Backstory: Waiting for the End of the World
At some point I became very attached to the idea of putting abstract ideas or mythical constructs into physical form in my plays. It started, more or less, with Bob's Date, and appears again in One Last Thing, Still Life with Elephant, Writer's Block and in this piece.
I wish I could remember where the idea for this one struck. All I know is that I hit on the idea of having the Apocalypse start in the most innocuous way--kicked off by four (or three, perhaps) otherwise apparently normal people gathering in a park. It ties in, in a way, to my obsession with the idea that death in one form or another is always potentially a heartbeat away. (I go into this in more detail in the backstory for One Last Thing.) So there you are, just strolling through the park, unaware that the argument you caught out of the corner of your eye is actually Death and Pestilence haggling over whether or not to wipe everything out.
I feel that the writing in Waiting... is among my sharpest. There's no fat to this script. Every line pushes it along and every line has some sort of edge to it, comedic or otherwise. If I sound a little gushy, it's for a reason--this play remains my personal favorite. I've played Death twice and I'd love the chance to play Pestilence. (Pestilence, in my opinion, has most of the best lines.)
This play carries a strong example of one of the things that makes me love writing so much, and that makes me love the organic way that I write. Let me say that the reason that I write in this way is because I'm just not a planner. I start writing to see where it takes me. (Edward Albee said, "I write plays to find out why I'm writing them," and I wholeheartedly agree!) I can't plan, I can't outline, I just go. And sometimes surprises happen. Like the chicken fingers.
You need a strong first image in a short play. For me, it was War reading a book on Gandhi and eating chicken fingers. Why? Because it's funny to me. It's funny to me that on her way to destroy the world, War would stop for a bit of Chinese. It humanizes her and sets up the idea of these apparently normal folks being the destroyers predicted in Revelation.
So the chicken fingers start as a throwaway, a gag to give the audience a chuckle. Later it would help me hit the line about Death being a vegetarian--which cracks me up terribly. Again, the chicken fingers were not there in order to have that line happen; the line happened because I put the chicken fingers in for no reason. Organic growth.
But then...and this is the part I love. I get to the end of the play and I don't know how to finish it off. The chance for Armageddon has passed. Two of the three characters have left the stage. How do I get Pestilence off in style? Through callback, ladies and gentlemen. Because the chicken finger idea also let me throw in another of my favorite lines, "Do you know how many really awful afflictions I could lay on somebody with one of these?" (And that line exists mainly as a setup for War's follow-up, "Yes I do and I try not to think about it while I'm eating.") And there was my ending, balanced on an earlier line and waiting for me in the trash barrel. Pestilence, seeing the remaining chicken finger, about to go cheer himself up by creating something awful.
All because I thought chicken fingers would be funny.
It's worth noting that if you a production of this show, by the time you get to your first night your cast will be absolutely sick of chicken fingers. But it's always funny to watch them try to work their lines through the food.
I get asked why I made War a woman. As a matter of fact, I've had actresses in the role ask me. The reason is that I wanted a sort of Helen of Troy image...the face that launched a thousand ships and set the topless towers of Ilium to burn. Men go to war for women. To win them. To impress them. When I was writing War, the image I had in mind was of my friend, the very talented Karen Gibson, who originated the role with me and who happens to be statuesque, blonde, green-eyed and more than a little gorgeous--exactly the kind of woman who could entice a man to go capture a kingdom for her with a pout. And thus, War as woman.