The other day I was listening to Between The Covers, the book show, on CBC Radio. They had a fascinating interview on with British playwright David Hare, author of The Hours and Plenty.
One of the things he talked about was how he loved Chekhov’s earlier plays, much more so than his more famous later plays, because the earlier works resonate with themes about how older people quelch the dreams of the young. Hare finds them passionate and messy and wise, and he said that The Seagull is “the best written play ever written,” with every line perfectly in place. He cheekily declared it to be his “death row play” – the one you’d want to see performed along with your last meal if you were on death row.
But of course, that got me thinking about my own Death Row Play. I like plays, but creatively, they kind of scare me. My wheelhouse, when it comes to writing, is deep inner monologues where we dive down the rabbit hole of one character’s thoughts. When someone has to actually say something out loud, I panic. Everything sounds trite and silly, I don’t know what to say. It’s all my own personal anxieties and introversions brought to light on the page.
Plays, however, are all about the talking. It’s 100% conversation when it comes to storytelling. Even in movies and TV shows, you can have action sequences to fill the time (I imagine the screenwriter of Ronin, which features a legendary 15 minute car chase, got off easy by putting “big car chase” in the script and then going for coffee). You can even linger on a close up, let the face of the actor or actress say depths without having to actually say a word.
But in a play, the audience might be too far away to read the subtle expressions on an actor’s face. There’s no space for a big car chase or a race over the rooftops of some exotic city in cool, five thousand dollar suits. Everything has to be said. It’s all dialogue, all the time.
Shudder. Oh, how I do admire, and envy, and respect those that can tell stories with just conversations. And yet, maybe because it’s the hardest thing for me to imagine writing, I haven’t seen very many plays, really. Movies yes, TV definitely, but live theatre? Not as much, not compared to what is out there. I’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare – man, that guy could really wield a pen. And I’m a total junkie for musicals, but they kind of cheat, don’t they – it’s so easy to create a memorable moment, an emotional moment with a soaring song. I actually had to look up a list of the greatest plays of all time just to remind myself of some titles, and I’m embarrassed at how few of these I have seen or read.
So which play would I pick to be my death row play? The one that they’d perform as I was eating my lentil soup, leaf lettuce salad, and chocolate chip cookies? Something light, for sure, something to make me laugh. Maybe Much Ado About Nothing or The Importance of Being Earnest, or something by Noel Coward.
Clearly, though, I have some studying up to do before I commit any major crimes. Resolved for 2017: to the theatre!