Archive for the ‘ playwrighting ’ Category

Sneak Peek–Before the Parade Passes By

It’s Sneak Peek Friday!  Here’s a blast from the past–I’ve been working on getting this transcribed into digital form, so it’s been on my mind.  Before the Parade Passes By was the prequel to my first play, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, and featured Jim Pillmeier as Sidney J. Stein.  He also played the role when it was done in New York, my very first official NY playwrighting credit.   The story of that star-crossed production can by seen here: https://pettiplays.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/my-first-new-york-show-embarassment-with-a-spotlight/.  Our excellent original cast when we did it at Bard included Mary El, Joseph P. Morgan, Michael Vanacore and Ellen Boswell.  Enjoy.

Since I brought up Mary El’s name, I’d like to announce that my talented wife has just been cast as Little Edie in 90 Miles Off Broadway’s production of Grey Gardens, directed by Joe Gayton!  She will be ridiculously good in this role.

Check out my blog about the Grey Gardens ladies here:  https://pettiplays.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/grey-garden-my-favorite-hot-messes/.  Have a great weekend everybody.

Before the Parade Passes By

Copyright  (c) 1997 by Brian C. Petti

bcpkid AT gmail.com

ACT I

Scene 1

A funeral parlor.  There is a kneeler front center facing the audience.  Behind the kneeler are rows of foldout chairs.  CHRISTOPHER, JENNIFER and MOTHER sit in the front row, lost in thought.  CHRISTOPHER is 28, dressed tastefully and conservatively in keeping with his personality, which is careful and self-conscious.  JENNIFER, 23, is dressed in a black dress.  She seems lost amid the events around her, as if she has given up trying to be seen or heard.  Their MOTHER Rebecca Wregget is a former actress whose attractiveness has settled into a weathered, disappointed look.  She stares ahead emotionless. 

The wake is for Nelson Wregget, a semi-famous children’s book author. 

Also in attendance is a couple in their fifties, Nelson’s brother TIM and his wife MARY.  Assorted others filter in and out of the upstage parlor doors, as the wake is open to the public.  An UNDERTAKER stands in the back of the room.  When dialogue is spoken, only people involved in the conversation can hear it.

TIM

Death is a real pain in the ass.

MARY

How profound.

TIM

That’s exactly it–when we talk about death, why must we be profound?  Death cheapens our lives.  Look at my brother.  He did such and such and made this and that and what happened to him?  He died.  That’s all.  He was here on minute and gone the next.

MARY

We’re here for more than a minute.

TIM

The rest of it’s just a set-up.  Like From Here to Eternity, we’re just living out the soap operas of our lives unaware of our impening doom.  Everything leading up to that last minute is foreplay.

MARY

If only your foreplay lasted so long.

TIM

Sex, that’s a perfect example.  We think if we have children it will make us immortal.  It won’t.  It’s all an illusion, the work we do, the food we eat, the books we write–it’s all just a trick to keep us from thinking about them Kamikase planes swooping down.

MARY

You never wrote any book.

TIM

What?

MARY

You said, “the books we write” but you never wrote a book.

TIM

I was making a point.

MARY

Your brother Nelson was the writer.  You sell insurance.

TIM

And where is he for all his success?

TIM points toward the corpse.

MARY

The man was famous from writing children’s books.  He won more awards than he could count, and all you see as important is his death?

TIM

His books have a life of his own.  His is over.  Nobody lives to read their own epilogue.

MARY

This from the man who makes a living off the fear of impending death.  He’s got kids too you know.

TIM

You’re not getting it.  The mantle of generations…it’s all crap.

MARY

There’s still heaven.  He was a Catholic.

TIM

If there’s a single reason the Irish have allowed themselves to be trampled, it’s their childlike insistence that comfort and joy can wait until after we croak.  We don’t live on, we just die.  Kaput.  Over.  His two kids had better realize…

MARY

Three. Chris, Jen and Sidney.  You always forget Sidney.

TIM

Oh yeah, the fruit.

MARY

Don’t be common.  He’s your kin.

TIM

His father disowned him when he was fifteen.  That makes him a nephew once removed.

MARY

Fool.

TIM

What did I do now?

MARY

I was referring to your brother, but come to think of it you’re a fool too.

TIM

What does it matter?  We’ll all end up like Nelson some day, stuffed in a box.  You’re Deborah Carr and I’m Burt Lancaster and we’re waiting for the bombs to drop.

MARY

You’re no Burt Lancaster.

TIM

(beat) And you’re no Deborah Carr.

JEN

How old was I?  I couldn’t have been more than seven, but I still recognized his voice on the phone, you know?

CHRIS

I know.

JEN

The whole thing is so mysterious.  Even biblical.  He’s like the Prodigal Son.

CHRIS

Too bad there’s no fatted calf to kill.

JEN

What’s wrong?

CHRIS

Nothing.

JEN

It’s almost like a rebirth.  Daddy dies and this new life appeared.

CHRIS

Your older brother is no bundle of joy.

JEN

Sidney’s new to me.  I barely remember him.

CHRIS

Don’t get your hopes up.  He may not be all you expect.

JEN

I think he will be.  I’m sure my life will change when I meet him, I just feel it.  I took this Anthropology class once and the professor said, “This class will change your perspective of the world around you forever.”

CHRIS

Did it?

JEN

No.  But I remember her saying it as if it were yesterday.

CHRIS

No wonder you quit college.

JEN

I quit because I fell in love.

CHRIS

Right, the Colonel.  Where is the old dog anyway?

JEN

That old dog can do fifty push-ups in under a minute, which is more than any of you white-bread lawyers could do in an hour.  He’s only forty-seven.

CHRIS

How can my little sister be married to someone who lived through the Eisenhower administration?  So where is the middle-aged Romeo?

JEN

France.

CHRIS

Reliving Normandy?

JEN

Army business.  (apprehensively)  I left a message at his hotel room two days ago. 

CHRIS

Oh.  (beat)  I’m sure he’ll make it back for the funeral.

JEN

I hope so.  (pause)  I miss him so much.

CHRIS

He’ll be here as soon as he can.

JEN

I mean Daddy…I meant Daddy.

SIDNEY enters through the back door.  He is wearing sunglasses and mildly inappropriate clothing–a bit too fabulous, perhaps with a scarf.

MARY

Look who just walked in.  No, don’t look!

TIM

How am I supposed to see if I can’t look.

MARY

Just glance quick.

TIM coughs and takes a peek.

TIM

Who is he?

MARY

Your nephew Sidney.

TIM

Why would he show up here?

MARY

I’ll take a wild dress and say because they’re having a wake for his father.

TIM

They hated each other.

MARY

You have to love people when thy’re dead.

TIM

Will you love me when I’m dead.

MARY

You sell insurance.  I’ll adore you when you’re dead.

MARY peeks at SIDNEY herself.

Nobody is talking to him.

TIM

I guess they’re all happy with their wardrobe choice.

MARY

C’mon, we’re going to reintroduce ourselves.

TIM

Are you kidding?

MARY

He’s your nephew and we’re going to make him feel comfortable.

TIM

It’s a funeral parlor.  You don’t want to be too confortable here.

MARY

Get up in the name of all that is holy and talk to your nephew.

TIM and MARY move to where SIDNEY is standing.

TIM

Hello.

TIM turns immediately to leave, but is stopped by MARY.

MARY

Hi.  Aren’t you Nelson’s son Sidney?

SIDNEY

Indeed I am.

MARY

I don’t know if you remember, it was so long ago.  I’m your Aunt Mary and this is your Uncle Tim.

SIDNEY

Of course I remember.  You’re both exactly the same.  Except older.

MARY

Yes.  (there is an awkward pause)  So…how are you?

SIDNEY

Still gay, how are you?

MARY

We’re fine. (beat)  Uncle Tim still sells insurance.

CHRIS

He’s here Mom.

MOTHER

I saw him.  It doesn’t matter.  This is your father’s day and I won’t let anyone upset that.

CHRIS

Do you think he’ll try?

MOTHER

I wouldn’t put it past him.  Not a word from him in fifteen years–that’s not a loving son.

CHRIS

Dad was pretty rough on him…

MOTHER

Don’t speak badly about your father, not today.  He was my husband and my father and this day is to honor him.  Not for reconciliation, not for redemption–for him.

CHRIS

I’ll tell him to leave you alone for awhile.

JEN gets up and goes to SIDNEY, who has finished his conversation with TIM and MARY.

MOTHER

Yes, do that.  Tell him I’d like to bury my husband in peace.  I deserve that much.

JEN

Sidney?  Is it really you?

SIDNEY

I hope so, I’m wearing his garters.

JEN

It’s…I mean I am…

SIDNEY

You’re wearing my garters?  Do they pinch your thighs too?

JEN

No, it’s me.  Jennifer.  Your sister.

SIDNEY

Oh my Lord. let me take a look at you!  The last time I saw you, you were…

JEN

Seven.

SIDNEY

I was going to say devoid of secondary sexual characteristics.

JEN

Some things never change.

SIDNEY

Oh stop it, you’re perfect.  You have that Marian the Librarian meets Bugs Bunny thing going on.

JEN

Is that a compliment?

SIDNEY

Of course!  Bugs looks scintillating in drag.

JEN

So…what have you been doing with yourself?

SIDNEY

In the last fifteen years?  Let’s see…I’ve been platinum, fuscia, shocking red, and I had a violet rinse to coincide with my nipple ring period.  I’ve been Bette Midler, Marlene Dietrich, Josie from Josie and the Pussycats, Gloria Steinem, and even Barbra Streisand during a particularly weak moment, God forgive me, and I have better legs than any of them.  I’ve been East of Eden, North By Northwest, West of the Mississippi and South of France, if you know what I mean.  I’ve been…

JEN

My brother.

SIDNEY

Yes.  For a short time I was that too.

JEN

I missed you.

SIDNEY

How sentimental.  You missed your long lost gay brother.  There should be a Hallmark!  “Across the years, my love never lagged/’Cause through it all, I loved that fag…”

JEN

I heard so much about you.

SIDNEY

Truth is so much stranger than fiction.

JEN

It was all good.

SIDNEY

Now I know you’ve been misled.  Who’s been spreading these hideous lies?

JEN

Chris mostly.  And Mother sometimes.

SIDNEY

Really.  Well, since I haven’t seen either of them in quite some time, I wouldn’t put much stock in their opinions. 

JEN

I agree.  I’d like to get to know you. 

SIDNEY

Wasn’t that the Carpenters?  Or was it The Fifth Dimension.

JEN

What?

SIDNEY

I forgot, you Generation Xers don’t recognize any cultural reference pre-MTV.

JEN

You’re different…

SIDNEY

i(instantly defensive)  From what, those preconceived notions my dear brother and dearer mother drilled into your head?

JEN

No, different than I imagined.  I’ve been dreaming for years of the moment I would meet the brother I lost when I was seven.  I thought I would feel close to him immediately because we were blood.  I would tell him all about me and he would satisfy my endless curiosity about him.  I thought you would give me a chance to do that, but it seems you’ve already made up your mind about me.

SIDNEY

My dear, I have to make something abundantly clear to you.  If we are to have any type of relationship at all it is absolutely imperitive that I get to be the drama queen.  Now…let me introduce myself more properly.  My name is Sidney J. Stein, son of Rebecca Stein Wreggett and the deceased auter Nelson Wreggett, and for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, your brother.  Charmed to meet you.

JEN

I’m Jennifer.  My friends call me Jen.

SIDNEY

Does anyone call you Jenny?

JEN

No.

CHRIS moves over to where JEN and SIDNEY are speaking.

SIDNEY

Then that’s what I shall call you.

CHRIS

Jen, Mother would like to speak to you.

JEN

Look Chris, it’s really him!

CHRIS

Yes, I see that.

JEN

Where are you staying Sidney?

SIDNEY

I just arrived.  I figured I’d find a hotel.

CHRIS

Shouldn’t be so hard for you.  No luggage?

SIDNEY

I like to travel light.

JEN

We can’t let you sleep in a run-down hotel.  Why don’t you stay at the house with us?

SIDNEY

I don’t think…

CHRIS

That’s probably not a good idea.

JEN

At least come back and have a drink with us.

CHRIS

I’m sure Sidney has other things to do…

SIDNEY

I’d love to.

JEN

This is wonderful.  The family back together after all this time.  I think I might cry.

SIDNEY

Drama queen…

JEN

Sorry, I forgot.  I’ll have to remember not to upstage you.

JEN goes back to her mother. CHRIS is left with SIDNEY, and is keenly aware of the public nature of their conversation. 

CHRIS

Hello Sidney.

SIDNEY

Why hello Christopher.  Fancy meeting you here. (beat)  I’m sorry, was there anything else you thought I should add?

CHRIS

What are you doing here?

SIDNEY

Well, it’s a Tuesday, and I don’t let a Tuesday go by without hopping on a bus and driving ninety miles north to frequent a local funeral home.  You meet so many interesting people if you bring Kleenex.

CHRIS

Why are you here, Sidney.

SIDNEY

For the same reason you’re here, to pay repect to my dear, departed father.

CHRIS

After all this time?

SIDNEY

I did have to wait until he passed on, didn’t I?

CHRIS

So this is the moment you pick to drop back into everyone’s life.  Your father’s wake is the perfect opportunity to make your grand entrance.

SIDNEY

Do you think it was grand?  I was aiming more for subtle chic with a dash of sophisticated panache.  I’d be appalled if it came off as merely “grand”.  I should have worn a pillbox hat…

CHRIS

Still concerned only with yourself.

SIDNEY

It’s a little too late to be concerned about Father, isn’t it?

CHRIS

It’s a little late for a lot of things. 

SIDNEY

How ominous, how knowing, how…intentionally opaque.  You should write screenplays Christopher.  You ahve a way with a loaded, yet meaningless line.

CHRIS

There was only one writer in this family.

SIDNEY

Now’s your chance.  You don’t have to compete with the great Nelson Wregget.  Only his ghost.  But I suppose we’ll all have to wrestle with that one.  The residue of a famous father.  Listen to me, I’m the gay L. Ron Hubbard: “How do fathers castrate their sons?” Faganetics, page 69.

CHRIS

Cut it out.

SIDNEY

What’s the matter Christopher?  If there’s one thing we could always share it was an overwhelming resentment of our dear Daddy.

CHRIS

This isn’t the time or the place.  Mother sent me over here to ask you to let her bury her husband in peace.  I intend to see that happens out of respect for my father and respect for her.

SIDNEY

How conventional.  You respect the man if you feel you must.  Say your prayers and kiss his hand and shed a small, yet significant tear as they lower him into the ground.  Just don’t expect me to join you in your… ordinary grief.

CHRIS

I’m warning you, Sidney.  This is not your stage.

SIDNEY

Every floor I stand on is my stage, brother mine.  Another result of my star-crossed upbringing.  So let me warn you: contribute some witty dialogue or stay in the wings, either way Mama’s gonna have his say.

UNDERTAKER

Ladies and gentlemen, if you would be so kind, please pay your respects before we end the viewing for tonight.

SIDNEY

Time to pray for father’s immortal soul, Christopher.

CHRIS

You know what Mom wants.  I suggest you let her have it.

SIDNEY

I intend to.

All of the family make a quick prayer before the casket and file out.  MOTHER doesn’t acknowledge SIDNEY’s presence.  SIDNEY and JEN exchange a few words in pantomime, then JEN leaves SIDNEY alone.  SIDNEY approaches the casket awkwardly and kneels, aware of his own ridiculousness.  He looks a bit apprehensively up toward God, then decides He probably isn’t watching.  SIDNEY stands.

How to say all I have to say.  How about a showtune?  This is from Hello, Dolly, words and music by Jerry Herman.

“Because you treated me so rotten and rough.

I’ve had enough of feeling low,

So wave your little hand and whisper ‘so long dearie’,

Dearie should have said ‘so long’ so long ago.”

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Judy Garland Sneek Peek and Actual Playwrighting News

Big doings this week!  My newest play “Banshee” was picked up for publication by Next Stage Press in Texas.  In addition, “Judy Garland–The Lost Episode”  is slated to be produced in New York in September.  Usually this much Petti news in one week involves a hospitalization!

To commemorate the occasion, here is the first scene of “Judy”.  Enjoy, and please let me know what you think!  Remember, for more in-depth info about the plays, click on my website link on the right of this page.

Judy Garland–The Lost Episode

Copyright (c) 2010 by Brian C. Petti 

Scene 1

(A CBS studio stage in Hollywood.

Lights come up on JUDY GARLAND center stage at a chair, with a small table beside her. There is a glass of wine and a lit cigarette in an ashtray on the table. It is the set of the television series, “The Judy Garland Show”. It’s March 13th, 1964 and JUDY is 42. She is in repose, readying herself for a rehearsal of the song she is about to sing—but this readying consists not of any vocalizing or practice, but of tepid interest in everyone else’s job around her. She looks into the light, guarding her eyes, then offstage tentatively. After a bored moment she leans forward and speaks to Bill Colleran, her producer/ director, who is (in her mind’s eye) directly in front and below her.)

JUDY

Bill…?

Bill, can you hear me, or are you too busy being a director? (beat) While we have this quiet MOMENT together, I want to thank you for everything you did to try to make this show a success. I know you’ve worked harder than ANYONE over the past year to make a go of it…

I know, I think it’s been a success too, but those judgments aren’t ours to make. All we can do is put forth the best version of ourselves, and if it’s rejected…

JUDY (con’t)

no, I was going to say, “Screw the bastards,” but if you prefer the HIGH road…

I’m glad you can still laugh, Bill. It’s our only defense against the world.

Or at least the network, this is true. And the studios, don’t forget those wonderful people. It’s always the

VICTIMS who end up with a sense of HUMOR, isn’t it? Only the ones who never had a bad thing happen to them in their LIVES can afford to be so damn deadly SERIOUS.

(JUDY reacts physically to BILL’S placement in the following dialogue, speaking to him as the “camera” close up, then far away, then close up again.)

Oh, are you going to be my camera? I adore it when you do that. I can picture you there in front of me and it’s as if I’m singing directly to you. Otherwise it’s just a big black EYE with no life behind it and I’m afraid I might FALL IN. Isn’t that silly?

You’re being kind. I know it’s ridiculous. But when you’ve grown used to seeing real eyes looking back at you, eyes full of vigor and LIFE, it’s difficult to turn back to that dull, unblinking, SOULLESS thing. That’s why I love the way you do it. I see your face.

All right, two verses down here…

Do you HAVE to? Can’t I pretend you’re way up there? I grew up on the MGM lot; I had to pretend to have a childhood. I imagined FOOD! Surely I can…

all right, if you must leave me all alone here in the dark.

Not dangerous!? I’ll have you know I’ve had more atrocities committed upon me on Hollywood stages than in all the back alleys of the country combined. At least muggers stop MUGGING you when they have your money!

JUDY (con’t)

Do you remember the day we met? You told me that darling story about how you rode your bicycle down to the train station at five in the morning when you were a boy just to meet me. All that way just to touch my hand—I knew you would treat me like a dream. After all the fat jokes and “old lady” comments it was such a relief to know my new producer would at least be a FAN of mine. Not that all of that was Norman’s fault—it was all Aubrey’s idea to desecrate the sacred cow. And I’m sure “cow” is one of the tamer names he’s called me over the past few weeks.

It is, isn’t it? I knew he was a snake the day I met him, President of CBS or not. He showed too many TEETH when he smiled.

You know what Norman did do? He warned the writers to stay away from me. One of them admitted it. Norman was afraid they’d get too close, coming over my house all hours of the night to play cards. Like I was setting some kind of TRAP for them! You know what the simple truth is? I’m not ready to sleep after I perform. Everybody talks about this wonderful peak of emotion and communication I achieve, and then I’m just DUMPED back in my driveway. “Thanks for the transcendent experience, Judy, now get some sleep so you can go get ‘em again tomorrow!” I’ve had an experience too, you know, and I may have given something of myself I can’t get back. So if I feel the need to be surrounded by living, breathing PEOPLE instead of enduring another endless night with myself and my bedroom slippers, whose business is that? I want to play cards and smoke and laugh and tell stories and feel like I have some…connection.

You always come when I call. You’re the only one left who does.

(after a pause, looking up at the long shot) Bill, my camera in the sky? You know, I think you’re my favorite director. I used to say it was Vincente, but he couldn’t protect me in the end, it turned out. He wasn’t the man I thought he was—and I don’t mean that whole (making a motion with her hands) thing. I could have lived with that if he just would have stood UP for me… (beat) You know who my first love was? A musician I dated when I was nineteen. I was over the moon for him. He

JUDY (con’t)

eloped with Lana Turner and I read about it in a trade paper. How does a girl compete with LANA TURNER? It makes short work of a fragile ego.

I’m sorry, Bill, have I rendered you speechless? (looking down) Oh there you are again. You do move like a cat, don’t you? Are we up to the finale?

Bill…Bill…it’s all right, don’t let me scare you. Save your speech. I think of our relationship in purely professional terms. This is our last go ‘round together, I thought I’d let you know how much I appreciate you. Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. This (motioning around the stage) is all about love, isn’t it, creating something out of air, lungs, notes on a keyboard, a table and a chair? (beat) They’ll probably never air this show you know.

Then why else are we here? I won’t ask you to protect me. Some scars are as permanent as limbs, or organs. I’m beyond protection.

I’ll tell you where that leaves us. (beat) Let’s sing the Goddamn SONG, that’s where it leaves us!

I’m Coming Out (Don’t Tell Mama!)

I have a pet peeve about calling an action “gay”, meaning uncool, unhip, square, lame, as in “Man, that is one gay-ass shirt.” Same for calling someone a “fag” about something, meaning that they’re ridiculously, unhealthily involved, such as, “That girl with the black nail polish is such an Eclipse fag!” As silly as it sounds, I think it perpetuates negative stereotypes of homosexuality.

That said, I am SUCH a fag.

I know many of you who know me will think less of me for some of these admissions, and you know what? I don’t care. It’s time to join my fellow brothers and sisters living as their authentic selves in the stark light of day. I am my own special creation, dammit! Just don’t tell my parents…

I am…a huge Springsteen fan since I was 16. I saw him live in 1985 during the Born in the USA tour, the one with the headband and the lousy white- man dance with the “Friends” chick, and my life was changed forever. I’ve driven as far north as Buffalo and as far south as Philly to catch a show. I have literally hundreds of bootleg CDs and DVDs documenting shows from as far back as 1971 and as recently as two weeks ago. I go to Springsteen discussion boards and can argue eloquently with crazed fans from Germany, England and Spain on career decisions, lyrics, and the best live versions of certain songs (“Prove It All Night” has NEVER been done better than the long guitar solo version in ’78). There, I said it.

I’m such a Met fan that I tape the sports show on the Mets network during the offseason because they always do a five-minute update showing players doing charity work, or taking batting practice at home. While I do not watch every inning of every game (because I’d like to remain married), my favorite question during baseball season is, “Can I check the score?” As soon as the football Giants are knocked out of playoff contention, I count down the days until the beginning of spring training, known to all fanatics as “pitchers and catchers”. February 14th, baby. I also have boxes upon boxes of baseball cards, and I buy my kids the new Topps set every Christmas (with the update!)

“V” is my current mindless television indulgence. Did you see that scene where the vicious alien queen mated with the male and then ate him? Of course you didn’t, you were reading an Oprah endorsed book or something similarly less geeky. I’ve also gone through bouts of dorkdom with “24”, “Star Trek—the Next Generation”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and (gulp)… “Dawson’s Creek”. I’m so ashamed. In my weak defense, I am often drawn into viewing this trash by my wife, who watches shows intensely for a few weeks, then claims to be “over it” and never watches it again, while I am hopelessly hooked and have to look up missed episodes on line. Mary El is my gateway drug. In fact, when we were first together she told me she’d never had a relationship that lasted more than three years. Lucky for me the magic third year came and went quietly because I can never remember the exact day we were married. I always remember her birthday, though! September 24th, one day after Springsteen’s. I kid you not.

I saw Tom Stoppard’s play “Arcadia” by myself when I was in my mid-twenties, on the last day of its run. I walked out of the play completely dazzled by his wit, the depth of his knowledge, the beauty of his writing, blah, blah, blah. He showed me what a playwright could be. Fast forward a few years and I got a chance to play Septimus in a version in Rhinebeck. It was an absolutely magical experience, as Mary El will tell you (“Yeah, yeah, it was magical…are you talking about that freakin’ play again!”) You know how everyone who’s ever done musical theater has been in their own definitive version of “Into the Woods” or “Godspell”, with what they insist was the cast of a lifetime? Their eyes mist over when they talk about how close everyone was, how the show changed their life, and how they fell into an irreversible depression when it was over that they’re still trying to shake? “Arcadia” was my “Godspell”.

I like “Glee”. I think Sondheim rewrote the book with his musicals, especially “Assassins” and the first half of “Sunday in the Park”. Bernadette Peters’ version of “Tell Me On a Sunday” twists my gut every single time I hear it. I will watch any period Masterpiece Theater from start to finish, all 230 episodes, no matter how many times I’ve seen it before. I’m a little in love with Liz Lemon and Olivia Benson from SVU. I watch “Star Wars—The Clone Wars” with my youngest son and I enjoy it. We download “Big Love” and “True Blood” off the computer because we don’t have HBO (although the Sookie Stackhouse novels are better). Before I got sick I used to live for Sunday morning softball. I’m currently reading “Abraham Lincoln—Vampire Slayer” with Sportscenter on in the background.  I looked up “uncool” on the Urban Dictionary to help write this.

I am such a dork. And now the world knows. All fifteen of you who frequent my blog. I feel…free. Just please, really, my mother can not hear ANY of this…

BANSHEE Sneak Preview

BANSHEE sneak peek. I’m **hoping** to bring this into NY this summer as part of the Fringe festival.

Banshee
by Brian C. Petti
bcpkid@gmail.com
Copyright © 2010 by Brian C. Petti

ACT I
Scene 1

A bed is illuminated in low light.  A man is in it, clutching his pillow to the side of his head, eyes open.  He is terrified into motionlessness by a female VOICE, which sounds as if it is coming from a dropped phone receiver.

VOICE
Hello…

Hello…?

Hello…Mr. Sullivan?

Is anyone there?

Are you there, Mr. Sullivan?

Mr. Sullivan if you are there, please pick up the phone.  

Hello…?

(I think I can hear somebody breathing…)

Sir!?  Can you hear me?

I have your case in front of me.  I wish you would pick up the phone.

Mr. Sullivan?

Hello?

Sir, I know how to help you if you will let me.

Please pick up the phone if you are there.

Sir?

Lights fade.

Scene 2

The kitchen of a railroad apartment in Chelsea, New York, 1981. There is a table center with a burning cigarette in an ashtray. Stage left of the table is a small gas range. Upstage of the range is the front door of the apartment, adorned with an aging bumper sticker that reads “Kennedy For President”.  The stage right wall has an ancient Frigidaire with an equally ancient clock radio on top of it.  Downstage right of the Frigidaire is the suggested doorway to the unseen rest of the apartment. Upstage right of it is an open door to the bathroom, where JUNIOR is in the process of shaving in an unseen mirror. He is forty, with sad blue eyes and high Irish cheekbones on an otherwise weathered face.  He is dressed in blue uniform pants and a tee shirt. KIT, his mother, cooks at the range, humming a barely audible Irish tune. She is 57 but appears older in a housecoat and kerchief. She speaks in an Irish brogue. 

JUNIOR
Ma!  Ma, did you iron my shirt.

KIT
Of course I ironed your shirt.

JUNIOR
Where is it?

KIT
Can’t you see it in there?

JUNIOR
No. I looked.

KIT
Sure, isn’t it hanging up on the curtain rod right next to you?

JUNIOR searches behind him and pulls out a hanger with a blue dress shirt with an insignia on the pocket.

JUNIOR
Sorry, Ma.

KIT
Ah the creature, you’re just nervous is all.  Finish your shaving and have some eggs and tea.

JUNIOR
Nah, just the tea today.

KIT
Sure, you’ll be needing something on your stomach for your first day, and for the medicine and all.

JUNIOR
I can’t eat Ma.

KIT
I’ll just make the eggs.

JUNIOR
I’ll eat lunch later.

KIT
Well, the eggs will be here if you want them.

JUNIOR
Don’t waste them, Ma.

KIT
You’ll be the one wasting them.

JUNIOR
Ma, just the tea. Okay?

KIT
Is that the way you want to start a new job, then?  Sure, you’ll be starving all morning.  After everything you put me through the past two months, would you have me worrying all day about you?

JUNIOR
I’m all right, Ma.  There’s nothing to worry about.

KIT
“Nothing to worry about” says he! Spoken by someone who’s never had a child. (beat) At least you’ll be better off working down the docks. Won’t be out God-knows-where until all hours of the night. Would you be wanting toast as well?

JUNIOR
No, Ma.  No toast. (beat) I liked reporting.  It suited me.

KIT
Chasing the police all over the city, seeing all manner of debauchery…it’s not a wonder you ended up where you did.

JUNIOR
If they’d kept my job for me I’d be doing it still.  And isn’t Neilie a cop himself?

KIT
He’s different.

JUNIOR
Why?  He sees all sorts of awful stuff.

KIT
Ah, but he don’t let it wear on him the way you do.  He’s got his family and such to keep him straight.

JUNIOR
Who needs psychiatrists when you’ve got everything figured out.

KIT
A mother knows her own sons, for-the-love-of-God. 

NEIL enters through the front door. He is dressed in an NYPD uniform.  He resembles his brother JUNIOR, but is two years younger and has a smiling, optimistic bearing. 

Ah, there’s the boy!

NEIL
Hiya Ma.  How you doing, Junior?

KIT
He’s still talking about that horrible reporting.  After you go through all you went through to get him this job.

NEIL
It was nothing Ma. Jun?

JUNIOR
Fine.  I’m fine.

KIT
Sure he couldn’t find his shirt two inches from his nose not a minute ago.

NEIL
You cooked, huh?  I haven’t eaten…

KIT
This is for Junior.

JUNIOR
I told ya I just wanted tea Ma.

KIT
Ah, come off it!

NEIL
You sure Jun?

JUNIOR
Go ahead.  I told her I can’t eat.

KIT
Ah, he does it just for spite.  Whatever I tell him to do he does the opposite.  God forbid the man should listen to his mother and get a decent meal in his stomach.

NEIL
Maybe he’s just not hungry Ma.

KIT
Who’s not hungry after sleeping all night?  Going off to face the world with nought but a cuppa tea…

NEIL
Ma.  Lay off.

KIT
What am I doing but speaking the truth in me own kitchen?  Sure, doesn’t he know how I worry about him after what he put me through?  What have I ever done but try to help…

JUNIOR
(sharper) I can’t eat, Ma.  My stomach’s a mess.  Alright?

KIT
Have you your gloves?  You’ll be sure to freeze yourself solid out there in that wind.

JUNIOR
They’re in my room.  I’ll go get them.

JUNIOR exits stage right.

KIT
(quickly to NEIL) You have to look after him.

NEIL
I am.  I got him the job, didn’t I?

KIT
All the way out there on 11th Avenue with the mutant fish in the Hudson?

NEIL
It’s steady work. 

KIT
He was a writer!  What is he going to do with himself out there with nothing to do but think and eat
himself up.

NEIL
I’m sure they’ll keep him busy doing what they’re paying him to do, Ma. Why don’t you try to relax. 

KIT
Relax?  What if he’s not ready?

NEIL
They wouldn’t have let him out if he wasn’t ready.

JUNIOR reenters, in his full uniform (blue pea coat with the same insignia on the pocket and a hat with a badge on the front of it.)

JUNIOR
I’m ready.  Gloves, hat and long johns. 

KIT
Don’t forget your lunch.

JUNIOR
Thanks Ma. (to NEIL) You finished eating my breakfast?

NEIL
I’m done.  Good eggs Ma. 

KIT
You keep your jacket up around your neck, do you hear me?  You’ll catch your death.

JUNIOR
I will. 

NEIL
He’ll be fine.  C’mon Jun, we don’t want to be late.

KIT
But what about the…

NEIL
I got this, Ma.  He’ll have a police escort.

KIT
You eat your lunch.

NEIL
He’ll eat his lunch.  Say goodbye Junior.

JUNIOR
Goodbye Junior.

KIT
Not goodbye. Goodbye’s forever…say “so long”.

JUNIOR
So long Ma.  I’ll see you later.

JUNIOR kisses KIT’s cheek.

NEIL
OK Ma, take care.

KIT
(to NEIL) You…you remember what I said.

NEIL
No problem. 

They exit as lights fade.

My First New York Show–Embarassment With a Spotlight!

I haven’t mentioned playwrighting yet, mostly because if I gave daily updates it would look something like this:

Waited again today. It’s been three and a half weeks since my last rejection. They took eighteen months to reply, then said there were too many characters. It was a solo piece. (Sighhhhhh).

Actually an online publisher recently asked for the full script of “Banshee”, so there’s that.

So what shall it be, snowdays or my first play in New York? Mainly my point about snowdays is that if you have kids it basically takes what was once a magical day of sledding and play delivered straight from God with an annoying extra day of parenting spent breaking up fights and pretending you “get” the ten-minute long joke. But kids ruined my life, blah, blah, blah—let’s get to the main event!

“Before the Parade Passes By” was the second play I ever wrote, and the first full-length. It was a “prequel” to my first play called “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (obviously I had to work on title variety) and shared a character from that play named Sidney J. Stein. I was going to play Sidney myself at first until we invited a guy named Jimmy to a reading—he stood up with his droopy sweater and became Sidney right before our eyes. We did a version of “Parade” in a big empty room on the Bard campus with Jimmy, my wife Mary El, a great actor friend Joe and our wonderful late friend Ellen. It went really well, as the 30-odd people in the crowd could attest. I was able to thank each audience personally for coming.

So when I got the letter from the NY theater saying they wanted to produce “Parade” I was understandably psyched. I was just 30, I had two whole plays under my belt, I still had my colon (I’ll explain that in another post, but trust me, I still had it). When Jimmy went down to the audition and nailed the role of Sidney, it was like everything was—dare I say it—coming up roses.

Ernest Hemingway once said if you want to make Hollywood movies, drive to the California border, toss the script over and drive away. Having a play done in NY is a similar experience, except you have to take a subway when you flee. My play is, in part, about a family who was dominated by a father who recently died. The mother abandoned her Jewish faith for her husband, so the family was raised Catholic. Sidney, who was kicked out of the home by his father as a teen, reconnected to his Jewish roots in honor of his mother and took her last name. Got it? Of course you do. You’re smart people.

The director didn’t get it. She was a Jewish woman in her early sixties who had a gorgeous, humongous apartment on the Upper West side. She did all the rehearsals up there, and served shrimp and wine. I’m sure she put her own money into the theater, and it bought her the right to direct the plays she wanted. Everything was great, except for the fact that she didn’t know what she was doing.

The play revolved around the flamboyant Sidney, his sister Jen who was trapped in a loveless marriage and his brother Christopher who was outwardly living the perfect life but was actually living a secretive lie. Sidney was Jewish by choice and his siblings were raised Catholic in upstate NY. Sounds simple, right? Apparently not. The director had the siblings smacking each other, screaming at each other, basically acting like they were extras from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. It was Neil Simon meets Yiddish Theater meets awful.

I was embarassed for the poor actors. But then I realized it was my name under the title, and I’d better save some embarrassment for myself. I warned my wife that rehearsals weren’t going well when we went to opening night, but nothing could quite prepare her. For those of you who know Mary El, you can imagine. For those of you who don’t, let’s just say that when it comes to bad theater she doesn’t go gently into that good night—or quietly. The audible sighs, pounds on my leg and whispered statements of outrage eminating from the woman in the seat next to me were, quite frankly, more entertaining than the play and easily worth the price of admission (since I had gotten comps). After the show I apologized to the two friends who had made the trip to NY for my debut, hugged Jimmy (who managed to still be good somehow) and tried to keep a straight face as I spoke to the director: “the set really came together”, “you all did a lot of hard work”, “the menorah and yarmulkes were an…interesting choice”.

The production ran two weeks, and it would have run longer if I had let the director put more of her money in and extend it. I just couldn’t (sorry Jimmy!). It wouldn’t be the last time I did something stupid because it was the “right” thing to do. I hadn’t learned yet that compromise is absolutely essential to success. Just ask anyone successful, if they’ll still talk to you.

Finding a WordPress Theme is Like Picking Out Candles (and Hemingway Sucks)

“Fauna” or “Benevolence”? How to decide? It’s bad enough I have to smell cookies baking from the soft glow of my wife’s candle in the kitchen without actally EATING cookies. Now I have to smell test my blog theme? What does “Benevolence” smell like, anyway? Or “Green”? My guess is a lot like armpits and raw vegetables.

I ended up picking “Hemingway”, which looks like it belongs to Darth Vader, not a closet case who blew his brains out. But, he (Hemingway, not Darth) was a writer (much as I despise the Lost Generation and their expatriot, post-war, self-indulgent malaise–John Steinbeck would kick their asses!) So am I. Kind of. I mean I AM. Really. I’m a playwright, and I have the $2.38 royalty check to prove it!

Writers write. So I will. Occasionally I will talk about my plays, if there is a reason to do so. But mostly I’m going to write what’s on my mind, for nobody in particular. Off the top of my head I came up with such subjects as “Being Underemployed Isn’t Funny Anymore”, “Inappropriate Behavior in Applebees”, “How Catholicism Made Me the Underachiever I am Today,” and “Balding–the ‘Choice’ God Made for You.” Boy, I wish I were you guys! My dream is to have said enough funny/entertaining/bearable things to collect them into a 99 cent Kindle book, so I can make maybe $3.61 more. You will NEVER see ads on my page! Unless someone asks me–I’m too nice a guy to say no. Oh, and if I made a spelling mistake, PLEASE bring it to my attention. It’s what I deserve, and it makes you look super smart.

Welcome to my mind…. No, I didn’t mean it, it’s so hard to be ironic in print.

My play website is http://pettiplays.wikispaces.com/. I have two plays on Kindle, “Next Year in Jerusalem” and “The Measure of a Man”. Please buy these and come back. That means you, Mary El! (my wife, and probably my only reader at this point–one less candle can buy you a real live play!)

Here’s sneak preview:

Relatively Cute Applebees Waitress: Can I you get you guys anything else?
My 8-Year-Old: Oral sex.
(moment of awkward silence, everyone staring)
My 8-Year-Old: What? I said Oreos, XX.

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