Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Play

I have been above-averagely remiss in posting in the recent past, but at least on this occasion I have a long and semi-entertaining narrative to offer as an excuse for why my writing energy has been diverted into other efforts. (Besides finals. Which are important, but kind of boring, excuse-wise.)

You see, around a month ago, I received an e-mail from a close high school friend. It seems that the principal of our alma mater- obeying the dictum that if you want something done, give it to somebody who has too much to do- contacted her and asked her to write the school play. Her mother- adhering apparently to the dictum that it's good for people to sleep occasionally- forbade her from taking on this additional assignment, so she decided to work on it in an illicit sort of way- late at night and so forth- but transferring much of it to other people. She contacted a best friend in Stern and the two of them realized that they had absolutely no idea how to write a play and contacted me, under the erroneous impression that I did. (Actually, it seems I do. You just stick things down on paper and keep ignoring how badly it's written and voila! A play. But I digress.)

Anyhoo, it sounded like fun, so I agreed to come on board, malevolently sweeping Miri along with me. It was then that the complications began to ensue. Chief among them was that this play, apparently, was not actually going to be written as a group effort among the four-ish of us. Apparently, the principal had commissioned a whole posse of other alumnae/mothers to chip in. First we thought that it was going to be a wide-spread effort. Then there was a meeting where it seemed like only our team (or rather, the state-side representatives thereof) had brought anything to the table and so we dibsed it. Then there was an e-mail that indicated that it would be a general effort, with everybody sending in scenes as their spirits moved them, with the various parts calibrated with one another by some directive power at the end. Then there was a suggestion that different authors take different characters, which would keep the voices nice and different, but also mean that people would go around writing one character's lines in a scene and leaving little breaks to be filled in for other characters. And then in the end it became clear that actually, our team (mostly, if I might say, I. And Miri, to some degree) was the only one doing any work and thus we got to write the play just as we liked. Which is nice, because it's problematic enough without being composed by committee.

The play, you see, is the story of Purim and we must walk the thin line of making it actually good without making it preachy or sappy, while at the same time conveying a definite midrashically-supported message. This is particularly difficult for Miri and myself, in our newly acquired/discovered Modern Orthodoxy, since I don't know that our messages are quite the same as the school's. But we soldier on, keeping it general and about faith in G-d and so forth. And I must note that both the principal and our friends from high school are being totally tolerant and sweet, not caring about the gaps in philosophies and life decisions and treating us just like people and not ideologies, which is just what the world needs more of, so yay them.

Still, there are occasional conflicts. We have been edited for making Mordechai too wishy-washy (gedolai hador have strong opinions! and no doubts! ever!) and Zeresh too 'it's really good, but I'm not sure if it's exactly what we want for this play' (i.e. sardonic). Achashveirosh is comic, speaking entirely in rhyming couplets (I objected only until I discovered how darn fun they are to write), although at times he has lapsed closer to Shakespearean. There are occasional debates about how much midrash to include and subtle shifting of the focus from "trust only in Hashem" to the nearly-but-not-really-indistinguishable "a nation in exile must not despair." Nobody else has seemed to notice, but every scene written by the team on this side of the Atlantic uses "G-d" and everything written on that side uses "Hashem", so that it would be quite easy for a Bible-critic style reader to see exactly what was added/edited and where. I suppose that's one of the things that the as-yet-nonexistent final compiler will handle.

I'm actually, quite enjoying the whole thing. Sure, much of it is dull or cheaply comic. But there are definite comforts: the bits of good writing that you can sneak in through the cracks; the witty banter that you can write between Mordechai and Haman (we're praying that it doesn't get gadol-hadored out); the subtle sardonicness that flies completely below the radar (there's a character called Reb Yid, acting as a foil for Mordechai. We really hope they put him in a bekeshe) ; sardonicness slightly more inside the radar (Miri's first act stage directions read 'Enter Esther, stage right. Probably carrying a bowl with food in it, or a broom. No, if she’s carrying food she can be wearing an apron. Ooh, puts the food down on the table and picks up a broom in the course of the conversation! And the apron stays! Sorry, stopping now') ; and, of course, the cultural references that nobody will ever get but nonetheless make me warm and happy all over. So far, I have managed to insert two Pinky and the Brain quotes, a reference to Princess Bride, a Firefly near-quote (by Mordechai, no less), a line from Shakespeare, and a nod to Mr. Ed (that one was faint, even for me). The Pinky and the Brain ones are the most obvious ('What are we doing tonight, Bigsan?' 'Same thing we do every night, Seresh- wait on the king.' and 'Are you pondering what I'm pondering, Seresh?' 'I think so, Bigsan, but won't uniforms made entirely out of cotton candy get kind of sticky in the summertime?') but so far, nobody has spotted them, so I think that they'll probably make it to the play. It's really the one thing that's keeping me going when I have to contemplate the idea of writing yet another scene without any particular inspiration or desire. Also, I got to use the word exeunt. Repeatedly.

The play is almost over by now. A couple of the ending scenes, really, is all that's left, and it would be lovely if one could rely on somebody else to write them, but of course I can't. But then it will be over and, assuming they don't discard the whole thing and choose an entirely differently play, as has actually happened in the past to other hard-working students, the play produced by my former high-school, to which most of the student body will devote three months of their lives, will have been almost entirely written by a pair of subversives, not to mention Zionists. Sort of makes the whole thing worth it, doesn't it?

19 comments:

Mike said...

What's the Firefly quote Tobie

Tobie said...

"You act like you're better than people." "Only the ones I'm better than." It's in the Mordechai/Haman banter.

Halfnutcase said...

OOOH sounds like alot of fun. :-)

Miri said...

hee hee...I think I deserve a little more credit; I wrote a good four and a half scenes, man. but yes, if it makes it to the big-time, the subversiveness will bring me joy forever.

e-kvetcher said...

>the subversiveness will bring me joy forever

punks!

:)

Miri said...

are we really punks? so cool! I've always wanted to be, but I was never hard-core enough...

Halfnutcase said...

y'know, you too are way more daring than I am. While I may believe things that some (or many) would lable kefira (for illigit reasons), i'm way to much of a goodie goodie to actively try and polute kids minds with material that their parents or teachers find objectionable, even when there isn't a chance of getting caught.

Tobie said...

hey! we're not polluting anyone's minds! just because we throw in popular culture (if that's the category one would use for Shakespeare, Firefly, and Pinky and the Brain) and subtly try to make the message more universal and frummy and make gedolai hador have doubts and questions and maybe even a little be wrong....

okay, we're polluting.

Halfnutcase said...

relax tobie, its not so much the "polluting" that I object to (both the lubavitch side of me and the MO I grew up with when I was little both find bais yaakov hashkafot to be the opposite of everything torah stands for) so much as the undermining the hanhola and taking advantage of their complete illiteracy concerning pop culture that is what bothers me.

it rather feels like the bully who trades his 2 pennies for a little kids dollar coin that he needs for lunch simply because the little kid is not capable of understanding one coin could be worth more than two coins.

Nah, in terms of the "polluting" you're probably helping them, but that isn't the point. ;)

(but please, around purim time you have to publish both the origional version and the censored version for us to critique and for us to cricize the censor's butchering your masterpeice. (as well as gloat over the things they missed.)

and you need a 1776 "passport to the gallows" reference. :-)

Miri said...

Yoni-
Taking advantage of their illiteracy in pop culture is exactly what makes it so beautiful. If I were to feel bad about anything re our subversiveness (which I wouldn't, anyway) this would not be it. Seclude yourselves from the world, and that's what you get!

Also, the versions aren't so different, at least not enough to be worth comparing really; it's mostly just a line here and there to nudge things in the right hashkafic direction.

Tobie said...

Besides, look at it this way: Anybody who gets the cultural references obviously isn't offended by popular culture or how would they be familiar with it, and everyone else can enjoy their blissful ignorance unsullied by our Pinky and Brain pollution.

Halfnutcase said...

I don't like doing things behind peoples backs, even when it is really funny and beautiful, like these cases here. (keep thine friends close, and thine enemies closer)

actualy I drove my rosh yeshiva nuts that way, because if I was to defy him I'd only do it in front of him, never behind him.

I don't think he appriciated it so much, even though I usualy did it not to be chutzpadik, but to help figure out what he would tollerate.

Miri said...

but then you were defying him for the sake of defying him, not for the sake of whatever it was you were doing. we're not doing this to be defiant, we're just having fun with it, the way we'd have fun with any other creative work we'd be involved with; the fact that we're sticking it to them a bit is an incidental side-perk.

Halfnutcase said...

no, it wasn't for the sake of defying him, it was because I thought he was wrong!

and yes, I know you're having fun with it, it sounds like a lot of fun.

Just that kind of fun bugs me. Thats all. I'm not trying to pass judgement, sorry.

(btw, you two are wanted on a dovbear thread. We're looking for girls to weigh in on skirt lengths, see my blog for a link.)

Halfnutcase said...

(or rather having fun when it steps on other people's toes, especialy when they wont know it.

Halfnutcase said...

Tobie, post something!

Scraps said...

Oh, that sounds like ever so much fun! Subversive literature flying under the radar...Can I read the finished product? :)

halojones-fan said...

I don't see how there's a problem with referencing cult culture, as long as you're using a piece because it fits and not just to score points. If everyone's writing in notebooks and one guy has a Stat-Tech Double-Line Ringfolder just like the ones everyone used at your art school, that's one thing. If everyone's using cybermindlinked automatic holoscriptors and one guy has the Stat-Tech (etc.), that's a bit obvious.

"cult culture" is like pop culture, only it's got a smaller and more dedicated audience. It isn't something that's "classic" in the sense that it's a part of venerable culture tradition (i.e. Star Trek), but it's very well-known among the people who know of it. As you say, "Firefly" is pretty much a perfect example of this.

But, as I said. If the line fits the characters, then go ahead and use it. But don't twist the characters to fit the line, or just drop the line in completely out of nowhere. (Ironically, this was a problem that Whedon himself had--you can often see where he came up with a great line and then built an entire scene around it. "My food is problematic", e.g.)

PS found you via the Lorax parody. Great stuff!

Nemo said...

Sounds kinda like when a friend of mine quoted the famed poet Marshall Mathers in his graduation speech.