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All posts for the month March, 2014

And we’re back. My general inability to make use of my afternoons during the run of a play, coupled with some decent freelance writing work, has once again impacted my blogging schedule. Sorry about that.

So, right, Danny writes plays. Where’d I leave off? Ah yes. 2003. In 2002, my wife and I split up. In 2003, I found out that if it had, at any point, been a trial separation like I thought it was, it wasn’t anymore. I had some worries that, as a writer who specialized in comedies and love stories, the impending divorce would kill my ability to write. Instead, I hammered out two and a half scripts that year with ideas for two more I’d write in 2004.

Hooray! I thought. The divorce isn’t impacting my writing at all!

Ha. Ha. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA–

Anyway, here’s Salvage.

What’s it about?

Years ago, the Sterling Salvage company, run by best friends Amy Thatcher, Caleb Walsh, and Jasmine Bishop (plus assists from their accountant Marcus), roamed the world having adventures and finding lost things. But when Amy died, everything fell apart. Caleb and Jasmine stopped talking and started finding ways to self-destruct. Amy witnesses all of this from the afterlife, specifically a limbo-like portion of the afterlife called the Departure Lounge, and concern for her friends is keeping her from moving on to Heaven. Saint Matthew, who runs the Departure Lounge, tries to encourage her to let go, but accidentally encourages her to go back to Earth and try to fix her friends instead.

A task that’s made more difficult by the fact that in life, Amy had been sleeping with both Caleb and Jasmine, and mistakenly believed neither one knew about the other.

Anyhoo, after making a deal with Saint Peter, Amy visits Caleb and Jasmine, which only makes things worse, then teams up with the more stable Marcus to try and turn her friends’ lives around before Caleb drinks himself to death or Jasmine gets herself killed recovering stolen goods for the Mafia.

PREMISE!

There it is!

Yes, fine. Ghosts and mafiosi. Anyway, Ghost Amy and the long-suffering Marcus launch a scheme to reconcile Caleb and Jasmine while keeping them both alive, because if Amy doesn’t succeed in her quest, there’s no going back to Heaven. Key words are “ghostly,” “torment,” and “eternity.”

So why’d that happen?

I had a dream (yep, that line again already). The main plotline was basically there. Caleb (or who I would come to call Caleb, nobody in the dream had names… but he was played by Leonardo diCaprio) is visited by the ghost of Amy (Jewel Staite), who implores him to seek out and assist their former partner (Reese Witherspoon), who’s taking shifty jobs from a shady former acquaintance of theirs (Fred Ward from Tremors). Which is the basic premise of the play. With other plays based on dreams, it’s more about capturing the essence of the dream, the thing that created a strong enough emotional reaction that I remember it long enough to write an outline. In this case, all I really did was split the villain of the piece into two characters: Marcus, the former acquaintance, and Lilith deSalvo, Jasmine’s sinister boss. Well, I also had to come up with a way to wrap it up, gave Amy more stage time, and added in Saints Peter and Matthew.

See, a couple of years earlier, I’d written a short play about an athiest finding himself at the gates of Heaven and having to deal with surly clerk Saint Peter, with a cameo by party-Saint Matthew. It turned out incredibly well, was super fun to write, and so I decided to bring the saints back for another go-round.

How’d it turn out?

Let me tell you, 2003 was the year I learned to love the editing process. That was the year I started workshopping my scripts with a select group of friends, friends I could count on to tell me what needed work. So by the time it hit the stage for the first time in spring of 2004, I’d managed the following:

1) Amy was now afraid of being alone, so afraid she couldn’t go to Heaven by herself. This improved her previous motivation of just being too darned nice a person to move on while her friends suffered. Seriously, she was more saintly than the saints in the first draft. That girl needed some flaws.
2) Amy no longer appeared to give her friends a final farewell. Because three weeks before opening night, someone finally pointed out that it undermined literally everyone’s character arcs.

We remounted this one a couple of years back, but eight years had taught me a great deal about writing, and the version we’d staged earlier needed some further changes. Some scenes just needed a light edit, some a complete overhaul, and some had to be written from scratch because 2003 me didn’t know they were necessary. To wit:

1) I realized just how underwritten Jasmine had been. In the new version, she gets just as much stage time and development as Caleb, including her own ghost visit from Amy.
2) While still giving Matthew more ghost powers than Amy, when he gets dragged to Earth to help with the plan, he’s still a ghost and not an undead thing like Rufus in Dogma.
3) The wacky scheme to escape Lilith was rewritten from the ground up. The first one was just ridiculous.
4) As part of that, Lilith and her henchman Big Jim were made less comically inept. Lilith became more dangerous, more willing to kill inconveniences at a moment’s notice, and Big Jim, now just Jim, stopped being quite so mind-bogglingly stupid.
5) In the first version, Caleb believed in his ghostly visit from Amy. Now, he (and Jasmine) assumes it was a dream, but is still motivated to reconnect with Jasmine.
6) Matthew’s motivation to help Amy on Earth is refined: instead of just being worried about getting in trouble, now neither one of them can enter Heaven unless Amy succeeds.
7) All scenes with the saints were made 80% less lame.

And the 2012 version, while maybe not my best work ever, was still pretty damned watchable.

Would you stage it again?

I don’t know, probably. It’s improved every time I’ve taken another crack at it. It might still have further to go, but that’s okay, I doubt I’d have to burn it down and start over like some of the others I’ve mentioned.

Maybe the characters could be deeper. Maybe the mob plot is still a little cartoonish, despite my best efforts to scrape the wacky off of it. Maybe the flashbacks are still a little shoehorned in. And if any of those things are true, then a ground-up re-examination of the plot would be necessary, but I think the characters still work. Especially once I stopped under-writing Jasmine.

Plus playing Matthew or Marcus might be fun and I haven’t gotten to do that yet.

Recurring Theme Alert

  • And now for a new recurring theme, So how was this one about your divorce? This play is very much about loss, about the empty pit that comes with losing someone important to you, and the damage it can do. I don’t know that Caleb and Jasmine’s struggles to forgive Amy for all of the secrets she kept had to do with my issues regarding my ex-wife, but it would make a great deal of sense.
  • Funny-yet-menacing-villains, take two: Lilith was always more competent and legitimately threatening than Helena Von Drax, my previous effort, but Jim was even more cartoonish to balance it. Well, until the 2012 version.
  • Man and woman cannot be friends: apparently woman and woman can’t be friends either if they’re at sea too long. Marcus was the only one on that boat not getting any…
  • Mild amounts of pop culture. Batman references. That’s not so bad, right?

Next time: the other 2003 script gets extra workshop time, and man was that necessary.