Friday, March 12, 2010

Wise Fools.

Sometime in the next few weeks we're putting up a play of mine that I wrote a long time ago called Bachelor's Graveyard. Now, this place actually exists. It's a graveyard outside the small town of Bachelor, Missouri, a few miles from my hometown of Fulton, Missouri. It's nearly impossible to find. One has to drive on some pretty obscure country roads to get to it. And once, there, one has to park on the side of an old gravel road and climb up through brambles and countryside to reach this little patch of land with very, very old tombstones scattered about. Most from the nineteenth century. Back when I was in high school it was a closely guarded secret as to exactly where it was. Many tried to find it, many failed. It was passed down through word of mouth from one "cool" group of seniors to the next chosen group. I was, I'm proud to announce, in the "cool" group that was given the location.

So our group of friends, Guy Cooke, Steve Steinrauf, Dave Gibson, Ross Olsby, Vince Humphries, Jay Karr, Randy Fuller, Jimmy Pardue, Wayne Waldon, Jim Barnes, Dave Brady...we would head out there on occasion, highly secret, need-to-know only, and take out a ridiculous amount of beer and spread blankets and sleeping bags in and around the tombstones and drink and talk deep into the night, slightly awed and amused to be sleeping on graves.

Bachelor's Graveyard is a fictional account of our last night there and a condensed version of all the things we talked about in that last magic summer in Missouri before we all went our separate ways, convinced we would be friends forever.

I honestly think I had more fun writing Bachelor's Graveyard than any other play I've written. I had fun putting myself back into that eighteen year old mindset. The play is filled with gratuitous cursing and stories about hoped-for sex. It is purposely written with a delightful yet naive and sophomoric philosophy. Ah, I thought I knew so much at eighteen. I really thought I had most of the world's problems figured out. We, all of us, loved to wax poetic on subjects ranging from Hemingway to the new testament to sports and politics. We were, in the true Latin sense, Wise Fools. We honestly believed we knew what we were talking about. That's the whole point of Bachelor's Graveyard, to sit in and listen to those conversations, to be a voyeur on one of those charming and senseless nights, to be grown up and hear something forbidden to adult ears.

The play will be presented as a simple reading. Some blocking, perhaps. Simple lighting. Maybe a bit of sound design.

I've given the play to a few people over the years and asked them what they think. The general response has always been, "This is an incredibly funny play. No one will ever do it."

I handed it to the AD of NoHo, James Mellon, awhile back and one morning he called me and I couldn't make out what he was saying over the phone. He was laughing too hard. He said, "This is the funniest opening scene to a play I have ever read." He was laying in bed guffawing. He said his housekeeper had just come in to check on him because he was yelping with laughter.

He got it.

I was re-reading it myself yesterday. There is a moment in it that is so honest, so embarrassing, that I found myself tearing up a bit. Generally, when that happens, my first impulse is to cut it. My second impulse, and the right one, is to leave it and know I've done something good.

We've got a crackerjack cast, five young actors perfect for it. And a great director with a list of credits longer than my arm, Karesa McElheny.

I remember reading in Elia Kazan's biography that Tennessee Williams used to sit in the back during rehearsals for Glass Menagerie, I think it was, and wail with laughter at this delicate, sad play, really throwing the actors off. He was clearly remembering things as they happened and not what was onstage. I suspect that's how I'll be at rehearsal, too.

One thing about when I was writing the piece a few years back. I used to say to people, "I wish I were eighteen again and know what I know now." Well, after writing this play now I say, "I wish I were eighteen again. And do it all again and see how the dice fall this time."

See you tomorrow.