Backstory: The Worst Possible Time for Writer's Block
I have admitted that I'm fascinated by death in terms of how we live our lives knowing it's going to come along at some point. I wrote a monologue for a collection of my short pieces under the title Death & You: A Beginner's Guide and in it I said that being afraid of death is like being afraid of Tuesday. You know it's coming, it comes after Monday week after week, and we live knowing that sooner or later it's Tuesday for all of us. The trick is not to realize this late on a Monday night and then try to hurry to get everything done that you wish you'd already taken time to do. Life live like it's Monday already.
That's pretty much the premise behind this show. I wish I could tell you what brought it to mind. It's a fair guess that the character of Minion came to me early. It may have just been that--someone on the cusp of morbidunity (is that a word?) and his escort, if you will, waiting around for him to get something finished. From there it was mostly setting up great lines for Minion.
Typically, I didn't know where this play was going. Premise in hand, I just started walking. Like many of my plays, I knew that I'd need to have some deeper turn somewhere along the line. You just can't subject people to 15 minutes of wacky lines from Minion.
The ending... I worried about the ending. I kinew it would go one of two ways with absolutely no in-between. Either it was going over big or it was going over in absolute silence. And the first time out, it got the silence. But it was because I'd written the stage direction wrong. If I recall correctly, it said that Elaine was to fold the poem and drop it in the wastebasket. First time it gets performed, as a reading at Theatre@First in Somerville, the actress folds it--and sets it on the desk. Like she was leaving it there for someone else to see. She exits. Pause. Pause. Smatterings of uncertain applause. I later talked to a playwright friend who was there. She didn't get it, either. I told her it was supposed to go in the wastebasket. That got a big, "Ohhhh...now I get it."
The stage direction has since been changed to "crumple." And when it gets crumpled, it gets laughs. I love this part in the play because it lets the actress really play the audience. She can take her time reading the poem, realizing it blows, let it show on her face... The nervous laughter from the audience just builds. It's a great moment when they get it.
Minion is a part I wish I was right for. I sit back and watch actors absolutely devour this role. The lines are money, there's room for physical work, and you get to make a great turn. Minion is every couldn't-care-less grocery bagger you've ever met, but he happens to work for Death.
I could guarantee this play for laughs and I'd never have to pay a dime. It is, in my opinion, one of the flat-out funniest plays I've ever written.
The gentleman in this photo is Jimmy Martin. He's pictured playing Peter in the Mansfield Music & Arts Society production, February 2008. Jim was a phenomenal talent who brought absolute magic to every role. Ironically, he died very young in the summer of 2008. I know that, like Peter, there was a lot he still wanted to do. I am blessed that I got to have him put his stamp on my work before he went and blessed that I got to share the stage with him in another show. Miss you still, friend.