Christopher Durang

Christopher Durang

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 13 1996 3:30 AM

Christopher Durang

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       Well, yesterday I took the bus to New York to hear a reading of this one-act play of mine about alcoholism. Then I had dinner. Then I took the bus back to Pennsylvania. Then I drove from the bus stop to my house. Then I listened to phone messages. Then I sat at the computer to write this down, and hit some key, and the computer did absolutely terrifying things--printing e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e with a little umlaut or something across the screen, seemingly to eternity. I turned it off, then on again--then e e e e e e e again. Luckily, CONTROL+ALT+DELETE worked. But what was that?
       I use an antiquated software--WordStar, popular in 1981, when I learned. I have been intending, for a couple of years, to finally update to something more current, but the thing I use does work, and it's so hard to change, isn't it? And to find the time to change. I thought it was amazing that I learned WordStar to begin with. And I'm amazed that I read the directions and figure out how to program videocassette recorders. I'm very unmechanical, but I want to use the VCR.
       I'm intending to work on a video gift for the cast of my play Sex and Longing. I took home videos of everyone during the rehearsal period--especially the first two weeks, which took place in an upstate New York lake community where Sigourney Weaver has a summer house. It had been her request that we rehearse up there so she could be with her husband and daughter, and Lincoln Center Theater agreed. It was kind of wonderful; we rehearsed in the local high-school gymnasium; we pretended the play was called Lulu, rather than Sex and Longing, so we wouldn't cause too many local ripples; and, most evenings, we took this endless dirt road to Sigourney's house for dinner, where she hired a friend to make us delicious, and rather elaborate, meals.
       So anyway, the whole thing was very home-movie-worthy; and I've decided to edit (in a primitive way) the film I took, taping from one VCR to another, as a gift to the cast. I sometimes spend hours and days making these video things (I used to make "birthday videos" for people). I have an audio dub and am able to do voice-overs to the pictures. And I have endless movies on tape, and crackpot things from public-access television; and I like to edit all these things together.
       I intended to make this gift earlier, but now want to see if I can do it over the next two days, in order to get copies made, ready to give to the cast and stage management by the closing Sunday. Most likely I'll work on that today.
       I started to talk about going to New York to hear my one-act play, but I got off that topic immediately. I don't know why. The play went well, and the four actors were excellent: Cynthia Darlow (who is standing by for Dana Ivey in my play); Crista Moore (late of the Broadway show Big); David Eigenberg; and Danny Mastrogiorgio.
       The play is about a young man, who says he's not an alcoholic; his ex-wife, who says he is an alcoholic; his mother, who drinks all day and says no one is an alcoholic; and his older brother, who's fed up with all of them.
       I especially liked writing the mother, who is in a state of almost giddy denial about everything; when her son calls her from jail, she doesn't even ask what he's in jail for.
       The writing students in the class seemed to find the play and character funny; though in the discussion after, one person, who is a substance-abuse counselor, objected to the portrayal of the mother as too funny and somehow implying alcohol wasn't a problem in her life. I like this person, who is smart about alcoholism, but was surprised at her comment, since I thought the writing made it crystal-clear that the mother used alcohol to distance herself from all her problems and all her pain.
       Happily, the other writers in the class took up the task of defending (or explaining) the mother part; and the counselor rather graciously said she saw their point (or pretended to). Her comment reminds me that some people do seem to be made uncomfortable when a serious topic is presented in ways that make people laugh. And this is a recurring problem for some audiences with my writing.
       This writing group is run by a director and acting coach named Jeff Stocker, and its members include four writers I brought from my "adult children of alcoholics" workshop of last year. One of those four, Jeff W., very sweetly brought me a photocopy of some author quotes he found about the difficulties of dealing with critics. I haven't read them yet. Maybe I'll go do that now.
       I'm back. And there were two particularly meaningful ones. One was from Thornton Wilder--and there were only about 15 writers quoted, so I thought it significant to be hearing from him again so soon after John's channeling. And he said it was important that "neither the favorable nor the unfavorable critics move into your head" and influence your next work in any way.
       That's a good point, but I actually liked the quote from Stephen Spender better. He was writing about Auden: "He was totally indifferent to what anyone said about [his work]. And then being a 'psychoanalyst' helped him a great deal. For instance, when he was so attacked by Randall Jarrell in 1947 or so, he said, 'He must be in love with me; I can't think of any other explanation.' "
       This is the tack I think I wish to embrace. The critics have all dismissed and vilified my play because they are, each and every one, in fact in love with me! Ah, life makes sense again.

Christopher Durang is a playwright and actor, whose plays include Sister Mary Ignatius ... and Beyond Therapy.