Like much of the world I’m shut in. I’m on day 16, my birthday being the last day I did anything normal like go out to dinner (and even then obsessively washing hands).
Like much of the theater world, I’ve lost opportunities. To date, I’ve said goodbye (hopefully only temporarily but when things change, they often change for good) to two residences; two to four full-length world premieres; at least three ten-minute productions; and a conference. I’m grieving these losses, but more the loss of momentum that I will likely never get back. I know I’m not alone in this; we’re all worried what theater looks like at the end of this road. What in our bodies of work will still be relevant? Will those theaters be willing to take a chance on new work? Can we start over?
Most of all, like much my playwright community, I’m struggling with what to write, how to write, if I can write. For the first two weeks, I couldn’t concentrate on any work—forget about writing—for more than a few minutes at a time. I dismissed the idea of writing on demand for any of the coronavirus-specific opps that popped up almost immediately; even in the best of times, I don’t write quickly and or do well with prompts.
But now… it’s been two weeks. My other work is caught up. I’d been prepping to move so my house is already cleaned out (and with pick-up services suspended, my garage is full of boxes ready to go). I don’t feel like I have enough time for daily museum tours but I am getting the itch to do… something. Like write.
A lot of people have been saying they’re having trouble with new ideas right now, so they’re doing a lot of rewriting and editing. I get that, and I have a couple projects due for revision. And I also don’t have any new ideas leaping into my brain right now, but I do have four full-length plays that were in process when the world ground to a halt.
One of them is, I kid you not, about a family trapped in a house because of a rampant and fatal virus. I’m shelving that one permanently. Not only will it no longer seem remotely like an imagination (so much of it is already eerily true), but I don’t think anybody will ever want to see it anymore than we really want to watch plays about 9/11 except in the most tangential of ways.
The second is about population control, also not the best choice right now, though I don’t discount it for the future, especially if our current administration doesn’t change. The third is a dark comedy that also doesn’t quite feel right in this time. And the fourth, FINDING NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, is a straight-up comedy that probably can’t in any way be interpreted as a response to this crisis. That appeals to me because I’m not ready to be writing in response. And because I’m hoping that when this is over, comedy plays will see their day as people, finally feeling safe enough to go out and spend money on something not necessary for survival, seek relief and laughter. And Neil Patrick Harris. FINDING NEIL PATRICK HARRIS is in the early goings. What I do know is that I’m writing it for three friends as a lark, but also as—I hope—a viable comedy that maybe someday finds a home. The premise is that two women embark on a mission for a friend, which will become clear soon enough because I sort of know how the first scene needs to go.
Beyond that, I haven’t figured it out. What I’m going to do in this blog over the next few weeks, months, whatever it is, is–for better or worse–write this play. Some days you’ll get some dialogue, some days a monologue, some days just some thoughts/questions that I need to ponder. I’ll basically be sharing my process—at least for this particular play—which might be interesting and might invite some conversation in a different way than writing lessons and general rules do.
So to that perennial talkback question: where did you get the idea for this play? Answer: from a friend’s joke about a certain wish. The joke wasn’t a play at that point; it was just funny. But later, two comedic actresses I adore said they wanted me to write a play for the two of them. The idea of marrying that joke with these two women seemed ideal. But how?
I felt the two women needed to know each other as well as the man but not in a way that made them feel obligated or in a way that made their objective obvious. Because of an exercise I did at Kenyon Playwrights Conference a couple of years ago, I decided to have them all meet in a nail salon. With that, I started the first scene not sure where it would lead other than establishing the premise. As always, I essentially know how the play ends, but don’t have the details worked out. I won’t share that part because I don’t want to ruin the surprise if you somehow stick with me through this whole thing. Maybe you won’t because this is going to end with a first draft and first drafts often suck. I hope you do. I hope we can chat with each other as we go. Especially if you know comedy; it might be hard to find the funny right now.
Beginning scene one:
FINDING NEIL PATRICKHARRIS By Donna Hoke
A NAIL SALON.
CHA-CHA is giving a pedicure to TONIO, and KATIE is doing other spa chores, like cleaning basins or organizing. KATIE wears a mask, which she slides off her mouth every time she speaks, except when she forgets.
KATIE: So Lily goes to school with the jacket, and she’s super excited because who wouldn’t be excited about a purple suede jacket with fringy sleeves and turquoise beads going up and down each arm?
TONIO: Anybody from this decade.
KATIE: And this Alicia girl comes up to her and says “You stole my jacket.”
CHA-CHA (to Tonio): You sure this is the color you want? Midnight in a Bathhouse?
KATIE: It’s Midnight in Babylon.
CHA-CHA: Is that supposed to be something to aspire to? How about Orgasm on the Riviera?
TONIO: You’re hired!
KATIE: You have a one-track mind. So my Lily says, “I did not steal this jacket.”
TONIO: I’ve heard snappier comebacks.
KATIE: I taught her to stand up for herself.
TONIO: Teach her to be funny. She’ll win a lot more friends.
CHA-CHA: I better get a tip as big as these callouses. You’re a freakin’ crustacean.
TONIO: Bad genetics.
CHA-CHA: I’ll still take you over one of those entitlement parties any day of the week.
KATIE: There’s one coming at four. Ten bridesmaids. So the Alicia girl started trying to physically remove the jacket! And Lily didn’t say anything else because what could she say?
TONIO: “We obviously share the same exquisite taste.”
CHA-CHA: But would there really be two purple suede fringy jackets with turquoise beads on the sleeves/
KATIE: So she punched her.
CHA-CHA: Foolproof comeback.
KATIE: I can thank her no-good father for that! She got called down to the principal’s office!
TONIO: Would you like me to be a character witness?
KATIE: And she wouldn’t tell them where she got the jacket, so they suspended her for three days/
TONIO: /A felon! You must be so proud/
KATIE: /all because she wouldn’t just say “My mother bought it for me at a thrift store.”
CHA-CHA: Well maybe that’s fucking embarrassing for her to say.
KATIE: Maybe his tub full of dead skin is cleaner than your mouth/
TONIO: /You can leave me out of this/
CHA-CHA: /Maybe I just need a new fucking job.
KATIE: Maybe you do.
CHA-CHA: I’m not gonna die in this place.
KATIE: Then stop inhaling the gels.
CHA-CHA holds a bottle under Katie’s nose. KATIE quickly puts her mask back.
TONIO: If you die here, I’ll make sure Katie sweeps you up with the nail clippings.
KATIE: And throw you out back.
CHA-CHA: New color. Dusk at the Dumpster.
TONIO: Would that be kind of a reddish pink with brown undertones?
KATIE: No pink, shit brown. I’ll make sure of it.
TONIO: I want to be cremated.
CHA-CHA: I can’t do your toes if you’re ashes.
KATIE: And don’t you want that awesome dead person makeup?
CHA-CHA: If you think that makeup is awesome, that explains a lot about your… look.
KATIE: It’s peaceful!
CHA-CHA: It’s vampiric.
TONIO: They suck out your blood. It’s unnatural. Send me to the incinerator, melt me down, then take my ashes and fling them at Neil Patrick Harris.