Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hemingway, Mamet and Shadrach.

I've got an audition for a major feature film today.  The working title, I'm told, is 'Fireflies.'  Although no doubt that will change in production.  The role is a wife-beating, trailer trash, uneducated ruffian.  Good money, short shoot if I end up doing it.  I like those kinds of shoots.  Plus it's local, which means I won't have to fly to some god-forsaken place for location shots.  I'll be able to come home at night and have dinner with Angie and the puppies instead of sitting alone in some dismal hotel diner in podunk, Louisiana or wherever.

But the big thing that's been occupying my mind as of late is Bachelor's Graveyard and the invited-audience-only reading we're doing of it this Sunday.  One never knows for certain with things like this, but it has all the earmarks of being something really cool.  I've got a great young cast, a script I like very much, a nice space to do it in, good lighting and sound and a hand-picked audience to show it to.  I have high hopes.

This play is unique for several reasons.  For one, it is probably the only script I've never felt the need or desire to go back and rewrite.  Once I finished the sixth or seventh draft, I just put it down.  I was done with it.  I had said all I wanted to say.  Very rare for me.

I have also found with this scipt that upon reading it, people either love it or hate it.  There's very little indifference about this piece of writing.  The guys doing it seem to love it.  I'm glad.  It could easily be dismissed as a piece of theatre entirely founded on scatalogical situations and language.  It is not.  But the opening scene, the first 12 or so pages, would seem to indicate that.  I wanted to do that to take the viewer on what appeared to be one journey and then suddenly veer onto a road less travelled and take them on a far nobler and not readily apparent altruistic journey instead.  A little high-falutin' there, but it's true.  What starts as a bunch of 18 year old boys talking about getting laid suddenly finds itself in the midst of real discourse.  Real intent.  Real depth.  Hopefully, anyway.

The play comes as close to actual allegory as I've ever been as a writer.

In four months I turn 50.  Just writing that sentence gives me pause.  I'll be a half a century old.  It's almost inconceivable to me.  No, ammend that.  It IS inconceivable to me.  There is no logical reason on God's Green Earth that I should be turning 50.  I'm sure it's been done, but it's hard to imagine someone living a more reckless, hedonistic life as I have.  I'll spare you the details.  Suffice to say, I'm more surprised about it than anyone.  And I've lost a lot of comrades-in-arms along the way.  Friends that stood at my shoulder and advanced fearlessly into the line of fire as I did.  And weren't so lucky.

Bachelor's Graveyard is about that.  It's all about that.  It's a testament to being in the fire with Shadrach, et al, and finally stepping out, curiously unscathed.  It's a two hour discourse on the old joke, 'how do you make God laugh?  Tell him your plans.'  But it's also about hope and redemption.  It's final message is about predestination, fate and blind faith.  If there is a God, if He is indeed concerned about any of us personally, if He has anything to say about it, the play is then about that.  It is a metaphysical tip of the hat to the possibility that now and then God says out loud, "Not so fast. I'm not done with you yet."

In a sense, I suppose, all of my writing is about that.  It is the one great theme I return to time and again, willingly or not.  A buddy of mine said to me the other day, "You know, every time I pick up a new book by John Irving, I can count on reading something about Austria or wrestling or bears or incest or hotels.  And every time I see one of your plays I can count on seeing something about drinking too much, dysfunctional families, Muhammad Ali and Missouri."  Frankly, I'd never thought of it like that.  At the time I laughed.  In retrospect I think he was being weirdly truthful.

It's not until I've finished a play that I take the time or effort to suss out the themes.  I'm always reminded of the very rare interview Hemingway gave upon the release of The Old Man and the Sea.  Hemingway, of course, was notoriously circumspect about the underlying 'meaning' of his writing, his novels.  The invited reporters in the room kept asking him questions like, "Would you say this book is about the conflict of good and evil?"  Or, "Is this your take on religion?  Can the fish be the physical embodiment of your soul?"  After a short bit of this, old Ernest had had quite enough.  He finally blurted out, "It's a book about a guy who caught a fish and then couldn't keep it."  He then walked out.  Now don't get me wrong.  Ernest Hemingway was no accidental writer.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  Maybe not when he started the book but certainly by the time he was in the middle of it.  I completely understand that.

I'm reading David Mamet's new book out called simply "Theatre" these days.  Mamet, like Hemingway, prefers to talk other stuff, not his writing, but about acting and directing and 'intentions' and the not-so-popular debunking of 'the method' rather than his actual process.  He rarely talks about his writing or how he goes about doing it.  But in this book he does, sort of unwillingly, talk about it.  And in the final analysis it becomes clear that he has no idea how he does it.  He sits down with a clean sheet of paper, a vague idea of what he'd like the play to be about, a few half-formed characters in mind, and a few months later he has something new and invented.  And more often than not it has nothing to do with what he sat down to write in the first place.  Again, I completely understand that.

So Bachelor's Graveyard is never far from the surface of my thoughts these days.  It drives Angie a bit loopy.  We were watching the biography channel last night (they had a full night of 'Star Trek' bios and my inner geek was gleeful at the prospect of seeing them all) and I turned to her in the midst of them and said something about the play.  She said, "Don't you ever just relax and stop thinking?"  No.  No, I don't.  If I get this little film gig today, I'll make a lot of money again.  For acting, I mean.  It happens occasionally, thank God.  Gets the bills paid and puts some chicken gizzards on the table.  But it's really incidental.  I won't make a penny on the reading of this new play.  Not a dime.  But it's far more important to me than the other gig.  And one of the reasons is because until this Sunday at 8:00pm, it didn't exist.  And after 10:00pm this Sunday it will cease to exist.  And for me, anyway, that's what it's all about.

See you tomorrow.


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