Okay. Now it gets real. Trigger Dandy and Two Guys have been performed enough and enjoyed enough I feel justified in calling them “classics,” and more to the point they’ve been done recently enough that I can remember them pretty solidly. But that’s over for a while. Now we’re at the point of my writing career when we’re not only talking about plays I’m less than fully proud of, but I have to read them first to discuss them properly.
Because I no longer have a copy of Date With an Angel, Coffee With the Devil, that’s why I didn’t read that one first.
Right. So. Illuminati in Love.
What’s it about?
We are solidly into the “wacky premise” period of my writing. So, here goes. Alex Payton is the current chairman of the Destiny Syndicate, a group of five people who form the shadow government that secretly controls the Earth. Alex rules North and Central America. Ariana Rigaldi rules Europe, Arcady Rachmaninoff controls Africa and the Middle East, Kimiko Takahashi handles Asia, and Vincent Hoffman gets what’s left of the southern hemisphere.
In terms of my classic story structure, 1) Establish premise; 2) Hijinks ensue; 3) With sexy results, it goes like this. 1) Alex is secret ruler of mankind, a fact that is giving his best friend Greg an ulcer; 2) Alex meets Janice, a prosecuter, and they have their first date right as an unknown country tests a weapon of mass destruction unlike any the world has ever known; 3) Alex tries to win over Janice while discovering which of the Syndicate allowed this weapon to exist.
So why did that happen?
Two reasons. First, I wanted to create a character for Chris Munroe, who’d proven to be a comic asset in Two Guys and Date With and Angel. Specifically, I wanted to create a brandy-swilling Eurotrash supervillain type character for him, and that became Arcady.
Second, I wrote this back in 1998. I was not yet 22. But there’s more to it than the foolishness of youth. Two factors influenced this script. First, in my early 20s, I was deeply into conspiracy theories. Not in a paranoid, “they’re out to get us,” “chemtrails are mind control” way. I was just fascinated with the idea that the world might be weirder, more complex, and more exciting than we give it credit for. Second factor? I had just founded my own theatre company, which I was learning would put up whatever I wrote. So, I wrote this.
How’d it turn out?
I made it to page three before the cascade of references to pop culture and 1998 current events started to make me queasy*.
I had a problem with pop culture references for a long time. I thought they were funny. I saw Clerks and thought monologues about Star Wars were great writing. I was wrong. So wrong. I know that now. I did not know it then. I never thought about “will this script still work in twenty years,” just “will it be funny in six months.” And even then some of the pop culture references got stale between first readthrough and opening night. It took a while to give up that crutch completely, but it was never worse than this script. I think. I hope. And there are other problems as well.
Years after this, a friend taught me the difference between jokes and humour. Humour is creating a situation that’s inherently funny. A joke is taking a moment and giving it a punchline you hope is funny. Arrested Development is filled with humour. Two and Half Men relies on jokes. These days, if I want a scene to be funny, I go for humour. Back then, I really depended on jokes. Lots of jokes. I wish… man, but I wish more of them were funny.
Also Alex narrates chunks of the story. I have never really mastered narrators. And if I’m barely competent at it now, 15 years later? Just imagine how bad I was at it then. Actually no. Don’t imagine that. At all.
The meet-cute is weak. I put way too much stock in instant attraction (I was engaged to someone at the time, and it was very much a “love at first sight” story) and had little idea how to build an actual romance. And it shows from every step of this thing, from the fact that I’m assuming this relationship is worth fighting for when they’ve only had two-thirds of one date to the rushed way I get them back together in the end.
Yes, in the end she takes him back, thanks in part to a heartfelt speech in a gibberish language from a newt-like alien named Quoxl. Yeah, you read that right. Quoxl the newt-man. Weak sauce deus ex machina, yet possibly the most fondly remembered part of the whole show. Also Vincent built the super-bomb. The southern hemisphere guy. It’s painfully obvious it was Vincent from the moment he’s introduced and I don’t know why I ever thought it wasn’t.
So there we have it. My second solo script? I giant wad of easily-dated references to current events and pop culture surrounding a barely written rom-com. Ultimately I would call this a cautionary tale of every single habit I’ve worked to shake since. We had fun with it at the time, but it was mostly due to the cast. Several of the cast were great. I wish more of them had stuck around. But given the material we gave them I guess I can hardly blame them.
When next we visit this series, things improve with the end of the world.
*Made it to page 30 before I hit a Simpsons quote. That’s something, I guess.