Backstory: One Before Forty
This play was supposed to be a one-act. That was all. It was supposed to be about as long as Bob's Date. I'd finished Dinner for Several and was pretty sure that I didn't have another full-length idea in my head. But in two ways this play would become an example of how I believe good writing works. In short, it's good when the play or the characters tell me that it or they would like to do something different than what I originally had in mind.
The first time the play sat me down for a little talk was when my life started to imitate my play. My original idea was that Kevin had a long-time friend about whom he'd always had that wandering wondering that guys do about their female friends. That whole "What if" thing. (This, by the way, goes out the window that minute a gal friend wants to introduce a guy to someone who "he'd be perfect for"--thereby signalling that he is not right for his friend.) But I digress. So Kev has a friend but there's no interest, and into his life comes Jolene. And suddenly the friend shows interest and now our hero has to decide which way to go.
I was quite alone at the time I started writing this play. And as I was already well into it, things in my life started getting a little too close to the scenario I was writing, and it quite honestly wigged me out just a bit. So I put the play down. I had other things I could write, and I really didn't want it to look like I was writing about me. Bad on several levels.
But I couldn't stop writing it in my head. Because I really liked the route I was taking--the scenes with Date Girl, the character of Doug, the good energetic back-and-forths between Kevin and Nivek. I was liking this play. But it needed to change.
In the end the simple answer was to drop the character of the friend. By removing her, I took out a major block to a better play. Because now, rather than Kevin having to choose between women, Kevin was pitted squarely against his worst nemesis: himself. I had a better show in the works, and I could stop hearing the song "Torn Between Two Lovers" every time I sat down to write.
Of course, now you have that song in your head and dammit, I apologize.
With that block taken from the path, the play proceeded right along, with me just following the flow. And as I approached the point where Kevin makes a mess of things with Jolene I realized the truth. This was not a one-act play. I was about to come to a perfect stopping point, one that would a) give me a second full-length and b) make it so that the second act could just be about Kevin's quest to get her back. That was the second time the play spoke to me. It was right both times.
Going into the second act, I really used what I'd learned from writing Dinner for Several. I wasn't worried. I wasn't going to try to pad the thing to eke out what appeared to be a decent-length act. I was just going to follow the story. The path had been so smooth and clear there was no need for me to worry about it. Going the Zen route like this, writing the second act was as pleasant as writing the first and it also opened the way for another realization that helped me flesh out both the story and Kevin. That was the transformation of Date Girl.
Let me circle around this--I've written about this phenomenon in the "Waiting for the End of the World" backstory. The whole "throwaway concept that suddenly becomes something" phenomenon. In "Waiting," it was the chicken fingers. In OBF, it was Date Girl.
Date Girl was supposed to be a device. I thought it would be fun, for the audience and the actress playing Date Girl, to have her come out again and again to represent different women, the changes being as subtle as a different shirt or a pair of glasses. I even alluded to it in one of Kevin's early lines, where he originally said, "This is a different woman than before. It's just easier this way." So writing time goes by and I get to the word association scene, and there she is: Date Girl. And there's the reason it's one actress: it's one woman. To some degree, she's Memory from Bob's Date--the lingering spectre, as Nivek says, of the one who took the boot to Kev's emotional gonads.
This opened new channels for the play. And even when I had this revelation (for me and Kevin), I also realized it couldn't be the answer. Too pat. Kev figures it out and life's good. No. Bad play. So I followed the flow and look where it took us. Straight to a good story and a solid ending.
Gotta love that.
Little factoids:The first production of this show almost never happened. Over the course of two nights of auditions, I got two guys. And only one was usable. I had to call in some favors. I had a Nivek on standby--the guy for whom the part was pretty much written--and a friend pointed me toward someone who played Doug. So the show went on.
Date Girl's final "Thank you," as simple as it appears, is to my mind one of the best lines I've ever written. Delivered properly, it weighs about six tons emotionally and creates a wonderful moment of subtext for the characters and the audience.
I missed the original opening night of this play. It so happened that my daughter chose the day before to be born. A week later, we brought her with us to the show, so the first play she ever "saw" was one of her dad's.
I recognize that what I have created in the role of Kevin is equal parts actor's dream and actor's nightmare. You play Kevin and you never leave the stage. And with the exception of about 15 minutes out of the whole show, you've got every other line. Break a leg, Kevins of the world!
When Curtain Call Theatre performed this show at the EMACT festival, one of the adjudicator's opined that "this show deserves to be seen Off-Broadway." He has yet to be proven right.