Wednesday, November 04, 2009

What Type of Play Are You Writing? Part 3

The last couple of days I have been thinking/writing out loud about the "types" of plays that we see on our stages.

The first two types, Actual People - Actual World and Boundary Breaker, are most often created with multiple characters.

This does not have to be the case though. For instance, Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett is about an older man sitting alone in his flat on the evening of his birthday. He has a birthday tradition of recording himself on a reel to reel and also listening to a choice recording from an earlier time in his life. During the play, we hear a recording of Krapp at thirty nine and we hear Krapp recording his current installment.

There are no other characters - just Krapp and the recording of himself at thirty nine, and there are no boundaries broken. Although there is a bit of stage direction about Krapp kicking a banana peel into the pit.

The next type of play I would like to discuss is distinct from a play like Krapp, and it is a very popular type. Most regional theaters contain at least one of these plays a season.

3. Monologue Plays

One person, speaking a single monologue to the audience. One person telling the story, one person acting all the characters in the story, one person interacting with video projections, etc.

One person.

This is a very wide category and includes the monologues of Mike Daisey and Spalding Gray; works like The Good Thief and Saint Nicholas by Conor McPherson as well as Will Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing). We also have autobiographical plays like Wishful Drinking or Confessions of Mormon Boy. Even Will Ferrell's on man show You're Welcome America, is in this category.

The main distinction in the category, I am thinking, is the awareness of the monologist/character/actor that he or she is telling a story to an audience, to a group of people.

While thinking about this category, some guestions arose.

Would the work of Spalding Gray or Mike Daisey be considered a play? These types of artsist work somewhat extemporaneously, but they do have a very sound structure.

What about, for instance, a play like Ronan Noone's The Atheist, in which the actor seems to be addressing the audience, but really the device Ronan uses is to have the character speaking into a camcorder, as if he is giving us his last "confession." This is a very popular way to present a monologue play as seeming more "real."

There are also "One Man/One Woman ____________" projects. For example, The One Man Star Wars, The One Man Gospel of Luke. A recent regional favorite is the one man It's a Wonderful Life.

The Monologue Play type has a twin:

4. The Multiple Monologue Play

Several characters tell distinct monologues that may or may not intersect dramatically, but usually at least follow a similar theme or sometimes track a story from different angles. The monologues can be in succession or interwoven. These monologues can be delivered by one person.

Most of Eric Bogosian's work and Anna Deveare Smith's plays are in this category, as are most documentary theatre projects like The Exonerated. This category also includes Molly Sweeney, Bash; the latter day plays, This Lime Tree Bower,Crave and Love Letters.

In some instances, separate characters may interact in a dramatic way on a limited basis. For example, A Steady Rain does this a little bit.

Tomorrow: "This Is A Play?"


isaac butler said...

One quick... okay, two quick things:
(1) You're Welcome America wasn't a one-man show, it had at least two other characters in it, Condi Rice and someone who played multiple parts (i didn't see it, but I did the Critic-O-Meter for it)

(2) I don't think Mike Daisey's work qualifies as a play, nor do I think he would self-identify it as such. If I may be totally arbitrary for a moment in my defining of things... I think one definition of a play is that it could be performed by people other than the generative artist. In Mike's case, that's impossible as there is no script, only notes, and the show changes from night to night. I suppose that you could try to perform the notes (and in this way, it would be more akin to postmodern music which is often performed according to "rules" rather than a score) but i still don't think it would be a play.

Art said...

Hi Isaac,

I saw the Will Ferrell show on HBO. The Condi Rice and other bit parts were pretty, pretty small.

On your second point, I think I agree with your definition. Mike probably would as well.

But it is not unheard of to see monologists works about their own experiences then performed by others. 2.5 Mile Ride, etc.

If I, for instance, saw Mike Daisey's show Invincible Summer several times, and then worked from the outline, would I not be able to reproduce pretty reasonable facsimile?

Mike has even mentioned that he considered putting some type of transcript of How Theater Failed America out on some type of Creative Commons license.

isaac butler said...

Definitely an interesting question to explore. Not sure how i feel about it... but the publishing of HTFA was going to happen because Mike felt like the work and its points and attitudes were being misrepresented by its detractors, not so that other people could perform it. and it would have been the transcript of a performance, not a definitive text.

Now that being said, someone COULD then go out and perform it if they wanted to, playing the role of Mike Daisy... and I'm the hugest fan of Authorial Intent Above All Else, but i wonder how much the writer's self-definition of the work comes into play here.

MANFRED was never meant to be performed (and neither was Peer Gynt) which makes them (in my mind) not-really-plays, but rather literary experiments that take the form of scripts. If you then produce them... do they become plays? I don't know.