Posted in Teaching, Theatre, Writing

ENG 126: Drama Workshop, Session 3

Welcome to our third drama workshop session, and thank you for your thoughtful feedback on The Slow Decline and the monologue from Bound. Before we turn to the untitled monologue and The Story of Shabath, I offer these follow-up notes:

The Slow Decline 

  • Trevor mentioned the jail break in the sixth paragraph as a possible alternate starting point. How might Mr. Castillo’s story unfold between the narration of the jail break, which was “a rather profitable venture” and the change in gun restrictions when the Castillo organization’s “profits plummeted”? In other words, how might a riches-to-rags sequence framed by those events affect the play’s momentum?
  • Brendan, Zane, Brandy, and Mia all noted the lack of development of Mr. Castillo’s relationship with his father. The detail that he is “quiet” and the writer’s choice of having Mr. Castillo address his grandfather, but not his father, in the conclusion may serve to indicate a gulf between father and son. Was it a relationship that was too difficult for the son to put into words? If so, what in his speech or actions might convey that difficulty?
  • The question of details–what to leave in and what to leave out–leads me to a question that Mia raised: “What made the main character unsuitable for the job while his father and grandfather ran things so seamlessly?” The answer may lie in something else that Mia mentioned, the moment when Mr. Castillo reveals that as a young man he contemplated running away from the family business. That’s the moment I had in mind when I posed this question: What other obstacles, internal or external, might complicate the delivery of his story?

Monologue from Bound 

  • Trevor remarked that it was admirable that the writer chose to begin at the end of the narrator’s story and focus on the mechanics of the journey.
  • Brennan, Mia, Zane, and Brandy noted the number of unanswered questions in the monologue. Zane also noted the apparent inconsistency in the narrator’s mental state. How might the writer convey through the narrator’s speech and actions that his consistent inconsistencies make him dangerous to the gods, or to himself, or to both?
  • Brandy and Brennan both noted that the monologue felt like part of a larger piece–such as a character’s speech “halfway through a fantasy novel,” as Brennan mentioned. With that in mind, reading and comparing H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and the radio play adapted from the novel might be a useful exercise for the writer.

Rather than making additional reading recommendations tailored for the writers of The Slow Decline and the monologue from Bound, I am offering one that’s relevant to all of us now: the recent New York Times article “Has Your Dystopian Play Come in Handy?,” which features snippets of conversations with playwrights who have authored plays about cataclysmic events and are now living through one themselves (as we all are).

Marisol, the first play addressed in the article, was written by José Rivera, author of Gas, the Persian Gulf War-era play that we read in Chapter 11 of Imaginative Writing. The eight other playwrights and plays featured in the article are these:

  • Anne Washburn, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play (2013)
  • Jennifer Haley, Nether (2015)
  • Mac Rogers, The Honeycomb Trilogy (2015)
  • Penelope Skinner, The Ruins of Civilization (2016)
  • Zoe Kazan, After the Blast (2017)
  • Robert O’Hara, Mankind (2018)
  • Andrew R. Butler, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future (2018)
  • Duncan Macmillan, Lungs (2020)

The points I have included below are not ones that you’re required to address in your comments about the untitled monologue and The Story of Shabath. I offer them as suggestions only. I will address some of them in the follow-up remarks that I’ll post at the beginning of our next session.

Untitled Monologue

  • In the second paragraph of the monologue, Deen reveals the inciting incident, the event that creates the situation in which she finds herself: “and then they died.” In the fifth paragraph, she first mentions her current obstacle: the officer to whom she is pleading her case. Consider how altering the order of the details that Deen presents would affect the monologue’s tension and the audience’s perceptions of Deen.
  • In Imaginative Writing, Janet Burroway notes the importance of varying shorter lines with longer ones. In her words, “[a] change of pace, from a sharp series of shorter lines to a longer speech and back again, keeps the rhythm interesting” (338). The writer varies lines within paragraphs and also between paragraphs one and three, and again between paragraphs six and seven. What other paragraphs might be presented as shorter–perhaps even one-line–paragraphs?
  • What suggestions, if any, do you have for a title?
  • What plays, if any–ones in Imaginative Writing or others that you’ve read–would you recommend to the writer as models or possible sources of inspiration?

The Story of Shabath

  • Consider the sequence of Shabath Aizwald’s recollections. How would moving what he recounts in 1:2 or 2:1 to 1:1 affect the tension?
  • What stage directions would clarify how the monorail figures in 1:1? Is it an actual set piece, an image projected on a scrim (a gauze cloth used as a screen or backdrop on stage), or does it figure solely as a diagetic sound?
  • In Imaginative Writing, Janet Burroway observes that the inability and unwillingness at times to say what we mean “breaks the flow of the talk. This is especially true when emotions are heating up. People break off, interrupt themselves and each other. Use sentence fragments. Don’t always finish their . . . (338). Where might the writer break the flow of Shabath’s words to indicate an inner conflict? What memories might be difficult for him to recount?
  • What plays, if any–ones in Imaginative Writing or others that you’ve read–would you recommend to the writer as models or possible sources of inspiration?

Post your two responses, twenty-five words or more each, as replies. If you address a point that one of your classmates has written in a previous reply, mention that classmate by name in your own reply. Post by midnight on Friday, April 17.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

9 thoughts on “ENG 126: Drama Workshop, Session 3

  1. Untitled monologue was certainly an interesting play. It was a bold decision to have such an egregiously unlikable protagonist and an impressive feat to execute the delivery of the narrative from the perspective of a character the audience has no choice but to dislike given the circumstance of the story and the primary characters actions within the story. In terms of titling the monologue I would suggest six feet under or perhaps an inconvenient inheritance. While I did not enjoy the play I thought it was good, and a unique reading experience. I would say the type of character that conveys the story is not my expertise but perhaps in an expansion some kind motive could provide stakes to the continuing investigation story line.
    Thank you for your time and consideration,
    Trevor White

  2. The Story of Shabath provides an interesting setting that could be further explored and expanded upon with future works pertaining to the setting and or the Story of Shabath. From what I could tell Shabath’s story seemed to be focused upon the description of his actions over a certain stretch of time within particular locations so I think that the monorail and the various other scene settings could be projected upon a screen in the background with altering sound effects and physical props within the foreground to differentiate between the memories. I think the Story of Shabath has a character and setting with a lot of potential that could be fleshed out to a greater degree in an expanded format.
    Thank you for your time and consideration,
    Trevor White

  3. Out of all the dramas, The Story of Shabath despite the fact that it currently lacks some focus and depth is the one that struck me the most emotionally. I’ve always like the rain and that mixed with a man pondering his life on a highspeed monorail in an emotionally distant way creates a unique tone for the piece. I really loved that.

    The piece meanders a lot. I think that can work for this type of reflection, but the problem is that lot of information never gets brought back up. How is the narrator’s founding of Faya important to the story? It gets mentioned and then never brought up again. It’s clear that the narrator has a complex past that makes this case special to him, I just want more of that. Since he founded what’s presumably a major organization to help people get resurrected, why is he working as an investigator? I am fine that the central murder doesn’t get solved, I just wish I knew why the main character cared so much and learned more about him from it.

    I think there’s some really good stuff here, and like I said the tone really worked for me.

  4. Untitled Monolgue is really good. It’s tightly focused, filled with personality, and knows exactly what it wants to be. I will say I think it would interesting if the monologue built up to the fact that Deen caused her parent’s death, revealing it at the end. In this format, the reader’s view wouldn’t be relatively the same throughout the piece but change since the major reveal is moved to the end. The author could do something like “The School” where the monologue starts with a relatively small incident (maybe needing to study for exams), a slighter bigger one (graduations, arguing with bother, breaking parole, friend’s mother calling her a threat to society, etc), all the way up to the reveal that she is the reason her parent’s are dead.

    As a side note, I find it fascinating that Trevor says he thought this precise was good but he did not enjoy it. I both enjoyed this play and thought it was well made. I thought it had a nice dark comedic feel to it as it examined this utterly human who didn’t understand the disaster she causes.

  5. I really enjoyed Untitled Monologue. As Brennan said, the piece is full of personality which is difficult to do in a piece that really only has one character. We learn so much about the character simply by the way they talk about the recent events. This makes Deen into a character that the reader loves to hate. One of the greatest things a story can have is a character that the reader loves to hate and I think Deen is a great example.

    I also agree with Brennan’s suggestion to wait until the end of the story to reveal that Deen caused the accident. While I enjoyed the piece doing this would leave a bigger impact on the reader than the story is currently capable of.

  6. The Story of Shabath seems to have the same strengths and weaknesses as Monologue from Bound from last week. They both are presenting very interesting worlds that clearly have a big story to tell but they both also thrust far too much information at the reader. In The Story of Shabath, the writer mentions the Lazarus project and the Faya and the narrators connection to them. While this does help build the world and to show that the character is an important figure, neither of these things play into the story. Another thing is the very detailed descriptions of some things in the environment. For example, “ionized plasma transmission tubes”. The use of these sorts of descriptors can work in a longer piece that has already laid down its foundation. In a piece like this however, it is like trying to read before knowing the alphabet.

    I agree with Brennan’s statement that, while the piece meanders a lot, it can definitely play to the pieces advantage. The piece has wonderful language and almost feels like a dream which is why I think the way it seems to wonder works wonderfully.

  7. The Story of Shabbath does a good job of world-building and I am curious to know more about the main character by the end of the story. We don’t know a lot about the narrator other than a few basic plot builders such as the fact that he founded The Faya or that he has a potential drug problem. This vagueness could be used either very poorly or very well done, depending on where the story leads. On its own, it feels a little flat and we aren’t really given a reason to care about the main character. The way that the story is spliced into acts feels a little awkward with how short they are and would work better as a single act (but then again, that could just be me being picky). Overall, the story sets up a tone of mystery and tension, which I personally love, and it leaves me wanting to know more about the narrator and his motives.

    Untitled Monologue was very interesting in that it was able to world build throughout the entire piece. We learn more about the main character, her life, and the people around her as she continues to ramble to who we eventually learn is a cop. It also does well with characterization with the way her accent is written, as well as the way her selfishness blinds her from seeing the seriousness of the situation she has found herself in. However, this does not give us much reason to empathize with her. She never shows much vulnerability or humanization, and which makes it difficult to care about what happens to her (but then again, this could be done on purpose). We also aren’t given a reason as to why she is on parole. Is it because of the accident? If so, why is she on parole instead of immediately being arrested and being held in custody? This could just be me nitpicking about the logistics, but perhaps finding a way to squeeze more explanation into that piece of information could help. Overall, Untitled Monologue carries a sense of irony and dark comedy that leaves readers unable to not gape at the narrator’s cluelessness of a horrible tragedy.

  8. I also really enjoyed Untitled Monologue. As for the character Deen, I really liked her as a character, but I would dislike her as a person. Deen seems like a character that can’t see that she is in the wrong. Especially how she can describe others throughout the piece, but she doesn’t describe herself. She also seems to be a character that doesn’t care about others, as it does seem like she complained about why her brother is getting the insurance while she isn’t getting any of it.

    I would like to add that I agree with Brennan and Zane, to wait till the end to reveal that Deen was the cause of her parents’ death, though the reveal of their death should be kept at the beginning. In that sense, the holding back of information would cause more of a feel.

  9. The Story of Shabath
    Some parts that are told about the character is confusing, as sometimes it is told in a first-person point of view and other times told in a third-person point of view. There are some run-on sentences and grammatic errors. Other than those two points, The Story of Shabath is interesting, especially with the chosen time period and how the character Shabath had a close experience with death but was revived.

    The Story of Shabath left me with more questions then answers. Is Ms.Anet important to Shabath, if not then why is she the victim that he mentions that he needs to keep safe? What is the unknown object? Is it best to describe it as an object or a figure? What is his connection with the ocean, because even when he describes the night sky, he describes it as, “extra planaetary ocean of space filled with countless stars?” If he has not connection with the ocean, wouldn’t a different description fit best when describing the night sky?

    I agree with Zane that some of the information given does build up the world and help to describe the character but are unneeded as nothing important is built from it. The information given in the end are not important to the reader with the ending, how it is.

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