Danny Writes Plays: Quarter Century

Okay, before we get into this, an apology regarding my last post. When I was picking backlash movements to speak out against, I chose Kony 2012 because some of the complaints I’d been hearing at the time made no sense to me (specifically the “He’s not even in Uganda” thing, which is still a stupid excuse for a counter-point). However, that meant trying to duck around the biggest complaints against it, those of dramatically over-simplifying the issue (“Just go get him. Why didn’t we think of that. Oh right we did,” said the African Union) and of being the very model of ultimately pointless slacktivism.

What I should have done in order to demonstrate how joining a backlash can ally you with the wrong people is go after the “people,” if we’re going to use that word, attacking Anita Sarkeesian for daring to talk about how women are represented in video games. Because the last few weeks have demonstrated that this bandwagon is filled to the brim with disgusting misogyny, and if you’re going after Ms. Sarkeesian for stating that Princess Peach doesn’t exactly have a lot of agency instead of going after the assholes sending her death threats, you are on the wrong side. Which, sorry Invisible Children, just can’t be said about people pointing out that Kony 2012 didn’t exactly accomplish a lot.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s all watch me tear apart something I wrote eight years ago. Quarter Century, ladies and gentlemen!

What’s it about?

In short, the quarter-life crisis, which I thought I’d come up with myself but was a full fledged Thing by the time I wrote this.

It’s about a group of friends at various points in their 20s: Xavier, or Avi, is a freelance writer married to Miranda, who just got hired by a major law firm right out of law school. Riley, Xavier’s childhood best friend, has recently come back to Calgary after grad school out east. Theresa, Miranda’s older sister, is a psychologist who frequently gets stuck dealing with everyone’s emotional crises while trying to attract the eye of Bobby, the group’s youngest member, who can’t seem to settle on a job, major, or girlfriend.

Xavier’s frustrated because he and Miranda are growing apart, as she’s swamped with her career and he’s busy fighting against becoming a proper grown-up. When Riley’s friend from grad school Angela shows up in town, things get complicated. She and Xavier start to bond over their mutual disdain for being what everyone thinks they should be (or what they think people think they should be–well that sentence got away from me), which starts evolving into something that could ruin everyone’s lives.

Also which involves Bobby being set up on a date with a guy, which he ultimately enjoys, and is very confused about that.

So why’d that happen?

Why’d I write a play about a twenty-something writer struggling against being a grown-up? Because I was a twenty-something writer struggling against being a grown-up. I looked at the awkward difference between growing up and growing old, and thought there was a story there. I took it out, put it away, dwelled on it, dusted it off, kicked it around, and finally got a draft together during U-Boat of the Soul.

And at the time, I was rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer from start to finish, so I attempted to let a little bit of Whedon-style wordplay slip into it.

How’d it turn out?

That’s… a trickier question.

Well, for starters, one of the biggest Whedon-homages worked out pretty well. Based on the Angel episode where an argument between Spike and Angel about who’d win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen, infects the whole group, I had a running gag in which the gang is arguing about who’d win in a fight, Santa’s elves or Snow White’s dwarves. I think it’s still pretty funny.

Moving past that… there’s an inherent problem in looking at something you wrote about how hard it is to be in your mid-20s when you’re entering your… this hurts to type… late 30s. Xavier’s complaints do not ring as true as I once might have believed.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. I don’t think they were ever supposed to ring true. This was my first dalliance with tragedy, after all: Xavier’s Peter Pan complex is his fatal flaw, just as Macbeth’s was ambition. Often in tragedy you’re supposed to know that what the protagonist is doing is a horrible, horrible mistake.

Some of Riley’s dialogue is clunkier than I’d like. That was something I struggled with for a while: I let the Joss Whedons and, more importantly, Kevin Smiths of the world influence me in the wrong way, and what I thought would be a clever and sophisticated style of dialogue just gets clunky in places.

I think Angela still works. I hope she does. Angela loathed being the perfect high school teen so much it drove her into self-destruction mixed with self-mutilation. Her and Riley seem like nice people, I wish they didn’t hate themselves so much. But I guess if they didn’t there wouldn’t be much of a story there.

There are parts that work, there are, but… well, no avoiding it now… I hate, I hate, I HATE the ending.

Xavier and Angela almost have sex, Riley catches them, at which point we learn that Angela and Riley love each other but never told each other, hooray for them, that I don’t hate so much. Xavier and Miranda then have it out, at which point, out of god damned nowhere, Xavier decides to skip town and wander the South Pacific until he finds himself.

Which, okay, is something someone might do, but… what? It just… the plot finally gets moving somewhere, and I pull the plug and exile the lead character to the Phillipines or whatever? Where did this even come from? The plot just got out of first gear only to throw down a smokebomb and vanish, leaving nothing but a series of kind of forced farewells at a bus terminal and curtain call. Did I just get bored? Is that what happened?

Would you stage it again?

Okay. Having had some time to come down and reassess, there may well be a may to fix this one. First of all, Xavier’s gonna have to be rewritten fairly substantially. “I don’t want to be a mature grown-up, I don’t know how” just doesn’t work as well as it once did. Even Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen have stopped going to that well. Instead, focus on a less empty, whiny motivation: Xavier and Miranda’s life to kicking into high gear, with adult jobs and parties and talk of children ramping up, and Xavier’s suddenly remembering all the things he said he’d do by the time any of this started happening. Running off to the South Pacific will be less of sudden bombshell if it’s established that he always planned to travel more before he settled down.

Second, is that all I want this story to be? Xavier destroys his life? Because right now other than a bunch of side-chats, that’s all that’s happening. With some streamlining (which, sadly, might mean cutting Bobby, even though I really wouldn’t want to) I can get this down to a tragedy in one act, or possibly a comedy in two. People have said that that’s what this story is missing: a second act, set six months later, where we see what happens when Xavier comes home. Can he win Miranda back? I honestly don’t know. But maybe that would make this a more complete story than it is right now.

Ultimately, this feels like a few good ideas and decent characters wrapped up in a story that I kind of half-assed. And maybe it deserves better.

Next time, either the worst first draft I ever wrote, or the best. Depends on which script I decide to look at.

Repeated theme alert

  • Man and woman cannot be friends: Of course Theresa has a crush on Bobby and Riley and Angela are secretly in love with each other. Why wouldn’t they be.
  • Fun with pop culture: Miranda works for the firm of “Birch, Shore, and Wambaugh,” named after three of my favourite lawyers from TV shows by David E. Kelley: Alan Birch from the first season and a bit of Chicago Hope (before he, Mandy Patinkin, and David E. Kelley all left the show and I stopped caring about it), Alan Shore from Boston Legal, and the undefeatable Douglas Wambaugh from Picket Fences. It would have been Cage, Shore, and Wambaugh (using the other lawyer David E. Kelley wrote for actor Peter MacNicol, John Cage from Ally McBeal), but someone at a workshop said “Because her work is a CAGE. GET IT?” and that had to go.
  • All in all I prefer it when I let Aaron Sorkin influence my writing style. Nothing against Joss Whedon, I just can’t do his thing very well.

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