Well, I’m working on a revenge play these days. And the thing about writing a revenge play is that it puts you in a very touchy mood.
Generally I write comedies and walk around chuckling to myself, dissolving into giggles at the supermarket deli counter. Now I’m glaring at cell phone users and plotting exquisitely calibrated punishments for doofus drivers. Then I go home and eye my 15-month-old son, murmuring darkly, “I wouldn’t throw that block if I were you.”
To put myself in the proper frame of mind, I’m reading Dante’s “Inferno.” When I first read the Divine Comedy in college … well, actually I never read the whole thing, the whole Hell-Purgatory-Heaven trilogy. I’d read Milton’s Paradise Lost during a summer seminar, which kind of turned me off of hanging out in Heaven with genius poets.
So I never did read all of the Divine Comedy, but I did read the Inferno. In the book, a pilgrim is lost in a wood and Virgil the Roman poet leads him down to Hell, because only through Hell can the pilgrim reach Heaven. I don’t know why; they don’t mention a Dark Wood-Heaven express bus, so don’t ask. So the pilgrim travels through the nine circles of Hell, where all sinners receive their just punishments.
When I read this at age 21, the Inferno seemed like a simple adventure story – sort of a Wizard of Oz with more screaming. Now, reading it 15 years later, it takes on more ominous tones. I find myself wondering, in Dante’s universe, which circle I’d end up in. There’s no question I’d be there; Dante set the bar too high for an old sinner like me to enter Heaven. He puts people who eat too much down there, for crying out loud. (They lie buried in stinking mud.) From all the articles I’ve read on obesity in America, that would cover half the country and all the Midwest states.
All right, back to my play. It will have roughly the same theme as Dante’s, namely “The Bad Guys Get Theirs,” but it a little more complicated. I tried to explain the themes to Ron after he put Benny to bed, and gave us both a headache. This is the first time I’ve started a play with the theme. Usually I just make up weird characters and let it rip.
But this technique completely failed with my last play, “Wake Up Winslow,” which collapsed during the third scene and now refuses to budge. That play is a murder mystery/comedy about three siblings who run a talk show on cable access TV. One brother disappears and the remaining two are forced to continue the show. Then the show’s guests start dying off after appearing on it. Soon the only people who will appear on the show are a psychotic heavy metal guy and a fear management specialist.
Well, how can anybody lose with that, you ask? Death, sibling rivalry, fear management experts wearing masks, what else could one want? I tried to entice the play with plot outlines, character worksheets … nothing worked. So now I’ve abandoned it in disgust and I hope it’s happy.
But this new play, oh it’s going great guns. I’ve got a great theme that I half-understand. All I need are characters, setting and a plot. Now if you will excuse me, I must banish my son to a prison made of alphabet blocks.