Saturday, February 03, 2007

Cutting plays down to Fit On Stage

A playwright list member asks for suggestions about revising a sprawling play....
I say:
What can you do but cut 'em or double 'em? Or restructure so that
you attack and end at points that leave some stuff offstage. Do you
really need scenes 1, 3, & 5? Can you end with X's death and either
skip the funeral or just show Y's eulogy in a spotlight?

He replies: "You reminded me of my mentor Larry Menkin;"Tell only one story at a time"....I used to'hate'... that."

I continue:
In truth I'm arguing against my own preferences. All the plays I love
best have big casts, multiple protagonists, comic subplots and
interlocking themes. "One story at a time?" Boring! Unworthy of
the stage's unique capacity to embody more than one POV or to shift
empathy in an instant. I just saw my umpteenth production of
"Winter's Tale", this one by The Actors' Shakespeare Project in
Boston-- Now there's a mess of a script! I was talking with a critic
who was expatiating on how Shakespeare could have done it better if
only he had known what the movies have taught us about the use of
flashback. "Pooh!" quoth I. I love that play Just As It Is, and
feel sorry for anyone who has not seen a production that makes it
work in all its miraculous messiness. I laughed, I cried; and if
not perfect the production was miles above the 3-5 character essays
that our theaters can afford to premiere today.

But I've talked with fellow writers about fixing messes often enough
that I have the fixing tools sharpened and ready, even though many
times I'd rather consign my overly ambitious play to the drawer
rather than cut it to a tamed size and shape.

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