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.
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?"