It's been a whirlwind week. I love whirlwind weeks. Nothing beats a good whirlwind week.
I'm doing rewrites on a new piece called 'The Promise' today. It came about rather odd. About six months ago I was having lunch with a buddy of mine at my favorite 'sit around and chat and smoke cigs and kvetch' diner here in LA called Sittons and I was despairing the fact that there were no plays that a whole group of my 40-something actor friends and I could do. Unlike NYC and Chicago, LA is a place that uses theatre to stay sharp between 'real' gigs. Actually, I was having lunch with Jim Barbour and John Bader. Jim said, "You're the damned writer. WRITE something for us." So I did. And it's called 'The Promise.'
There are several themes in my life I seem to be obsessing over these days: aging gracefully, forgiveness, emotionally driven, spiritual paradigm shifts, and reliance on a higher power. The latter of these themes is a sure way to get my dander up. There is a plethora of spiritual ideas concerning this. All of which I summarily dismiss. The most prevelant being that if one only 'surrenders' one achieves a semblence of a 'state of grace.' I'm utterly confounded and annoyed by this line of thought. AA, perhaps the most altruistic social movement of the twentieth century, bases it's entire existence on this train of thought. It has always seemed purposely elusive to me. I do not deny it's power, however, and I'm all for doing what makes one a better person. I mean, it's difficult to argue with success. Nonetheless, the sheer ambiguity of it always leaves me cynical.
Therin lies the premise for 'The Promise,' alliteration intended.
So I began writing the piece. It's finally nearing completion and will be done as one of two, full-length staged readings that will launch our new company in early November.
Personally, I've always preferred a more 'hands on' higher power. You know, the kind that parts seas and feeds thousands with a loaf and a fish and strikes down invading armies and gets pissed off and floods the world out of childish pique. The 'absentee landlord' higher power has always sort of bored me. I don't believe a word of it, however, but it makes for good drama. The Jeffersonian thinking now called 'classical deism' has always been my pesonal way of sorting through life's hurdles. Also, I have an inordinate number of friends that subscribe to the science of mind teachings. Wayne Dyer, those kinds of guys. I'm all for it. But to be honest, that stuff bothers me, too. I find it to be insufferably optimistic. Nonetheless, some very smart people I know are neck deep in it.
A couple of my friends are unabashed Scientologists, an organized teaching religion that has gotten a very bad rap in the press, undeservedly so, as far as I can tell. From what I've read, it's really rather altruistic, too. Although they do tend to hammer home the money part of it a lot. And L. Ron Hubbard was a little too Norman Rockwellish for me in his writings. Very Republican, this guy was. However, having said that, if one is able to approach the teachings with a clear and unbiased mind, it's pretty cool stuff. At least it's practical, which is more than I can say for the Christian guys. As Salinger points out in nearly all of his writing, Jesus was one smart F-ing guy. Just a bit deluded. Updike also has a great book out there on this subject called 'A Month of Sundays' if you're so inclined to search it out.
But I digress.
The very foundation of Christianity is the idea that God forgives us. The guys that thought this up weren't just whistling Dixie. It's an enormously smart thing to base a belief on. Because if all I have to do to make that happen is join the team, well, I'm joining. The Catholics, those wily Vatican plotters, took it a step further: they added guilt to the mix. Of course, it's a lot more complicated than that, but in the final analysis, that's the upshot.
So I started with that idea. Suppose the simple act of surrendering to a notion of thought that, once adhered to, releases one from the bondage of sin is possible? That's a corker, that is. And more, suppose one man had the power to do this? And suppose that man were with us today? Let's, for the moment, forget all the trappings and myth that go along with that line of thinking. Let's dismiss all the miracles and harps and angels and demons and flowing, white hair, and whale swallowing. Let's just put the whole scenario on a back porch in rural Missouri. And then let's borrow a page from GB Shaw and play Devil's Advocate for the whole story.
Well, that's what the new play is about.
Yes, yes, a little esoteric, but fascinating nonetheless, I think. So I've created five characters, all smart, educated guys, all seeking peace of mind, all gathered together to finally clear the air so as to allow a little grace to enter their lives. Cast it with five really, really fine actors. Make it real. Don't airbrush the warts and scars. Give them a contemporary language to use. Focus on their ability to choose free-will over antiquated, paranormal beliefs, and see what happens. It is so much more interesting to write questions than answers, I've found.
This Saturday we're holding auditions for a couple of the roles for the initial staged reading in NoHo. A few of the roles are cast with the actors I had in mind when I wrote it: Jimmy Barbour, Kyle Puccia, Rob Arbogast and John Bader. All enormously gifted actors.
We're also casting four of the five roles in Bachelor's Graveyard, my homage to growing up in the small, King's Row-influenced town of Fulton, Missouri. For those of you who don't know, King's Row was sort of the test run for Peyton Place, a novel that came out decades later. But King's Row, written by Henry Bellamy, was actually written and set in small town Missouri. I think that's his name, anyway. It's not a very good read, but it's claim to fame is that it was later made into a movie with a very young actor named Ronald Reagan.
Bachelor's Graveyard, a play I wrote in 2004 and worked on periodically through 2009, is set in a graveyard outside the very small, rural town of Bachelor, Missouri, a town that actually exists, as does the graveyard itself. When I was a senior in high school it was an exclusive place that only the 'in' crowd knew about. And on some weekends we would go there and drink a ton of beer and tell lies and sometimes unspeakable trutths to each other as the evening wore on and the beer did it's work. Bachelor's Graveyard is about the last night these blessed and cursed young ne'er-do-wells, these goofy scofflaws meet there before real life swallows them up and they all leave their homes and lives to embark on a world of harsh realities. It is my favorite play. It is not my best play. But it is my favorite.
We're casting that this Saturday and Sunday, too.
So...rewrites today on 'The Promise,' meeting with my business and artistic partner, Jim B., taking my wife to lunch, learning a song for a big audition I have on Monday and memorizing a couple of short scenes I have to shoot tomorrow for this little film I've committed to. A good day. They're all good days, really.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a walk and think.
See you tomorrow.