Backstory: Bob's Date
Bob's Date was the first play I ever finished and the first to see production. It's since gone on to be my most-produced play. It got started during a lull in writing Dinner for Several. I had recently left my first marriage and was getting back into the unpalatable world of dating--at 40. This play was born out of ruminating about what a guy goes through when he's getting ready for a date. Especially when he's been out of practice for a while.
Nerves, obviously, was the first character to spring to mind. The others fell into place as I wrote. When I originally conceived the role of Confidence, he was going to start out as a young boy, but go offstage at least twice, coming back on again each time a little older and larger. But once I really got going on the piece, I didn't want anyone leaving the stage. So Confidence stayed a kid.
Also when I started out Emotion was to be the sole female character. It was going to be her job to throw the guys into chaos and have them have to try to deal with her. I write very organically--I start with a small idea and follow it to a point where it suddenly branches and grows, often taking a piece in a whole new direction. This is what happened with Bob's Date. I'd introduced Emotion and was well into the piece when suddenly the idea for Memory came in. And lo and behold, I suddenly had a very interesting play.
I started writing the big climactic moment, which starts with Nerves' speech, during a lunch break at a logistics and warehousing seminar in Chicago. I was working as an editor for a trade magazine. I remember taking my writing pad up to a stairwell area where a lot of people were sitting--it was all glassed in, gave a view of the city. And Nerves' speech came to me in a rush. It just gushed and flowed onto the page. I wrote like a madman, pen scribbling wildly, and I am not too proud to admit that I started crying a bit as I wrote--the potency of the speech was just that strong. That speech led to the other characters' speeches, and that wonderful moment where the men come to Emotion's aid by accepting her. This was another turning point for me in the script. At this point the story veered away from the dangerously bland idea that the men would save Emotion from Memory and became the men letting their guard down to let Emotion make her own way over to them.
The first production of Bob's Date was not a good experience for me, largely because I am not cut out for directing. It was also a less-than-great time for me personally. In the middle of all of it, I lost the editing job so I was dealing with that little bit of stress as well--I was divorced, unemployed, living in a 20x20 studio and doing something I wasn't meant to do. In the end, however, what mattered was the audience reaction--and they loved it. We performed for two weekends to good-sized crowds. Just for fun, it's worth mentioning that at this time the Attlelboro group was housed in a space in a Firearms school, across the hall from a firing range. It wasn't unusual to be in rehearsal and have gunshots going off. (I did a production of 12 Angry Men there, and the range didn't close until a half-hour after curtain. Some nights it sounded like there was a bit of gunplay going on outside the courtroom!)
From here, the play fell into the decidedly more capable hands of my then-girlfriend, Stacey. Through Curtain Call Theatre she crafted what I still consider--no nepotism involved, just theatrical sense--to be the production of Bob's Date by which all others ought to be measured. With gorgeous interpretations by the actors, a costume scheme by Martha Sawyer built around blues with hints of red and a much-discussed prologue that's not in the script, this production was taken to the Eastern Mass. Association of Community Theatres (EMACT) competition where, although it came in second overall, it grabbed awards for best ensemble, best costumes, best director and more.
For most of the pre-publication productions of Bob's Date, I can draw a line connecting them and the EMACT presentation. Either people saw the show, or someone they knew saw the show, and word of mouth did the rest. Bob's Date gave me my first taste of having someone I didn't know want to produce my work. That taste came from one of the EMACT judges (whose name I've lost to time) who contacted me several months later, asking to do the piece with his group down in Texas. This was my first away-from-home production.
I remember when we got the DVD of the Texas performance. When it was done, Stacey admitted that as she sat there watching, she was thinking, "Why are these actors doing this show with an accent?" Well, it was a first for both of us!
Another first--and the most surprising--came when my friend Richard Carey, who'd played Nerves in the Curtain Call version, asked if his high school students could do the piece. If you haven't read Bob's Date yet, it must be said that the piece contains a lot of dick jokes. They all fly under the radar, but they're right there, and the audience knows it. They're along for the ride from the first one. I told Richard that I just didn't think it was appropriate, but I gave him permission anway, and sat back to await the angry villagers of his school's town with their pitchforks and nooses.
But they didn't come, and what ended up on stage was a beautiful rendition by kids who really got the material and loved it and worked it and made it their own. It is, in fact, my second-favorite production still. And they took it to the finals of the Mass. High School Drama Festival, thereby proving all my worries wrong.
Bob's Date has been done by a couple of schools now, despite my not considering a young actors' play, and has had shows done in a number of states. The lack of a setting in the script has freed up directors to take acceptable liberties with the show. Stacey's version added a conference room table and chairs; Richard's students came up with the idea of setting it in a locker room with all the characters wearing "Bob" jerseys with their names and numbers on the back--and with Logic carrying a clipboard instead of a PDA. I saw a version done with everyone in white with Nerves in a straight jacket and Libido played by a 350-pound gay man. It pleases me to know that I've created a show that lends itself to this kind of creativity.
In 2008 Bob's Date became (technically) my fourth published play and the first by a major-market publisher, Heuer. As of this writing, I've made one sale and hope to see many more.
When the show first went up, I had a lot of people tell me that it reminded them of a short-lived Fox show called "Herman's Head." I never saw the show. I remembered it once it was mentioned, but I never watched it.
People also ask me--often--if the show is autobiographical. No.
And because I am just a big emotional goober at heart, I have gotten choked up, if not a little bit teary, at the last line of this show every time I've seen it.