But you can’t just willy-nilly jump into the wrighting thing, not even on Day 3 of a trip where very little wrighting has happened thus far. These things take appropriate preparations. I decide that an appropriate preparatory thing in New York would be a trip to the New York Public Library.
I emerge from the subway station at 42nd and see it. When it comes to architecture in this town, they don’t mess around. I don’t hear angels singing when I see the crouching lions flanking the front steps. But I do hear the Ghostbusters song full blast, and I hang my head in shame. It’s been only about a hundred years since that movie came out. Oy, the stuff that sticks in my brain…
The main reading room, naturally on my first time ever here, is closed for renovation. Still, there are plenty of lovely things to see, including some large wooden boxes with fully functioning, corded telephones in them. From what I could tell, people would climb inside the boxes, sit down and make a call. Although from one fellow I see there today, they appear to also be good napping locations.
I serpentine my way down aisles upon aisles of books. I know it’s best to actually read books to get the most out of them, but given my limited time, I satisfy myself by walking down aisle after aisle, looking at titles, taking in the smells, looking up at the architecture, and also keeping one eye open for the green, slimey blob thing, because emotionally I’m still 12, apparently.
When I emerge from the library a couple of hours later, I’m still not quite feeling fully wrighterly enough, so I make my way to the subway and head uptown. One stop before my station, a pair of young ladies with name badges get in the same car with me. I say hello, and find out they are from Idaho and Utah. We chat for a moment, and then, wouldn’t you know, just as we are pulling into the station, the question comes up: what brings you to New York? I rush my nonchalant response, “Oh, a play I wrote is having a public reading this evening.” And wouldn’t you know, these two actually asked me to tell them more, but this time there was no lengthy flight ahead of us. The doors closed on me just after I suggested that they should come. Because, as everyone knows, missionaries look for plays and such to go to in the evenings during all their free time.
From the 86th Street station, I begin my walk of a few blocks. I’ve only been to NYC a handful of times in my life, and usually for other reasons than to be a playwright. As such, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has never made it to the top of my short list on any of these trips. But as I was first and foremost a playwright on this trip, I decided a Met visit would be in order. I knew I couldn’t do it justice in the brief amount of time I had, but better something than nothing.
The Met (I think that’s what we erudite people who frequent this museum call it) is enormous and packed to the gills with the finest samples of human creativity for the past millennia or two. Or three. Sometimes four or more. For example, one piece that caught my eye was the Brannigan-sized Sphinx of King Senwosret III, created somewhere in the neighborhood of 1850. B.C. Other than some difficulty capturing, or possibly retaining, the nose, it is an amazing piece. But it is a fleck on the crystal on the tip of the iceberg of what is on display here.
So much amazing art. Van Gogh (fyi, the “g” is silent, but not sure which one), Monet (fyi, the “t” is silent), and many other artists, some of which have names for which you pronounce all of their letters (those would be your Americans for the most part). I noticed there were no play exhibits, however. Playwrights, with some notable exceptions (looking at you, Mr. Shakespeare), seem to trade in a transitory medium. They speak to their times, and when their times are gone, often the context is gone with them, leaving us disconnected with the remaining artifacts.
Even plays from earlier parts of the last century that make occasional reappearances in our repertoire today are from a fairly narrow window in the overall history of drama, compared to all the paintings and sculptures that are still with us today. I don’t have anything much to say about this, just observing, really. Maybe speaking to contemporary times is what plays do best, and that such narrow windows are to be embraced, not discounted.
Soon the dogs and lower back can’t handle any more gazing, so they and I head back to the apartment, where in lieu of playwrighting, I get caught up in some final business associated with the tabernacle documentary project (more about that in another post).
At last, it is time to head to the reading. I walk the mile or so up 5th Avenue to the venue on 18th. I arrive far too early, so I tuck into the fancy pre-show restaurant next door that serves pizza by the slice and soda by the can. I soon realize I made a bad call on the pizza type. Actually a bad call on the whole joint. A few bites later, I give up and leave, still on the far-too-early side. I wander around surrounding blocks until the very earliest of the not totally uncool realm, which I ballpark to be 15 minutes before opening.
Tim Errickson, the director of the play and the festival, is outside the door to the black box putting up a sign when I walk up. He invited me in, where the cast is still at their music stands reading silently and marking their scripts, having apparently just finished their final rehearsal. Tim introduced me briefly, I say hello to the cast, the cast says hello to me, then I take a seat near the middle and shut up, because it seems like most of the actors are still at work.
After a few minutes, Tim announces he was going to open the house. I hadn’t realized I was there before pre-show house closing. Advantage of arriving in the marginally uncool window. 15 or so people amble in. But the house doesn’t feel conspicuously small, on account of it being a smallish black box theater.
At the appointed hour, Tim rises, briefly welcomes the audience, then gives a nod to the narrator, who is sitting to the side of the cast, digs right in, reading the more essential parts of the stage direction, so what we hear from the actors has context. There is some stellar talent in the cast. A good chunk of them are equity. For the record, I want to list them all:
- Matthew Trumbull* (Geoffrey)
- Gabby Sherba (Gillian)
- Lipica Shah* (Celia)
- David King* (Earl of Beford)
- Aaron M. Zook* (Rowland)
- Jay William Thomas (Valet)
- Chloe Ross (Eliza)
- Philip Emeott (Cuthbert Miles, et al)
- Kate Ross* (Cook, et al)
- Daniela Gonzalez y Perez (Barks, et al)
- Christina Ashby (Stage Directions)
Actors move up to their music stands for their entrances and back to their chairs across the back wall when their characters exit. Some of the more physical scenes are a little hard to follow in this regard, but for the most part, I think people can tell what was going on. Also, it helped that our audience is a responsive bunch.
When all is said and done, the narrator announces end of play, our actors got in a line as the audience applauds, and we take a couple of pictures. I visit with a few kind souls who stay behind to say nice things. I request input from anybody who would talk to me. I thank Tim for believing in the project enough to take it on and get some helpful input from him on perhaps consolidating a couple of scenes in Act II and not losing Celia as much in Act II. Some fine points.
And then, a few minutes later, I am back on the street in the night air, walking down 5th Avenue to the Zebra House in SoHo for the last time. I manage to do so without falling once. I’m getting good at this walking in New York thing.
As I walk, I mull. I confess to sometimes feeling a certain malaise (that’s French for “je ne sais quoi”) after seeing something I wrote. Like there’s some unfinished business here. Which, of course, is the point of a reading. To identify those and hammer them out before the effort to stage a full-blown production of it. But sometimes the malaise trickles over to the more morose “I have no business doing this.” It’s not my favorite quality, but when it comes, I’ve learned I just have to ride it out.
I love some parts of “Incompleat” more than others. The feedback I got on the “mysterious child of the woods” storyline, for example, was positive, which was nice to hear, on account of that was an element that sprang out of last summer’s workshop process, and I had worried if it might play a bit too sentimental, especially here in NYC. But a couple of people spoke of it favorably, and “Gillian” told me it made water come out of her eyes.
But some parts I don’t love. So I intend to mull the play in the coming days and weeks to see if I can transform some of those parts into the “love” realm. I still think there is something here with this play. Just need to keep chipping away at it until my transitory Sphinx appears.
Thus ends my three days of being a playwright, during which not much actual playwrighting occurred. Seems for that to happen, I need to head somewhere where there is decidedly less New York around me.
Speaking of which, I land back in Utah, if all goes well, at about 2 pm.