Tuesday, October 13, 2015

High spirits

Appropriately for this spooky time of year, we met last night in the shadows of TheatreWorks' set for Ibsen's Ghosts.  There weren't any spooky plays. Instead we read a raft of comedies, five in all. And we did have some very "spirited" discussions (sorry).  Total attendance was a healthy fifteen.

We opened with some pages from The Goblin and the Gremlin, the last of August Mergelman's short plays exploring different theatrical traditions. This one gave us a taste of English mummer's theatre, which August explained is full of "cheese and corn". In the play, August deftly mashes up two popular stories from England, the romance of Pyramus of Thisbe from A Midsummer Night's Dream and the legend of St. George and the Dragon. The audience thought it was a lot of fun and that the rhymes worked really well.

After that we read Deirdre Gilbert's short play Requiem for Octavia, the humorous tale of a funeral at which an older couple is shocked to learn that their son's deceased mate was an octopus. People loved the naivete of the mom and dad as well as the clever puns (e.g. the son met his girlfriend in a "dive"). There was a lot of discussion about when people first realized that Octavia was an octopus and whether that should have occurred earlier or later in the story. 

We next read the beginning of Tim Phillips' fairy tale comedy Grimmland. Tim first brought it to Drama Lab three years ago, but Black Box Theatre director Nancy Holaday has been bugging him to finish it so he decided to bring it back. The play gets off to a comical start as the rank-smelling Bearksin kidnaps Jacqueline, a young girl who gripes non-stop about her captor's aroma. The audience agreed that the scene had nice, sharp dialogue but wondered whether some of the action might be too violent for children.

Next up was the beginning of Young Love, a romantic comedy by our newest writer Will Prenevost. In it, an older couple, patterned after Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, try to seduce a younger couple, based on Jimmy Stewart and Carole Lombard. Everyone loved the characters, but several people were confused by the seeming anachronisms in the dialogue. Will explained that while the play is meant to convey the tone of a 1940's screwball comedy, it's actually set in the early 1990's.

We wrapped everything up with some more pages from my old-time radio farce The Last Radio Show. Here the hapless cast loses three more actors as Roxie loses her glasses, Rita gets stage fright and Maggie is forced to fend off the hamsters who have invaded the control room. We also get a western drama, Tex King, the Humming Cowboy. The audience enjoyed the humor, although some people pointed out that there were anachronisms (middle school and duct tape) and another person felt that the character descriptions weren't accurate.

There was an extra treat this evening as Chuck Cabell went over the critique he received from Linda Seger on his assisted suicide comedy, Hemlock (Linda is a screenwriting guru had a successful career in Hollywood working on films like Harrison Ford's Witness). Linda's comments matched many of those made during our meetings, including the fact that much of the most interesting action happens offstage and we never see the thug who serves as the main antagonist. Linda also pointed out that it's hard to get the tone right in a black comedy like this and that Chuck might want to try making it funnier. Chuck admitted that many of her comments were dead on and is seriously considering the rest. For more info on Linda's services, visit her website at

Our next meeting is Monday, November 16. See you then!

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