Playwriting

Three Cheers for Lewis & Clark, Part 3

“Packaging” is the third comedy sketch in my Lewis & Clark series. The play was produced during the ShowOff! Festival of ten-minute plays in Southern California. The theatre company did a wonderful job with the piece and sent me a DVD of the production. The play, of course, is silly and anachronistic. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. One more cheer for you, the reader.

Three Cheers for Lewis & Clark, Part 3

Three Comic Vignettes Celebrating What Might Have Happened Before, During, and After the Great Expedition

SKIT 3: PACKAGING

CHARACTERS:

CAPTAIN LEWIS – Dressed in explorer’s regalia; very serious type

“CAPTAIN” CLARK – Also dressed as an explorer; not as serious as his partner

CHUCK – Male or Female owner of a powerful talent image company; a self-proclaimed visionary in marketing and promotion

LOIS – Well-dressed 20-something, high energy

LISA – Also 20 and in expensive clothes, high energy

SETTING: Expensive, traditional interior, a cross between a board room and a library.  Large table.  Comfortable chairs.

TIME: Present day

 

AT RISE: A man sits in one of the comfortable chairs, reading from a “journal.” He wears an early 19th century trapper’s outfit.  It’s CAPTAIN LEWIS.  

After a couple of beats, “CAPTAIN” CLARK enters, also wearing his explorer’s outfit.  

Lewis leaps to his feet and greets his friend half-way.

LEWIS: Clark.

CLARK: Lewis.

LEWIS: Hale and well met.

CLARK: Hail and Willamette.

LEWIS: Long time –

Clark makes a wavy action with his hand.

CLARK: No Sea.

They both laugh.  It’s an old joke between them. They hug.

Three modern-day business types enter with a flourish.  They’re all dressed in stylish suits.

Two women and one man (or all three women).  The leader, CHUCK, owns the company.  His associates are LOIS and LISA, both carry and write in small notebooks.  All three act as if they have caffeine rather than blood coursing through their veins.

CHUCK: Whoa.  Get a motel, would ya.

Lewis and Clark separate from the hug quickly and look away, embarrassed.

Chuck extends his hand to Lewis.

CHUCK: You must be Clark.

They shake hands.

LEWIS: Meriwether Lewis, sir.

CLARK: William Clark of Kentucky.  At your service.

CHUCK: Welcome, Captains.  I salute you.

Chuck salutes the men.  Lois and Lisa do the same.

CLARK: Technically speaking, I am not a true captain, unlike my esteemed and worthy friend here.

LEWIS: Nonsense, Clark.  You are every bit a captain.  We’ll have none of your modesty.

CHUCK: Yeah, right, whatever.

They shake hands.

CHUCK: Name’s Chuck.  My Associates.  Lois and Lisa.

LOIS: Lewis.  Clark.

LEWIS: Lois.

CLARK: Lois.

LISA: Clark.  Lewis.

CLARK: Lisa.

LEWIS: Lisa.

Awkward silence as the women walk over and check the men out.  The women SNIFF and are disgusted by what they smell.

LEWIS:  May I ask your purpose in bringing us here?

CHUCK: Glad you asked because we’re here — TA DAH!  To make you famous.

CLARK: We’re not?

CHUCK: Not what?

LEWIS/CLARK (Together): Famous?

CHUCK: I’m afraid you’ve had your fifteen minutes.  Right now you’re stuck between the margins and the dust bins of history.  Same ol’ story: yesterday’s front page, today’s back page, tomorrow’s footnote.  Not to worry.  We’re here to change all that.

CLARK: Did you read our journals?

CHUCK: Loved the drawings.  But here’s a tip.  Don’t send this to anyone until you run it through a spell checker.  I don’t think there are sixteen different ways to spell “Breakfast.” And it’s “se-PA-rate” not “per-rate.” Got it?  Now, let’s start discussing our package.

LEWIS: Package?

LOIS: You’re in the hands of the best.  Chuck packages talent.

CHUCK: Please sit.  We’ll take over from here.

They sit but look nervous, confused.

LISA: What can you tell us about the expedition?

LEWIS: We were commissioned by President Jefferson to explore the Missouri River and any other waterway, as needed, to discover a western path to the ocean.  I offered to Captain Clark to assist me in this endeavor and he graciously accepted.

CLARK: (Nods at Lewis) And I am forever in your gratitude for allowing me to participate in this momentous expedition.

CHUCK: Enough with the mutual admiration society.  We need a good name for the expedition, something punchy.

LOIS: How about Clark and Lewis Expedition?

CHUCK: Doesn’t work for me.

LISA: Lewis and Clark Expedition?

CHUCK: Still doesn’t sing.

CLARK: We paved a trail all the way to the Oregon Territory, if that helps.

LOIS: Oregoon Trail, hmmm.

LEWIS: Orygun.

CHUCK: Orygane?

LEWIS: No gane.  No goon.  Just gun.

LISA: We need something more drums-along-the-mohawky.

LISA (CONT’D): How about, “Trials and Tribulations Along the Oregon Trail?”

CHUCK: Still not catchy enough.  I got it: “The O.T.” for Oregon Trail.  Get it?

LOIS: Get it?  Love it.

LISA: Love The O.T.

CHUCK: Needs more.  I can feel it.  It’s coming.  Yes.  Yes.  “The O.T.: Desperate Explorers.”

LISA: Here’s the tag, Chuck: “They’ll do anything to reach the ocean — and already have.”

CHUCK: I can work with that.

LOIS: What else can you tell us about your expedition?

LEWIS: What else?

LISA: You know, anything that makes it stand out from, say, a typical vacation?

LEWIS: Vacation?!?

CLARK: Well, there’s Sacagawea.

LISA: Sack?

CLARK: Sacagawea. She was our Indian interpreter.

Chuck jumps to his feet and walks over to the two explorers.

CHUCK: There’s our hook: She.  Was she a hottie?  Did she have Grand Tetons?  Legs to die for, eh?  I bet she had a tight —

LEWIS: –I should say not.

CLARK: She had a child.

CHUCK: A child.  Perfect.  And she doesn’t know who the father is.

CHUCK (CONT’D) (Points to Lewis): Either you … (Points to Clark) Or you.

LEWIS: Balderdash!  She was married.  Quite married.  In fact, her husband, Mr. Toussaint Charbonneau, a fine, reliable chap, traveled with us.

CHUCK: But behind his back, she was having an affair with the both of you.  She was swapping.  The Ol’Beast with Two Backs.  Getting the Ol’ Rockies off, eh?  I can picture it.  Middle of the night.  The husband sent off to guard the perimeter, wearing the horns of a cuckold.  While you enter her teepee, remove her leather leggings and slowly make your way up the confluence of her thighs–

Lewis stands and POUNDS HIS FIST on the table.

LEWIS: –Sir!  This was a scientific expedition.  We explored no such place.  We held ourselves to the highest of civilized standards and extended courtesy and respect to all, under extreme conditions, I might add.  We discovered plants and rivers.  My good friend Captain Clark drew maps.  We spotted and recorded great herds of buffalo.

Chuck relaxes.  Now pursuing a new idea.

CHUCK: Buffalo, you say?  That’s good.  That’ll work.

LOIS: Timely.

LISA: Trendy.

LOIS: Healthy.

LISA: Marketable.

LOIS: It’s got bling.  If that’s a word.

CHUCK: It is now.  You know what I’m thinking?

LOIS: Go with it, Chuck.

LISA: We’re down, Chuck.

CHUCK: Buffalo roam everywhere.  Am I right?  Big, ugly, disgusting suckers.  Right?  Dumb as an ox.  Anyone know what Buffalo tastes like?

LISA: Like chicken?

CLARK: Actually, if I may interject, in point of fact, buffalo tastes more like beef.

The three marketers stare at Clark in disbelief.  A beat, then…

LOIS: But I’ve heard it’s leaner than chicken.

CHUCK: There you go.  The perfect food.  Tastes great, good for the heart.  I see it now.  An entire Lewis and Clark line of Buffalo products.

LISA: Even Buffalo by-products.

CHUCK: Buffalo burgers.  Buffalo top sirloin.  Buffalo gizzards.

CLARK: I seriously doubt buffalo have gizzards.

CHUCK: They do now.

LEWIS: This is complete and utter balderdash!

Lewis returns to his seat.  Chuck walks over to both men and puts his arms around them.  Chuck looks at the ceiling.

CHUCK: Captain Lewis, Captain Clark.  When we’re done with you, they’ll be celebrating your journey for one hundred, no, make it two hundred years.  And you know what’s even better?  We’ll be able to sell more stuff.  Important, cheap stuff.  Like kitchen magnets.

LOIS: How’s this for an apparel idea, Chuck: “My ancestors followed the Oregon Trail and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

Chuck walks away from the men as he brainstorms with his team.

LISA: We can celebrate where The Oregon Trail, The O.T., ended.

CHUCK: Why limit ourselves to one end?  Why not many?  Let’s claim the Oregon Trail ended in Seaside.  And it also ended in Astoria.  Oregon City.  Beaverton.

LEWIS & CLARK (Together) Beaverton???

CHUCK: Okay, forget Beaverton, Oregon.  Nothing meaningful ever happens in Beaverton.  But, think about it, my courageous friends.  They’ll name schools after you.  Colleges.  Restaurants.  Taverns.  Rivers.  Ball teams.  Slums.

LISA: Your faces will be on everything from billboards to postage stamps to milk cartoons.

The two explorers look at each other, nod, then stand.  They walk to the door.

CHUCK: Where are you going?

LEWIS: I am going back on the Trail.  I would rather eat fleas than do business with people like you.

CLARK: Would you mind if I tag along again?

LEWIS: I would be honored.  Let us get out of here while we still have our good names, Captain Clark.

CLARK: Right behind you, Captain Lewis.

The two explorers exit quickly.

CHUCK: NAMES?  By the time I’m done, every household in America will know who you are.  Parents will name their sons after you.  Think about it.  An entire generation of boys named Meriwether.  Ah, let them go.  Who’s next?

LOIS: Some dour runt from France named Napoleon.

CHUCK: Napoleon?  Napoleon.  Now, THAT’S a name I can work with.  We’ll put some lifts in his shoes and name a pastry after him.  What do you think?

(END OF PLAY)

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Three Cheers for Lewis & Clark, Part 2

Here’s the second of my three comedy sketches about Lewis and Clark that I’m posting in honor of Presidents’ Day. I’ve always been amazed how some people are naturally loquacious. I’m mostly quiet, at least until I’m two drinks into Happy Hour. At that point, it’s game on.

 

Three Cheers for Lewis & Clark

Three Comic Vignettes Celebrating What Might Have Happened Before, During, and After the Great Expedition

SKIT 2: STICK IT

CHARACTERS:

CAPTAIN LEWIS – Male, quiet and introspective. He does not suffer fools easily; mostly a ray of gloom. His facial expressions speak volumes.

“CAPTAIN” CLARK – Male, incessant talker, a chatter box full of good cheer and optimism; mostly a ray of sunshine.

SETTING: On a hilly slope near the Pacific coast of what eventually becomes the state of Oregon.

TIME: Daytime, circa 1803.

AT RISE: CAPTAIN LEWIS and CAPTAIN CLARK trudge up a slope.  Both dressed in rugged hiking gear.  Lewis holds a surveyor’s telescope in one hand.  Like a beast of burden, Clark is loaded down with a backpack.  To help him negotiate his way amid the rocks and shrubs, he relies on a large stick, his walking staff.

 

CLARK: At first, I didn’t understand why we traveled all this way with forty others, only to leave them behind just before reaching our goal.  Then I realized.  You wanted all the others to remain back at camp so we could have a private, special moment viewing the ocean.  Just the two of us.  Breathe in the glory, well done, jolly good effort, bon ami and all that pats-on-the-back stuff.  Right?

LEWIS: Something like that.

CLARK: We’re like heroic figures out of classic literature, Lewis.  You and I.  You are stoic, serious, quiet, introverted.  A true visionary on a mission for the ages.  And I your trusty, outgoing associate.  When you think about it, our relationship is symbiotic.  We back each other up.  Like the birds on the back of a hippo in the Great Africa.  You’re like, like Don Quixote de la Mancha.  And I am your loyal Sancho Panza, without a donkey or a paunch.  I’ll say one thing, all this trekking has been good for my health.  I’m fit as a fiddle.  Now, there’s an odd expression.  How fit can a fiddle ever be?  How do they measure a fiddle’s fitness for duty?  No matter.

(Beat)

CLARK: Yes, sir.  We complement each other.  I’m the outgoing, gregarious, good-natured one.  And you.  Well, you always seem to have a lot on your mind.  Like Don Quixote, you even wear the woeful countenance.  More so since we had to hole up for that long winter with the Mandans in North Dakota.  It was good luck for you and the others that I’m such a natural conversationalist.  I kept us all entertained through the long, cold, dark days and nights.  ‘Course it was unfortunate about Sargent Phillips, running out into the snow and shooting himself in the head like that.  But the winter takes its toll.  Especially in North Dakota.  The winter takes its toll.

(Beat)

CLARK: I hate to continue harping on this, Lewis, but I still think we should name our trip the “Clark and Lewis Expedition”.  After all, “C” does come before “L” in the alphabet and historians will need an easy way to catalogue our journey.  It just makes sense.  To do otherwise violates generations of good librarian cataloguing conventions.

LEWIS: Have you ever heard the expression “Silence is Golden”?

Long beat while Clark chews on Lewis’ comment.  Then…

CLARK: Ever wonder where expressions like “Silence is Golden” come from?  I mean, think of all the expressions we use.  Haste Makes Waste.  Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth.  As Proud as a Peacock.  A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush.  Every Cloud has a Silver Lining.  I believe that one refers to the bright aura around the perimeter of a thundercloud.  A Stitch in Time Saves Nine.  In other words, if your garment starts to fray, hem it now before it’s too late to repair the damage.

(Beat)

CLARK: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.  Every Dog has His Day.  Cats are included in several expressions.  A Cat has Nine Lives.  Curiosity Killed the Cat.  Hmmm.  If it was killed by curiosity but it has nine lives then what’s the big deal?  Unless, of course, it’s too curious and gets killed nine times.  I have a favorite cat expression.  Ask me.  Go ahead, ask me.  No, wait.  Guess.  Try and guess it.

LEWIS (mumbles): In One Ear and Out the Other.

CLARK: What’s that?  I didn’t catch it.

LEWIS: I give up.

CLARK: That’s okay.  You’d never guess it anyway.  My favorite cat expression is.  Are you ready?  IT IS A BOLD MOUSE THAT NESTLES IN A CAT’S EAR.  I love that one.  The image of that tiny critter curled up inside the unsuspecting feline’s head.

(Beat)

CLARK: Of course, it’s not just about the cat.  In fact, it’s more about the mouse, now that I think about it.

(Beat)

CLARK: Now, here’s an expression I’ve never quite understood.  Tell me if this isn’t a strange one.  “The Moon is Made of Green Cheese.” Oh, really now.  I mean, how do we know for sure?  How do we know it’s not made of a crumbly Cheshire.  Or a tasty, sharp Cheddar.  Or even your basic but classic Stilton.  For all we know it could be made of rock, not green cheese.  Personally, I’ve never tasted green cheese, except but once, at the Snout n’ Gout Inn, the one by the Potomac, and I was sick for a week.   So, someone out there, some “authority”, thinks the moon consists of rotten cheese and the rest of the world quotes him as if he knows what he’s talking about?  I’m sorry but I just don’t see it.  And how come people repeat that expression over other expressions?  We could come up with better ones on our own.  I’m convinced of it.  Out here in the middle of nowhere.

(Beat)

CLARK: Say, there’s a thought.  Why not?  We can add ’em to our journal.  Come on.  What do you say, Lewis?  Let’s create our own aphorisms.  I’ll start.  Let’s see.  Something allegorical.  Something with an animal in it.  Maybe one of those prairie dogs we saw in Kansas.  I have it.  Here you go: A Prairie Dog Crossing Water is Wetter than a Cat in Church.  (Beat)

CLARK: How’s that?

(Beat)

Lewis stops walking and holds up his hand, as if to tell Clark to stop.  

Lewis walks slowly to the edge of the cliff (stage).  

He bends down and grabs a rock.  He lets the rock drop and watches it fall.  Lewis turns, looks at the audience and smiles for the first time.

CLARK: Well.  Yes.  The important thing is to just get the basic sentiment down.  I wanted a cat in there somewhere because they’re very popular across most cultures.  A prairie dog crossing–is “fording” better than “crossing”?  Let’s not dwell on the details.  We can review our aphorisms later and tighten them up before publishing.

Clark sits and makes a note in his journal.

CLARK: Prairie dog.  Cat.  Okay.  That’s one.  Your turn.

LEWIS: Ah, we’re here.

CLARK: I must say, Lewis.  I’m disappointed.  That’s not a very creative expression.  “Ah, we’re here.” Is that really the best you can do?

LEWIS: I mean to say we have arrived at the cliff.  We are here.  We have reached the ocean, the end of our journey.

CLARK: The end.

LEWIS: Yes.  The end.  Please join me over here on the cliff and experience the sweeping view.

Clark removes his knapsack and runs up to the cliff.  

CLARK: The Ocean!!!

Clark leans on his walking stick and scans the horizon.  For the first time, he is speechless.

Lewis walks back from the cliff.  Then, he extends his telescope out from his chest, like a bayonet, and takes a run for Clark’s back.  Clark turns suddenly and swings his walking stick, accidently knocking Lewis off the cliff (stage).

CLARK: Look.  A whale!

LEWIS: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Clark stares in disbelief for a couple of beats at the fallen Lewis, then turns to grab his knapsack.

CLARK: Well, that settles it.  We’re calling it the “Clark Expedition.”

He starts to walk away, seemingly dejected then brightens suddenly, as he is struck by a thought.

CLARK: Hey, I have my second expression: A Stick in Thine Saves Mine.

He takes out his journal and makes a note.  Lights down.  

(END OF PLAY)

 

Three Cheers for Lewis & Clark, Part 1

Several years ago, I wrote three short plays, aka comedy sketches, that were performed by a comedy troupe in Astoria, Oregon, in celebration of the achievements of Lewis & Clark. My talented playwright friend, John Donnelly, also had plays performed during the festival. I wrote three pieces, one set before the great Lewis & Clark expedition, another during, and a third one set long after they had returned. In honor of Presidents’ Day, I will be posting my short sketches in my blog. “Minor Adjustments” is the first of the three sketches.

 

Three Cheers for Lewis & Clark

Three Comic Vignettes Celebrating What Might Have Happened Before, During, and After The Great Expedition 

SKIT 1: MINOR ADJUSTMENTS

SETTING: A government office in Washington D.C..  A desk with a comfortable chair.  In front of the desk are two comfortable, upholstered arm chairs.

TIME: Daytime, circa 1803.

AT RISE: BUREAUCRAT sits behind his desk, reviewing paperwork.  He shakes his head, makes notes in a ledger.  Shakes his head again.  There’s a KNOCK on the door.

 

BUREAUCRAT: Yes?

MRS. SNYDER, his executive secretary, steps in.

MRS. SNYDER: They’re here.

BUREAUCRAT: Very well.  Send them in.

MERIWETHER LEWIS and WILLIAM CLARK, dressed in their explorer outfits, complete with “Davey Crockett” coonskin hats, strut in. 

Bureaucrat stands, smiles broadly, walks out from behind his desk and greets the two men.

BUREAUCRAT: What a great honor it is to meet you both at last.  Please sit.

Lewis and Clark nod, then sit.  Bureaucrat returns to his chair behind the desk. 

NOTE: Throughout the exchanges, Lewis and Clark take turns standing or pacing.  The official sits erect in his chair, unmoved by their comments.

BUREAUCRAT: I have just returned from a joint session of Congress and on behalf of all members, both in the Senate and the House, I wish to congratulate you on your upcoming scientific exploration.

LEWIS: We are humbled in the service of our president and our country.

CLARK: What’s best for America will remain upmost in our minds throughout this adventure whose outcome only God can know.  I assure you, we shall neither cross a single river nor climb a sole mountain without first thinking of our new country and those who have so graciously given so much toward the success of our mission.

LEWIS (Bows to his friend): Well said, Captain Clark.

CLARK (Bows to his friend): Thank you, Captain Lewis.

BUREAUCRAT: I am very glad to hear those words.  Very glad.  That’s the kind of Can Do spirit that forged our great nation.  I especially like your words about what’s “best for America.” And would hope you would keep those words in mind when you listen to what I am about to say.

Lewis and Clark sit.

LEWIS: Am I to assume you have bad news?

BUREAUCRAT: Let’s just say I have both good news and bad news.  It’s about your budget.

LEWIS: I was under the impression the budget had been approved.  We stopped by today to merely tie-up loose ends, sign some paperwork and pick up the requisition for our supplies.  We start for the Pacific at dawn tomorrow.

BUREAUCRAT: There’s been a slight hitch.

LEWIS: Slight —

CLARK: — Hitch?

BUREAUCRAT: You are correct, Captain Lewis.  The preliminary budget had been approved.  But the final budget is what we must live by and that budget must ultimately be approved by both chambers.  Changes were made, as Congress is wont to do.  I assure you, these are minor changes, adjustments mostly.

CLARK: Mostly —

LEWIS: — Adjustments?

BUREAUCRAT: Compromises were reached.  It is, after all, what politicians do best.

LEWIS/CLARK (in unison): Compromises?

BUREAUCRAT: As you might already know, the Louisiana Purchase, although quite possibly a wise investment, was not an approved budget item.

LEWIS: We bought it for four cents an acre!

BUREAUCRAT: Yes.  To the non-accountant that might seem like a sound financial investment, and it probably is over the long run.  However, that’s still four cents an acre that we had not budgeted.  Factor in the more than eight hundred thousand acres purchased, do the math, and you’re looking at a cost of fifteen million dollars.  I think you can appreciate our situation.

LEWIS: Situation?  What situation?

BUREAUCRAT: Yes.  Well.  Again, there’s good news and bad news and I’d like to review a few line items in your proposed budget, if you will indulge me.  I think once we do that, you’ll have a better appreciation for the situation.

LEWIS: We can defend every nickel in our proposal.  Every nickel.

BUREAUCRAT: I am glad to hear you say that because a nickel is a good starting point.  You see, your per diem has been re-established at a nickel a day.

LEWIS: There must be some confusion.  I was told it was to be a dollar a day.

BUREAUCRAT: Congress felt a reduction in your per diem could be made without jeopardizing the overall success of your mission.

CLARK: A nickel a day for each man, then?

BUREAUCRAT: Sorry, I wasn’t exactly clear.  It’s a nickel for the lot of you.

Both Lewis and Clark stand.

CLARK: Outrageous!

BUREAUCRAT: Congress feels that since you will be dining out, so to speak, most of the time, living off the fat of the land, so to speak, that a nickel would suffice.

LEWIS: Split thirty ways?!?

BUREAUCRAT: I’m glad you mention the number thirty because it leads me to our next topic.  Since staffing is typically our largest single expense, we thought it best to make our major changes there.  We think your original request exceeded reasonable expectations even under the best of circumstances.  Instead, we’d like you to limit it to five.

LEWIS: Five?

CLARK: Excluding the two of us, of course.

BUREAUCRAT: Including you both.  But that still gives you enough for a good game of mumblety-peg around the campfire, eh?

LEWIS: And our request for watercraft?

BUREAUCRAT: The president donated his summer raft.

CLARK: Our horses?

BUREAUCRAT: Denied.

LEWIS: Mules?

BUREAUCRAT: Sorry.  But we are issuing you a new mobile contraption that the President is particularly excited about.  I believe it is called a “buy-cycle.”

LEWIS: What about our provisions?  Surely our basic provisions were approved?

BUREAUCRAT: Good news and bad news there too, I’m afraid.

LEWIS: The bad news?

BUREAUCRAT: You will not be provided with provisions, as such.  It is felt that since you will be living off the land, which, as the honorable Senate Majority Leader reminds us, “builds character,” you will not need to burden yourselves with provisions.  It is felt that by not carrying provisions you would be more efficient and could cut as much as three days off your journey.

CLARK: No provisions?  What’s the good news?

BUREAUCRAT: Congress agreed to double your allotment of dogs.  As sort of a contingency back up.

CLARK: Back up?

BUREAUCRAT: I’ve been told in some cultures they’re quite the delicacy.

LEWIS: No provisions.  No watercraft.  No horses.  But the expedition is still on?

BUREAUCRAT: Yes.  By all means. Of course. But with one other additional, albeit minor, adjustment?

LEWIS: Minor —

CLARK: — Adjustment?

BUREAUCRAT: Instead of traveling west, Congress would like you to explore the mollusks along Chesapeake Bay.

LEWIS: Mollusks!?!

CLARK: Mollusks are soft-bodied invertebrate, such as clams, snails, and sea slugs.

LEWIS: I perfectly well know what a mollusk is, Captain Clark, thank you just the same.  My confusion rises at the very concept.

BUREAUCRAT: What with all the other adjustments Congress requested, it was considered only fair to lower the Country’s expectations of what you could reasonably accomplish.

LEWIS: Am I to understand that our great mission to discover an overland route to the Pacific ocean and, along the way, to record all manner of species, fauna and flora, has been reduced to a clam dig along the coast of Maryland!?!

BUREAUCRAT: In a word, yes.

Lewis and Clark pace, throwing their fists in the air as they walk.

LEWIS: This is outrageous.

CLARK: Preposterous.

LEWIS: Disgusting.

CLARK: Demeaning.

LEWIS: Humiliating.

CLARK: Unpatriotic.

LEWIS/CLARK (in unison): Treasonous!

BUREAUCRAT: Please sit.  Both of you.

Lewis and Clark sit, as told, but continue to fidget.

BUREAUCRAT: Simply put, there’s not enough money in the budget for your excursion, as originally planned and noble that it might be.

Pause. The words sink in.

LEWIS: If it is strictly a financial matter, as you say, then if we can somehow find the money, will we be permitted to carry out the expedition as planned?

BUREAUCRAT: I’m glad you brought that up.  There’s good news —

LEWIS: — And bad.  We know, we know.  What’s the bad news?  (Turns to Clark) It can’t get any worse.

Bureaucrat rings a bell on his desk. Mrs. Snyder enters.

MRS. SNYDER: Yes, sir?

BUREAUCRAT: Please bring in the package.

Mrs. Snyder leaves, then returns almost immediately with a box.  She walks over to the explorers and sets down the box. 

BUREAUCRAT: The bad news is, the expedition, although still on and slightly modified, has been postponed.  You will not be leaving at dawn tomorrow.

CLARK: The good news?

While her boss talks, Mrs. Snyder opens the box and withdraws two baker’s aprons and two floppy baker’s hats. 

BUREAUCRAT: Well, the good news is — first, will you gentlemen be so kind as to stand, please?

Lewis and Clark stand but their eyes remain focused on the Bureaucrat. 

Mrs. Snyder removes their hats.  She puts the apron and baker’s hats on them. 

BUREAUCRAT: Thank you.  The good news is, Congress has agreed to change its mind and help fund the original mission to the Pacific providing the Administration is able to raise at least half of the funds separately.  Put another way, Congress will match whatever funds are raised.  President Jefferson has personally given his support to the effort and will assist in any way possible.  (Beat) There’s one more bit of news, I’m afraid.

LEWIS: More bad news?

BUREAUCRAT: It could be good news.

LEWIS/CLARK (In unison): Yes?

BUREAUCRAT: You’re holding a bake sale tomorrow on the Capitol steps to help raise the necessary funds.  Mrs. Snyder will escort you to the White House kitchen.  Good day, Gentlemen.

Mrs. Snyder leads the stunned explorers off stage, now dressed in their baker’s outfits.

Bureaucrat walks over to the chairs and picks up one of the explorer’s hats.  He puts it on. 

BUREAUCRAT: Explorers.  Ya gotta love ‘em.

(END OF PLAY)

Woe is Cratchit

I consider myself a cynical romantic.  Every year around this time, I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Bad Santa” and both films make me cry.  Put another way, I could use a good therapist. Instead, I wrote a short play about the holiday season and wish to share it with you. The title of the play is “Dec. 26.”

Happy Holidays!

SYNOPSIS:
It’s the day after one very special Christmas and Mr.  Ebenezer Scrooge, skinflint extraordinaire, finally has a solid good night’s sleep under his belt.  In a word, he’s back to his old self, fit as a broken fiddle.  The good-natured Cratchit, on the other hand, is in his usual inexplicable high spirits and, unfortunately, is ill prepared for what lurks ahead.  Woe is Cratchit.

CHARACTERS:
Ebenezer Scrooge – Stock character, the old miser himself
Bob Cratchit – Stock character, generally upbeat, plays the manic to Scrooge’s depressive

SETTING: Victorian England.  Scrooge’s office.  A large comfortable chair–Mr. Scrooge’s favorite chair–and next to it a small table covered in cloth.  A hat rack in one corner.

TIME: Early morning, December 26, the day after Christmas.

AT RISE:  A happy BOB CRATCHIT, wearing his trademark ratty white sweater, whistles a holiday tune while cleaning up the office.  Beat. EBENEZER SCROOGE enters, covered in his trademark dark winter wraps, overcoat, and top hat.

CRATCHIT
And a good morning to you, Mr. Scrooge.  A very good morning indeed.

Cratchit reaches to help Scrooge off with his coat.  Scrooge slaps his hand.

SCROOGE
What’s good about it?

CRATCHIT
Why, sir, everything.  The sky is clear, snow fresh, air brisk.  London’s never been prettier.  And, I might add, I have never been happier.

SCROOGE
What day is it?

CRATCHIT
The twenty-sixth of December.  Boxing Day.  A day when charity reigns supreme.

SCROOGE
Hah.  And what day was it before that?

CRATCHIT
Christmas, sir.  The most glorious day of the year.  Of course you remember.  You promised me a raise.

SCROOGE
A raise?

CRATCHIT
And we were to discuss, ahem, “affairs.”  Today, I believe.

SCROOGE
Discuss affairs, with a little man like you?  Poppycock and balderdash.  What I remember is I fired your worthless ass on the twenty-fourth of December and you’re still here.

CRATCHIT
Fired?

SCROOGE
I meant to, probably didn’t get around to it.  Bloody memory problems.  The wisdom of the ages gets more forgetful as it ages, Cratchit.  Remember that.  If you should live so long.

CRATCHIT
But, sir, but, but I thought.  You said.  Yesterday.  At my house?

SCROOGE
Today is different.  I wasn’t myself yesterday.  I hadn’t slept.  A bit of undigested beef and all those nightmares.  But last night —

CRATCHIT
— Yes?

Scrooge grabs the medicine bottle; it’s a bottle of chewable pills.  Scrooge and Cratchit turn to the audience.  They walk forward to the edge of the stage.  Scrooge points to the bottle.  They break character for a product placement commercial.

SCROOGE
Last night I took Digestiva, a powerful over the counter antacid that works miracles.  Ask your doctor about…

CRATCHIT
…  Digestiva.  When you want to sleep through the night and wake up rested, in good spirits…

SCROOGE
…Take Digestiva Chewables.  Now in twenty-four tropical flavors…

CRATCHIT
…  Side effects may include headaches, swelling around the eyes, heart palpitations or aches and pains in the joints…

SCROOGE
…  Fluid retention or excessive hair growth…

CRATCHIT
…  May cause fast heart rate, dizziness or a drop in blood pressure when you stand up, cold hands and feet, tiredness or depression, a slow heartbeat or symptoms of asthma…

SCROOGE
…  A skin rash, loss of taste, a chronic dry, hacking cough, and in rare instances, kidney damage…

CRATCHIT
…  Anxiety, back pain, breakthrough bleeding, breast tenderness, depression, flatulence, flu-like symptoms, restless leg syndrome and an urge to gamble…

SCROOGE
…  Bleeding of the eye, convulsions, seizures, decreased or double vision or in extreme cases blindness…

CRATCHIT
…  And prolonged, painful, or inappropriate stiffness of the willy that could last longer than four hours… Do not take Digestiva if you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant.

SCROOGE
…  Do not drive heavy machinery while taking this drug.

CRATCHIT
…  Of if you have a stiff willy.

SCROOGE
I’m sensing a pattern here.

CRATCHIT
… If you have nightmares or insomnia or get depressed, tell your doctor.

Scrooge sets the bottle back down. They return to their previous spots and to their respective roles.

CRATCHIT (CONT’D)
What about Tiny Tim?  What about what my young Tim said?

SCROOGE
What about it?

CRATCHIT
He said, “God bless us everyone,” and you cheered.  In my very house, in front of my wife and children.  You cheered.  We all cheered.  You cheered the loudest.

SCROOGE
I told you I wasn’t myself yesterday.  Whatever I was, is, well, over now.  End of story.

CRATCHIT
You said I would get a raise?  You were suddenly generous.

SCROOGE
Poppycock!  I pay you but fifteen bob a week.  Nobody would call that generous.  Not even I.  Frugal, yes.  Parsimonious, perhaps.  But generous?  No.  I should say not.  Absolutely not generous.

CRATCHIT
But, but…  From now on it was going to be different.  You said so.

SCROOGE
In the many years you’ve known me, Cratchit, would you expect me to be generous?  Ever?  Did the words “Scrooge” and “generous” ever appear together in the same sentence?  Except, perhaps, as a contradiction.  All these years.  Ever?

CRATCHIT
Of course not, sir.  But, but something changed you.  The other night.  You said you had a revelation.

SCROOGE
I had constipation.

CRATCHIT
But we all saw it.  You changed.  And you promised me a raise.  On Christmas Day.

SCROOGE
Balderdash.  Christmas is over or haven’t you read the papers.

CRATCHIT
Over?

SCROOGE
A leopard can’t change his spots.

CRATCHIT
Spots?

SCROOGE
Because of one night you expect a raise?  Think hard, little man, did I put it in writing?

CRATCHIT
No.  But, but — why just yesterday you were such a philanthropist.

SCROOGE
That was yesterday.  Today I have philanthropist’s remorse.  What’s one day of the year compared to three hundred and sixty four days?  I ask you one question, Cratchit: which me, do you think, is the real me?  Which Ebenezer Scrooge is the real Ebenezer Scrooge?

CRATCHIT
Now that you put it that way, sir, I’d rather you were generous the rest of the year and a cheap bastard, if you pardon my French, only on one day.

SCROOGE
Oh, I imagine you would.  Your kind always would.  And with such attitudes you would destroy the hard-earned, dog-eat-dog foundations of capitalism itself, the bread upon which your very crumbs depend.  We have a word for your kind.

CRATCHIT
Yes?

SCROOGE
Poor.

CRATCHIT
But, but — Oh, my God, Mrs. Cratchit is out shopping at this very moment.  Spending my raise.

SCROOGE
Shopping you say?

CRATCHIT
At those after-Christmas specials.

Cratchit takes several tablets from the bottle and chews.

SCROOGE
Bully for her.  Shopping is good for the economy.

CRATCHIT
You just said I had no raise.

SCROOGE
Quite right.  No raise indeed.  And no job.  I say, pitiful circumstances you find yourself in, eh, Cratchit, on this twenty-sixth day of December?

CRATCHIT
Yes.  No, but — my Tim said, “God bless us everyone.”  Those were his very words.  God bless us everyone.

SCROOGE
God helps those who help themselves.  It would behoove you to remember that, little man.  Which reminds me, Cratchit, on your way out help yourself to one lump of coal.

CRATCHIT
A lump?

SCROOGE
Of coal.  Just one lump, mind you.  We’ll call it your severance package.

A despondent Cratchit grabs a piece of coal.  He returns and faces Scrooge. Cratchit shakes his fist with the coal in it at Scrooge. Cratchit turns to leave, then returns quickly and grabs the bottle of antacids.

CRATCHIT
You’ll regret this, Scrooge.  What goes around comes around.

SCROOGE
The only thing I regret is not getting a good night’s sleep.  And the only thing going around is you out of my shop.  Now be off with you or I’ll call the constable.

Scrooge settles into the chair. He reaches under the table for what’s hidden behind the table cloth.  He pulls out another bottle of antacids and sets it on the table.

CRATCHIT
Bah!  Humbug!

Cratchit puts on his overcoat slowly.  He grabs his hat and moves to exit.  But he can’t.  Head down, he’s frozen, unable to move.

SCROOGE
“Bah humbug?” I kind of like the way that sounds.  Bah.  Humbug.  I’m feeling more like my old self.  Lonely.  Bitter.  Miserable.  A dependable bottle of tropical-flavored antacids within arm’s reach to make sure I sleep through the night.  Bah.  Humbug.

Scrooge opens the bottle, shakes out a couple of tablets, and puts them in his mouth.  He beams.

SCROOGE (CONT’D)
(almost giddy)
I’m back.

Suddenly, Scrooge CHOKES on a tablet.

SCROOGE (CONT’D)
Cratchit!  Help me.  Get over here.  Cra-Cra-Cratchitttttt!

Cratchit turns and watches.  Scrooge GAGS and CHOKES.  It’s a drawn-out, ham-encrusted dying scene worthy of a melodrama.

Scrooge slumps in his chair [or falls on the floor]… dead. Cratchit rushes over and checks Scrooge’s pulse.

Cratchit picks up the bottle and reads the label to himself. Cratchit stares at the audience.

CRATCHIT
Hmm.  Dickens was right.  There appears to be a nasty side effect to being a cheap bastard after all.

Beat.

CRATCHIT (CONT’D)
Here’s the thing: apparently when it’s all over and you die, you die alone, unloved, slumped or fallen, in a ratty old chair or on a cold floor, in the middle of a quiet room.  No more alive or memorable than a lump of coal.  Saddest of all, nobody cares whether you had lived or died.  Out, out brief candle and all that.  Dead as a doornail, to quote the bard.

Cratchit ponders his own comment.

CRATCHIT (CONT’D)
Oh, well.  Chin up.  The sky outside is still clear, the air still brisk.  Fresh snow covers the ground.  Life goes on out there even though there is death in here, inside, behind these very closed doors.  No more tomorrows for Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, Esquire, I dare say. Hmm.  I suppose I should start boxing up his things to sell.  It is, after all, Boxing Day.  And Mr. Scrooge most certainly didn’t take any possessions with him, try as he might.  Why he, himself, told me to help myself.  Those were his very words.  God helps those who help themselves, he said.

Cratchit starts to box a few items.  He stops and stares at the audience again.

CRATCHIT (CONT’D)
You know, just between you and me, I don’t think Mr. Scrooge ever understood how God helps.  With the exception of one sleepless night, perhaps.  But the rest of his life?  Bah, humbug.

(END OF PLAY)

When Irish Eyes are Winking

One more comment on writing dark humor and then I’ll leave the dark side for kinder, gentler thoughts. Here is an excerpt from the deliciously wicked play The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh. Context: Someone has killed Padraic’s cat named Wee Thomas. Padraic is an Irish Liberation Army enforcer. He loves that cat more than life itself, and someone is going to pay. The topper in this exchange is Donny’s final words; Donny is Padraic’s father. Remember, always save the best for last.

DONNY. Why else would I be upset? I don’t get upset over cats!

DAVEY. Not your Padraic?!

DONNY. Aye, my Padraic.

DAVEY. Oh Jesus Christ. Donny! Not your Padraic in the INLA?!

DONNY. Do I have another fecking Padraic?

DAVEY. Wee Thomas is his?

DONNY. And was his since he was five years old. His only friend for fifteen year. Brought him out to me when he started moving about the country bombing places and couldn’t look after him as decent as he thought needed. His only friend in the world, now.

DAVEY. Was he fond of him?

DONNY. Of course he was fond of him.

DAVE. Oh he’ll be mad.

DONNY. He will be mad.

DAVEY. As if he wasn’t’ mad enough already. Padraic’s mad enough for seven people. Don’t they call him “Mad Padraic”?

DONNY. They do.

DAVEY. Isn’t it him the IRA wouldn’t let in because he was too mad?

DONNY. It was. And he never forgave them for it.

Comedy v. Tragedy, Round 1

Mel Brooks said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.” Mad Magazine proposed a similar definition when it said (paraphrasing from memory): Humor is something funny that happens to someone that if it happened to you it wouldn’t be funny. Likewise, Erma Bombeck offered this explanation: “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

Here’s playwright Nicky Silver speaking about the connection between pain and humor:

Like most couples [referring to his parents] they certainly weren’t always happy, but somehow I saw the violence of their pain and their humor simultaneously. There is a moment in Raised in Captivity [one of his plays] that really exemplifies this. The play opens at Bernadette’s mother’s funeral, and she is distraught to the point of near-hysteria. At one point she wails ‘I never said goodbye! I never told her I loved her!’ Her husband tries to calm her. “Yes you did, I heard you.” She replies: “But I never meant it!!”

Every night the audience would howl at this line. But to me it’s really slice-of-life stuff. I mean the character is simply being honest. Her pain is so oversized that it erupts in this grand explosion of sadness and rage all mixed up together. It feels theatrical to some people. It feels like home movies to me.

From “On Comedy,” Nicky Silver, The Dramatist Magazine

 

Oedipus and Hamlet Walk into a Bar

IQT_SMAConfImage taught a 90-minute workshop at the wonderful San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival in 2013 and had a blast.

The title of the workshop was “Oedipus and Hamlet Walk into a Bar: Punch Up Your Writing with Humor.” More than 40 conference attendees were in my class.

They learned how to incorporate humor into their own writing, whether working on an essay, a novel, a memoir, or a response to an invitation to their ex-spouse’s next wedding (sarcasm can be quite effective).

We looked at a mix of humorous literary genres and styles, including parody, satire, black humor, comedy of manners, screwball, and sentimental. I shared examples from a range of writers, including Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Flannery O’Connor, Charles Portis, Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, T.C. Boyle, and David Sedaris.

QT_SilentFilm2And we did exercises to develop their use of literary devices such as hyperbole, irony, nonsense, inversion, puns, and wordplay.

I also covered valuable techniques employed by humorists and standup comics alike, including the rule of three, running gags, repetition, choosing funny words, specificity, surprise, and callbacks.

Mark Twain called humor “mankind’s greatest blessing.” In more recent times, Larry Gelbart said: “One doesn’t have a sense of humor. It has you.” To twist Joseph Conrad’s famous line, the workshop’s task, before all, was to make us see … humor.

We covered a lot of territory, not to mention humor, in ninety minutes. In this blog I plan to share some of what we discussed. I hope you’ll stick around.

Hasta Manzana!

 

Me, Myself and I Don’t Know

QT_Bigfoot4

In my last post, I was talking about writing my first play. So this post is still all about me (sorry; I’m almost done).

I continued writing plays, short plays befitting my height and attention span. As a part-time writer trying to squeeze in my words before going to work in the morning, late at night, or over the weekend in hourly chunks, I felt as if I never had enough time to tackle anything more substantial.

I’m a Boomer. My gratification meter was stuck on Instant.

In the winter of 2001, I applied for and won a Walden Fellowship, which was awarded to three Oregon writers or artists each year. I accepted the fellowship, took an unpaid leave of absence from work, and spent six weeks during the spring of 2002 in a small cabin in the Southern Oregon woods on an organic farm.

The experience was liberating. For the first time in my life, my job, the entire point of my day, if you will, was to write whatever I wanted to write, eat when hungry, look for Bigfoot, and walk the dog. How cool was that?

After a few years of writing stage plays, I started writing screenplays. My first film script landed me a literary manager in L.A. and was a hot product for about 15 seconds. Maverick Films, at the time co-owned by Madonna, loved the script and took it into studios, all of which passed.

My second script was optioned by a production company but no movie was made. At least their check cleared the bank.

I have since had two more full-length scripts optioned, as well as two short scripts, one of which was made into a dreadful movie.

Then Arlene and I moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and I wrote a book about our experiences as inept expats, a humorous memoir titled Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak, published by Fuze Publishing. It was voted the #2 book in San Miguel. I’ll talk more about my humorous memoir in future blogs.  Better still, don’t wait for me — go ahead and click the Buy My Book tab for details.

In my blog entries, in short (and I am), I plan to dangle the occasional modifier, split an infinitive or two, mix a batch of metaphors, and chat.

Vaya con nachos!

Freeing the Narcissist Within

Geodesic Dome

Post-college my resume read like a good-grief of odd jobs: military journalist, medical librarian, college instructor, book packer, mill worker, business owner, technical writer, software documentation manager, marketing manager, marketing director. If I could have thrown in gold prospector and hobo, I would have been Jack London.

Between and during those jobs, I always worked on creative projects, mostly writing and cartooning and, like many writers and artists, all of it in my spare time.

While at work, in addition to doing my regular job, I’d also be doing what’s known in the computer industry as “background processing,” working out story problems in the garage of my mind and jotting down notes so I wouldn’t forget. If I happened to get mugged coming home from work, the unlucky guy would get scraps of paper and Post-it Notes with bits of dialogue, plot points, and partly developed scenes on them.

Not exactly stuff you can easily fence.

For a few years, after hours, I even tried standup comedy to get over my shyness and really sucked at it—the standup part, not the shyness. Comedy bits about attending the Hemlock Society’s Christmas Party (“Stay away from the punch”), and lines like “What do you say we go up to my place and exchange bilabial fricatives?” did not exactly kill in biker bars.

On the other hand, the tobacco smoke nearly killed me.

One night a member of a successful improv group complained to me that she couldn’t write or tell jokes. In fact, she confessed to knowing only one joke and told it. She said: “I like my men like I like my ham—cured.”

I thought it sounded more like a cheesy pickup line than a joke, and used it as a jumping off point for my first play. When I was done writing it, I gave the play to my wife, Arlene, to read. She’s always my first and most honest critic.

“This play is about dating,” she said. “What the hell do you know about dating?”

Arlene was right, of course.