for the first Chicago One-Minute Play Festival this past Sunday and Monday at Victory Gardens Theater as part of their Fresh Squeezed initiative. Dubious, The Pebble, and Lucille and Lefty Meet Their Maker were directed by Megan Carney, Brant Russell and Kathryn Walsh, and Erica Weiss, respectively.



A room in the basement of the palace. THE GENERAL lies dead on his side on the floor, a knife in his chest. THE COLONEL and THE MAJOR run in, frantically.

General! General! They are inside the palace! They are…

They spot the body. THE MAJOR reaches down and pulls the knife from THE GENERAL’S chest and shakes his head. THE COLONEL collapses into a chair.

Finished, then. Eighteen years. Eighteen years and still it ends this way, my friend.

Colonel, sir.

Not the way we’d hoped but the way we’d expected.

Colonel, what do we do now?

We do what all men do in these moments, Major. We wait, we surrender. We tell our side of the story.

Yes, sir.

I suppose that I am now leader. Yes. The shortest reign of any leader this nation has had. There is an achievement in that, hm? Such a man is remembered even as is the man who ruled longest. (To the body of THE GENERAL.) Your final gift to me, my friend? Perhaps it is? (To THE MAJOR.) Would you agree, Major? Such a man will be remembered?

I would, sir.

THE MAJOR slits THE COLONEL’S throat. THE COLONEL collapses and dies. THE MAJOR drops the knife.

THE REBEL bursts in, carrying a firearm. He or she trains it on THE MAJOR.

(calling off)
Here! He is here! I have found him! (To THE MAJOR.) On your knees! Who are you?

(calmly falling to his knees)
I am the Major. I am the leader of this pitiful country.

Leader, eh? Then it is the shortest reign of any leader this nation has ever had.

Yes. Yes I know.

End of Play

* * *

The Pebble


MADISON and WOODROW sit in formal wear next to each other, as if at the end of a three-year anniversary date. WOODROW is nervous and turned away from her. MADISON speaks in soliloquy to WOODROW — although she is earnest and he is her audience, WOODROW cannot hear her.

It was me who fed you the peanut in second grade. You’ll never know. But it was me who noticed the way you would tear the corner off your dark brown bag of M&Ms and pour a tiny rockslide directly into your mouth, not even stopping to admire the artificial coloring, and it was me who slipped the orange nugget from the yellow bag into yours. (Beat.) It is unusual, and probably terrifying, for a child of eight to know what I knew: after the panic and the epi-pen, when your throat relaxed, when your eyes opened again and met mine, when you felt my hand tightly pressed against yours, that you would be mine for the rest of your life. You wouldn’t know it then. You would maybe have felt it rolling at you from a distance, heard echoes of rumbles of whispers of shadows. You would maybe wake up at night looking for a face you could barely remember. You would be unsatisfied with every relationship you had and would disconnect from them urgently, brutally, because no matter how she made your heart skip a beat she hadn’t been there when your heart nearly stopped beating. And when at last I let you find me again I already know where we’re going.

WOODROW turns to her, pulling a small ring box from his pocket and opening it towards her. He does not go to one knee, but the gesture remains genuine. They speak to each other.

Would you?

Of course I would.

It’s not much…

It never seems that way at first.

End of Play

* * *

Lucille and Lefty Meet Their Maker


1956, a sweltering hut in the South American rain forest. LUCILLE and LEFTY lie on blankets on the floor, apart from each other, covered with another blanket apiece and with wet terrycloth on their foreheads. They both sit up, slightly. They are dressed smartly, but bedraggled. The dialogue has the pace of a screwball comedy.

I shoulda never listened to you.

Probly not.

What did I say? What did I say back in Phoenix?

You said Lefty, this is a…

I said Lefty, this is a dumb idea. Lucille and Lefty Meet Frankenstein, I said.

Been done.

Lucille and Lefty Meet The Mummy.


Lucille and Lefty Meet—

Done, goddammit, Lucille.

No, instead it’s Lucille and Lefty Meet The Amazon Pygmies. And we coulda done a sound stage, you great goof, but you say “Let’s go to Brazil!”

I wanted to take you to Brazil!

So we could catch malaria and die?

We ain’t dying, Lucille.

The hell we’re not!

We ain’t dying, Lucille. Didn’t you hear the doc? One of us is already dead. The other’s pullin’ through.

What? What’s that mean? Like this is some kinda crazy malaria dream, izzat it?

You never listen, Lucille. You just never listen.

(after a brief moment)
Whose dream is this?


Lefty. Whose dream—?

Sh. Lie down.

They both lie back, tentatively.

Woulda been a great picture, Lucille. Put us right back on top.

Silence. After a moment, one of them pops awake. The other remains perfectly still. The survivor looks over at the other and quietly calls their name.

If LEFTY survives he calls her “Lucy.” If LUCILLE survives she calls him “Paul.”

End of Play

Things you learn from various distances.

Lanford Wilson

As with many of the artists I have greatly admired, I never met this man Lanford Wilson. We never conversed and I never came up with the questions I would have asked if I had bumped into him on the street somewhere. I never told him the three things I learned from very different psychic radius of him and his work and I doubt I would have had the coherence, in his presence, to speak them aloud. And now he is dead and I write those three things here.

One (1): It's 1995, and the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble is producing the play Balm in Gilead, which is a title I lack the religious studies acumen to understand and which does not alert me in the slightest to its New York City greasy-spoon setting, overrun with vice detail regulars and hard-luck entrepreneurs, all of whom are so wrapped up in their own little stories that they wreck the convenient observational structure of a good old-fashioned play, characters who talk all at once because every minute and every molecule of oxygen belongs to them and them alone. Viewing Gilead was a test of mettle for me: I could have deeply disliked what I saw or I could have understood what I was being told about humanity, and I was able, thankfully, to steer my brain to the latter. Gilead was, before I'd even heard the maxim, a demonstration that good drama is about the single most important events in its characters' lives...and that even the minor characters, the characters in the background, may be experiencing those important events while you're watching the handsome dope dealer or the tragic, talkative call-girl.

Two (2): It's 1997 and I've been cast as the Judge and the Preacher in a college production of The Rimers of Eldritch. It feels like there are a hundred of us in the room playing seventy-five people, time disjointed, space subjective. The desires and dreams of Wilson's fictional small town echo everywhere, the director seems to vacillate between confidence and terror, we are trees, we are frost, we are murder and prejudice and no more or less human as ourselves than we are as our roles in the play. From the inside of his work, now, I see the limits of linear time and the power of flexible casting. History happens in a straight line but story happens any which way you choose. And when you get right down to it, people are people are people, and one person's imperfections are much like another person's imperfections viewed from the opposite side of the glass.

Three (3): It's post-college and my friend Bryan is working at the Purple Rose Theatre in Michigan as an assistant to Jeff Daniels. He tells us how Wilson, who would often premiere a play up at Purple Rose, would come to opening night wearing a turtleneck sweater and sit in the back row of the theater. As his play would begin, Wilson would pull the turtleneck up over his head and quietly mutter "Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god."

Because that feeling will never go away.

Not even if you spend over four decades writing for the theater.

Not even if you achieve something approaching an actual life in that art.

Not even if you turn out to be Lanford Wilson.

Thank you, sir. Allow me to wish you goodbye without ever having said hello.
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    Devotchka, "How It Ends"
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Rapid Response Team.

And there are those times that we treat it, the theatre, the thing that we all love so much that we sacrifice sleep and money and relationships with other human beings for it; there are times we treat it like a patient with an illness we cannot identify but we are all more or less in agreement that the condition is terminal. Indeed, the prognosis has always been poor, it has surely been dying since the moment it was born (but aren't we all, pipes up the chief resident with half-sincere optimism, and the rest of the cohort chuckle with half-sincere cynicism). So we check in periodically with the patient, ask it how it feels and then tell it how it is doing.

I'm saying all this as prologue to something I need to articulate. I'm not quite there yet.

Last week was a nationwide conference call, of sorts, on the state of the American Theatre in general, extrapolated from the state of the New American Play. Centered at Arena Stage in Washington DC and engaged remotely via Twitter and NEWPLAY TV, the conversation weaved a number of challenging threads. It also unsheathed a knife or two and used them to gouge open a few shiny cans of squishy, glistening worms.

I spent this past Saturday morning in the back row of the Zacek McVay Theater at Victory Gardens, overlooking approximately 20 artistic directors, literary managers, and other artists from a range of small, mid-size, and large Chicago theaters. I was there in a capacity of judicious stenographer, managing the Twitter feed for the League of Chicago Theatres, noting and quoting in short bursts what I felt were some of the more profound statements being made both on the live feed from DC and among the people in the room with me.

It was a bit like working on the catering staff at a friend's wedding, which sounds like a bitter complaint but isn't. I was glad to be in the room, glad for the discussions that occurred and for what I heard spoken by theatre practitioners at various stages of their careers. Every so often I found a moment to pipe in my own thoughts on the topics at hand...I was able to stop serving the chicken and fish, and go hug the bride and shake the hand of the groom. It was all lovely, understand, but it would have been nice if I'd also had more opportunity to dance with a bridesmaid.

I'm writing this post, as I mentioned, to articulate something, a something I clumsily spoke from the back of the room, a something I wished I'd been able to speak instead through my fingertips, which are ever the part of my body most fluent in my brain.

It comes up, frequently, that one of the weaknesses of our chosen medium is its lack of timeliness, its inability to respond immediately. It came up on Saturday in DC when Eric Ting, associate artistic director of New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, asked us how we as theatre artists respond to the ongoing turmoil in Egypt. And there was a murmur of assent, and resignation, that rippled through rooms across the country: yes, that is a problem and damned if there's any way to fix that.

Except there is. Because that's not really broken. What's askew is not theatre's ability to respond but what theatre practitioners consider to be theatre.

We already know that theatre has the ability to respond immediately because we have late-night talk shows. Jay, Conan, Dave, Craig, Jimmy, Jon, Stephen: they do this on a daily basis. We forget because we're watching on TV, because the live studio audience seems to us to be part of the show. To the live studio audience this is not television; it is theatre that somebody a hundred thousand miles behind them is also watching once-removed; we eavesdrop on somebody else's experience and mislabel it through our own perception.

Listen: theatre is this. A storyteller tells a story to an audience while sharing the same space. The storyteller may have several voices or no voice at all. The story may convey a complete plot, or a complete character, or a complete emotion. The audience listens. The audience responds. The story ends. Theatre does not require two acts, 90 minutes, costumes, lights, sound, props, set, seating, programs. It does not require two years of round-table workshop and several million dollars worth of ramshackle stunt rigging.

It is a blessing that we have these things. We do not need them to have theatre. This is the true and unique power of the art form--it was born when all we had was humanity and it will die only after the second-to-last human being does. I doubt a copy of the script exists anywhere, much less was even written down, but I'm fairly sure that one of the first plays ever performed was titled I Killed This Creature and Ate It.

If you are that compelled to respond to something happening right now, then respond to it right now.

Don't ask yourself if you can afford to rent the space, if you can get the marketing strategy in order and whether you can get the awards committee to come see it. Take whatever pulsing, color-cycling energy is pushing at the inside of your skin and turn it into text, turn it into movement, turn it into a hammer and a nectarine and a furious drumming on the corner mailbox with a pair of restaurant chopsticks. Find one person unable to give you a dime but willing to pay you the precious gift of their attention. Show them the world and show them your reaction to it.

Is it good theatre. Is it profitable theatre. Is it award-winning, critically-acclaimed, career-making, colleague-impressing, grant-worthy theatre.

I don't know. Maybe not.

But is it theatre.

Yes. Good god, yes.

Nobody goes into theatre for the money, we say, after years of making next to none. It's a joke because it's true; it's a truth because it's true. And there are myriad reasons that we do go into theatre--sex, friendship, family tradition--but the only reason we stay in theatre is to make theatre. If that isn't true, then why are we there?

A single minute of blazing self-expression in front of any live audience is a work of legitimate theatre. Accept that, and you'll find that the art form is more robust than you previously imagined.
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    Morphine, "I'm Free Now"
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