March 10, 2007

A Play A Day #331

Exactly What You Expect


Setting: Sofa, coffee table


(Lights up on coffee table and sofa, Enter James)

James: (addressing audience) There's an old adage in theater... well, there are a lot of old adages in theater - theater's old, and theater people talk and write a lot, leading to a surplus of adages.

This particular adage is very well known: "If you show a gun in the first act; it has to go off in the third." In one sense, this excites the audience, but, thinking about it for a moment, it seems like knowing the adage makes creates the expectation that the gun will definitely go off in the third act... meaning? No suspense.

What good is that?

So, now you are all aware of the adage, would there be any sort of theatrical value to your seeing a gun? I think it would only bore you, but, in the interests of theatrical science - theatricology - we must persevere.

(dramatic guestures, mischievous grin, as if by sleight of hand, James produces a gun in one hand, places it grandly on the coffee table and exits)

(lights fade to spot on the gun, then with painstaking slowness, fade out)


(Lights up on James, Charles and Nika sitting on the sofa staring intently at the gun)

James: (looking up at audience, addressing them) Well, here we are. Second act. I brought my friends Charles and Nika, here, up to speed on the matter of the adage. They are impartial observers; plus I think they really just want to see the gun go off.

(joins other in staring at the gun)

James: Now, in the play - all around us - a lot is happening, and the gun is still "there" in the sense that we all know it exists; we saw it in the first act. You may or may not be able to physically see the gun during the second act, but, again, in the name of science, I've left the gun visible for ease of tracking and to keep it fresh in our minds.

(stares at gun again)

James: Nothing's happening right now, of course, but we expect that - it's only the second act which falls outside the realm of our adage. Second acts are for development of the story, the tension and the gun is just the dangerous other.

(stares again)

James: Now, it could go off, of course, but that would be a different sort of adage... or only a two-act play. Either works. Actually, a lot of plays, jeez, almost all of them nowadays, only have two acts... (thinking, come to a realization) So, that would mean that... if you show a gun in the first act it has to (snaps head to stare very closely at the gun, very rapid movement, music punctuates this move, some sort of final crescendo phrase)

(Nothing happens)

James: (straightening himself out a bit) Ah...ahhemm, yes, well, as I thought, this actually is a three act play. Nonetheless, it is imperative that we watch the gun to reinforce its centrality in our research. The second act has whispers of the gun throughout its path. Let's watch as they develop!

(all three stare intensely for a while)

James: Luckily, our second act is only forty minutes long, and we've already burned through five or six.

(all three stare at the gun with only small movements and reactions throughout as the lights fade for the next thirty-five minutes)


(Lights up on all three again)

James: (excited) Okay, this is it! The third act! Now, the gun could go off at any moment! We all know this, and it is such a thrill. Sometimes...

(dramatic, tense music swells, James snaps to stare at gun)

Whoa... thought that was it... there are often cues like that - music, light changes...

(fog rolls in, James again stares with great fervor)

Ahh... hmmm... got me again... dry ice, that's a good hint, but in this case they were just using it to build dramatic tension. Also a common device - the false build. Gets you keyed up; then you don't know when it might happen.

(they all stare, over the next ten minutes or so, music comes in and out, it swells dramatically, nothing happens, sometimes, the music is lighthearted and trilling, Charles, Nika and James look confused during those times, but they stay focused on the gun, eventually out of nowhere, the gun goes off, Charles, Nika and James are thrilled, hugging each other, adlibbing excitedly)

James: Yes! Success! Exactly as we all expected! Theater, good theater, is so reassuring that way. Well, thanks for watching, please bring yourself and your friends out to see our next theatrical experiment when we, for a six-week run, explore the old theatrical adage: Seven naked women does not a good plot make. Ticket prices for that production will be tripled for men.

(more excited exchanges with Charles and Nika as they exit)

(lights slowly fade to spot on the gun, then very slowly fade out on the gun, rising quickly to full intensity a couple times at random intervals, before finally completely fading out)


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