Dan Aubrey interviews me about Panther Hollow, Ways to Be Happy and Iluminate!
See full article here – https://princetoninfo.com/160500-2/
Like many arts organizations finding their way through the pandemic, central New Jersey playwright, director, and actor David White is approaching a reduced yet busy schedule of four new projects.
One is for White’s regional artistic home, Passage Theater, Trenton’s only nonprofit professional theater.
The company’s former associate artistic director, White is participating in a digital fundraiser to help Passage address COVID-19-related revenue losses.
The event running from Saturday through Tuesday, October 17, through 20, is a recording White’s solo performance of “Panther Hollow.”
Here’s how the show’s press pack describes it: “Storyteller and monologist David Lee White details his struggle with love, sex, and clinical depression at age 25 while living in a one-hundred-year-old house in Pittsburgh’s hidden neighborhood, Panther Hollow.”
And while the theme seems a bit heavy, White, now 50, lightens the load in his opening, “Everything I’m about to tell you is true. And, fair warning, some of it is upsetting so I’m going to apologize in advance. There are eleven corpses in this show — eight victims of suicide, one tragic accident, one fake dead body, and one cat. I apologize for that. I especially apologize for the cat, although it’s not me that kills it . . .
“There are also two skinheads, one reference to public fornication, a few ghosts, Satan, and Shakespeare. I’m sorry that I take a few potshots at religion, although I feel it’s warranted. Also, because of lifelong feelings of self-loathing, I feel the need to say ‘I’m sorry’ for everything you might find offensive and for that, I apologize. So let me just start with the first dead body and you can tick everything off as I go along.”
White says the fundraiser’s roots come from a past presentation of the show during Passage’s annual series of one-person presentations, “Solo Flights.”
White says he wanted to get a good record of the show on film and thought of College of New Jersey filmmaker Susan Ryan, who had created a 30-minute documentary on one of Passage’s theater education projects.
“I called and asked if she and her students would like to film ‘Panther Hollow,’” says White. “She went all out. It is a really nice recording of the show.”
Then he adds, “When the pandemic started and arts organizations started closing, I was wondering, ‘What could I do?’ And since I had been working at Passage, I offered it as a fundraiser, and they took me up on it.”
He says the play resonates today because it deals with coping with depression and finding optimism.
He also says it has been his most popular stage work to date and resonates with theater companies looking to address social themes and in an economical way. “It’s just me, a desk, and a whiteboard. It’s a cheap date,” he says.
However, says White, he may let the tape be the legacy of the play and may not perform it in the future. “I was doing it at least a couple times of year. It is a show that is tricky to do. Part of it is, ‘Is there a need for people to see it?’ The other is whether or not I can tell it. It is so personal. It was a very healing experience for me. But I may not need to tell it anymore. It exists (on tape) and I don’t have to tell all that stuff.”
Another project is the play “Ways to be Happy.” Presented by the Summit, New Jersey, Dreamcatcher Theater, the recording can be purchased for download on Dreamcatcher’s website later in October.
“It is a comedy. I’m pleased with all the seriousness that I had a comedy out there,” he says about the work that has “been in development for years. It has readings and workshops, and Dreamcatcher was going to produce it in the spring. But that got canceled. So they moved it to the fall. And (the director) asked if I could develop it as an audio play. I hope people will listen to it and get a giggle for 90 minutes.”
Then on the schedule is Passage’s “OK Project.” It’s based on the 2017 removal by the City of Trenton of a six-foot-tall public art sculpture created by 16 young people involved with a city community project. According to city officials, the hand’s OK symbol resembled a gang-symbol.
Passage took the ensuing community discussions about art, policing, and censorship as the source of a community-focused work that received a MAP Grant — a fund primarily supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to invest in artistic production and create “a more equitable and vibrant society.”
Calling himself a member of the team, White says the project is “an interview-type play. You can’t invent anything. Obviously interviewing people during a pandemic was a problem. Another difficulty is that the world is changing every day and the perspective changes — asking why this little story is important changes every day. It is hard to figure that out. We decided to wait to create the end of the script until after the election.”
“We’re going to have reading — a workshop over Zoom (date TBA). There will be a public reading in February. Then hopefully it will be on the Passage stage in about a year from now.”
Meanwhile, in addition to teaching at Drexel University, White says he is still writing musicals with his composer partner Kate Brennan — the two collaborated on the creation of the musical “ALiEN8” during McCarter Theater’s 2017 Education Program and took the work to Oklahoma City and Philadelphia.
Their latest is “Illuminate,” a project White says “could be done on Zoom” and features 12 songs and 12 scenes that tell a story.
“You can put them together in any order you wish. Any character can sing any song,” he says.
He says the title came from the composer’s interest in thematically exploring the social significance of light and darkness.
The original plan called for a mainly dark theater stage where specific objects would be illuminated at different times, but White says, “The pandemic came and we changed it.”
The play was reimagined for Zoom and gave the two the opportunity to discover a new tool for making theater. “We were able to collaborate with people in different states,” says White. “I interviewed them and wrote scenes inspired by what they said.”
Eventually they came up with a story that is both a play about memory and an allegory for what it is like to live during the pandemic.
“A woman who loses her memory wakes up in the hospital. Everything is dark and she goes on a search — but since she’s lost her memory the scenes do not have to follow an order. She is also a songwriter, so songs are part of her memory.
“We have all the scenes, and all the songs and further development with. No two productions of the show will be the same. We’re looking for a group of students to help pilot it.”
While a quick glance at White’s biography shows theater study in college, the son of a family counselor father and high school teacher mother says he actually got interested in theater as an elementary school student in his hometown of Wentzville, Missouri. “There was a college giving acting classes to kids, and I was taking them on weekends. I was pretty locked into theater by the time I was 12 or 13.
“In fifth grade there was a talent show. I was sick on the day of the audition, so I couldn’t audition. But my fifth grade teacher asked if I wanted to write something and also be in it. And I wrote ‘The $6 Million Dollar Frog’ — a combination of the television shows ‘The 6 Million Dollar Man’ and ‘The Muppets’ Kermit the Frog.”
Formal training followed years later at the University of Missouri and the University of Pittsburgh, where he received an MFA and met his future wife, art organization consultant Allison Trimarco from Plainsboro.
After experimenting with establishing careers in Chicago, the couple moved to New Jersey and settled in Bordentown Township, close to Trimarco’s parents and providing opportunities in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York City.
Later when they adopted their son, Nick, the couple realized that the community and schools were additional benefits.
White says he connected with Passage after a telecommuting job he started with a Chicago software company folded in 2001. “I was unemployed and thought I’d try to get a theater job and blind emailed everyone I could find.”
One person who responded was Passage Theater’s associate artistic director Nick Anselmo. He was less than 10 miles away.
“He had been from Chicago and called me,” says White. “I started volunteering with Passage. When Nick took another job, I took his position at Passage.”
Since then White has written several plays for Passage, including “Blood: A Comedy,” “Slippery As Sin,” “White Baby,” and “Fixed,” worked on the interview-based Trenton-specific projects “Trenton Lights” and “Profiles,” and worked on projects at McCarter Theatre, Dreamcatcher Rep, PlayPenn in Philadelphia, Rider University, and Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he also teaches.
While currently active and looking at a season with play development and experimentation, White also looks at the current disrupted theater landscape and shares two trends.
One, he says, is that theater artists are “coping with the grief of theaters being closed — live theater with a live audience. It is not only a spiritual grief and a practical one for people who count on it for a living.”
The other is they are also thinking about how theater was being created. “There are things about the theater culture that are not fair, not equal, and toxic. So people are looking at an opportunity to create more diversity.”
He says he found a symptom of rigidity of thought when theater artists starting using Zoom. “Right away, people were saying it was not theater. Meanwhile some people saw it as an opportunity to make it new.
“Play readings are a thing that Zoom has changed for the better. I have found it enlightening. For (play) development, it has made (the process) clearer. And you can get actors and audiences from all over the nation.
“There are a lot of gatekeepers out there who will define what theater can be. You see it in a lot of theater training, that you could only be a theater person if you have a certain personality. So there are people questioning how we do this.
“And like a lot of people, I love it and can’t wait for it to come back. But I hope it is a little different.”
Panther Hollow, Passage Theater. Saturday through Tuesday, October 17 through 20. $25. www.passagetheatre.org.
Here’s this week’s episode of “Random Horrible Thoughts” entitled “Dream Tim.” It’s a play about teaching from home (sort of) – something A LOT of us are doing right now. The production features Ian August, Andy Phelan and Kate Benincasa. The recording was produced by Kate Benincasa and directed by Adam Immerwahr. This week’s episode also features music by Jeffrey Barg and Sarah Donner.
Hello, all. World sucks right now, AMIRIGHT???
The entire theatre industry is basically on life support, at the moment, so people are trying new things. So here is my new thing – a six episode podcast of one act plays.
Now, before you get all impressed that I somehow generated six episodes worth of content in a matter of days, here’s a reality check. I just finished a week homeschooling my kid and driving around to drugstores looking for laundry detergent and toilet paper – just like you. The episodes of “Random Horrible Thoughts” that I’ll be posting are audio productions of one act plays that have been sitting on my computer for years, just waiting for an audience. Now seems to be the right time.
So give it a listen and enjoy.
I eavesdrop on conversations. Not in a “plants a microphone under the hotel lamp” way. More in a “Pay attention to those two people talking loudly in a public space” way. I listen, I make mental notes, then I make physical notes (editing and shaping as I go) and sometimes this inspires a play or something.
Once in a blue moon I overhear or observe a conversation, a story, a moment, an event, the turning point of a life, that begs to be preserved. I was on an airplane recently and I heard one such conversation. It may be the only conversation I’ve ever heard that begs to be transcribed as accurately as possible. To try and edit or invent any part of it would only cheapen it. Normally, I would listen to these conversations with an ear toward adaptation – “How does what I’m hearing reflect something that’s going on in the culture right now? How can I edit the conversation to make this clearer.” But this particular square peg of a conversation would never allow itself to be forced into that round hole. So right now, I’m going to try to tell this story as accurately and truthfully as possible. I have no idea whether or not I’ll be able to convey the feeling I had while listening to these two people for two hours, particularly during the final thirty minutes in which I felt my brain slipping to the front of my head while two people’s worlds were turning inside-out.
I’m on a plane. I have an aisle seat. I’m getting ready to put on my headphones and listen to a podcast. Across the aisle from me is a man – mid-30s maybe? – and next to him is a woman – probably in her 70s. Someone recently asked me to “cast” them with familiar faces so that in the telling of it, the listener will have a better image of these two people. That’s tricky, but if I had to cast it, I’d say the man looks like Ron Livingston in the movie “Office Space” and the woman looks like the older version of the log lady from “Twin Peaks” as played by Catherine Coulson.
A lot of people seem to know the man. People from all over the plane are saying hello to him as they pass. They are getting up from their seats to converse with him. It dawns on me that perhaps he’s a celebrity. I don’t recognize him, which means he could be an athlete of some sort. He’s not buff. He’s more of a nebbish. So, I’m thinking baseball pitcher. The woman next to him is actively knitting – probably a sweater or something. At one point, a woman walks down the aisle and stops in front of his seat. She looks at her boarding pass.
“Is there a problem?” he says.
“Ummm…that’s my seat you’re in. I think. But you know what? I’ll sit over here. It’s okay. As long as there’s an empty seat.
“Thanks,” the man says. “I just wanted to sit next to my mom.”
The knitting woman smiles. I can’t explain how I know this, but when the man calls the woman his mom, I know he’s lying.
There’s more chatting. More handshaking. It dawns on me that this man is not a celebrity. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. I gather that he and all the people chatting with him have just met today, prior to boarding the plane. Perhaps there was an event of some sort – a flight delay? – something that bonded them. There is a sense of excitation and intimacy between them all – an acknowledgement of how rare it is that a group of solo travelers would find one another and genuinely enjoy one another’s conversation and company. But now the plane is about to take off and they are once again separated, isolated by their assigned seats.
Except for the man and the knitting woman who is not his mother. They are seated together.
I put on my headphones and listen to a podcast. Thirty minutes in, I become very aware of some unusual gesticulating coming from across the aisle. It’s a small plane, ergo, it’s a small aisle and the man’s waving arms are flying perilously close to my head. I think I smell alcohol. I spot a small, airplane-sized bottle of liqueur on his tray table (Is it Maker’s Mark?). His drunkenness is exacerbating his gestures and his voice is growing louder. I take off my headphones. The first thing I hear is this:
HER: …I don’t know for sure, but I’ve always been told I’m part Indian.
HIM: You’re from India?
HER: No, no, no. Indian. American Indian. Cherokee.
HIM: (sighs) Oh my…Cherokee???
HER: Yes. What’s the…why are you so…what are you doing?
HIM: Nothing. I’m just…Listen to me. Are you sure? Cherokee. Are you sure?
HER: No. I’m not sure. It’s just something I was told. Maybe.
HIM: Because I…Okay…I’m gonna tell you something. I’m gonna tell you something right now.
HIM: My grandmother. My. Grandmother. Was sold.
HER: Your grandmother was sold?
HIM: Yes. To the Cherokee Indians.
HER: Someone sold your grandmother to the Cherokee Indians?
HER: For what?
The knitting woman laughs. Does she know he’s lying?
HIM: This is true! I’m part Cherhokee!
HER: How are you part Cherokee? I mean if she was sold that doesn’t make her Cherokee.
He stops. He stares at her. She stares at him. He leans in close.
HIM: She was sold to the Indians for horses.
He sits back, faces front. The lie (and the alcohol) have exhausted him. She smiles at him over her glasses. She knits.
HER: She was your father’s mother?
HER: She was your father’s mother? Your grandmother.
HIM: Um…yes. She was.
They sit. He stares. She knits.
HIM: What was your father like?
HER: He was nice enough to other people. He didn’t love us. Me and my brothers. He didn’t love us. We spent a lot of time in foster care. Most of when we were kids, you know. Mostly in foster care with other families. No, my father didn’t love us. I didn’t talk to him after I got married.
HIM: You’re married?
HER: I was. He died. My husband died.
He turns to her. He leans in close. His hands are out of sight. Is he touching her?
HER: He had a motorcycle. Used to looooooove riding that motorcycle. He had an accident. Killed right away.
HIM: My father died too.
HER: This was my husband that died. Not my father.
HIM: I know.
HER: My son wants to ride it now, you know.
HIM: The motorcycle?
HER: Yes. What are we talking about? Yes, the motorcycle. He wants to ride it now. I do not want him to. I don’t know why I even kept the motorcycle. It was damaged but my son repaired it. He hasn’t gotten on it yet. He’s scared. I am too. But he wants to ride it because it was his father’s and it’s how his father died. So now he wants to ride it. I hope he doesn’t, though. I hope he doesn’t ride it or anything. I get scared thinking about it.
He leans in closer to her. She is still talking, but lower now. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but she’s telling a story. She’s whispering. She says “baseball.” She used to play baseball. It was hard being a young girl back then playing baseball. She was really good. One time she accidentally hit the ball so hard it went in the stands and hit her best friend’s mother. The man laughs at this. She laughs as well.
But girls didn’t play baseball. Her father that didn’t love her wouldn’t let her play baseball. Eventually she stopped playing. But she still has a baseball from when she was a girl. She kept it. She takes it out and looks at it sometimes. She doesn’t know what to do with it.
The man is emotional. He’s waving his arms, as if trying to shake his jacket off.
HER: What are you doing?
HIM: It’s hot in here. It’s so hot.
HER: Take off your jacket.
He does. He turns back to her. I see him take her hands this time.
HIM: Listen to me.
HIM: I want to tell you something.
There’s a very long pause.
HIM: I want to tell you something.
HIM: Let it go.
HIM: Let. It. Go.
HER: The baseball?
HIM: Listen to what I’m telling you. Let it go.
HER: The baseball you’re talking about. You want me to let go of the baseball.
HIM… let it go.
HIM: Listen. You have to let it go.
HER: I will.
HIM: Let it all go.
HER: Let it go.
HIM: Let it go.
He’s exhausted again. He sits back and stares ahead. He’s flushed. She may be flushed as well.
HIM: I’m so tired.
HER: Well why don’t you close your eyes?
He does. He closes his eyes and tries to control his breathing. She continues to knit.
HIM: I wish I smoked. I mean I used to smoke.
HER: I did too.
HIM: You did?
HER: I still smoke.
HIM: You do?
HIM: I wish I smoked.
She reaches into her bag and takes out a small change purse. She covers it with one hand, looks around, then opens it. There is a pack of cigarettes inside. He laughs.
HIM: Oh, shit!
HER: Want a cigarette?
HER: We could go in the back of the plane. We could go in the bathroom.
HIM: No! Put that away!
HER: We could smoke in the bathroom!
HIM: No we can’t! Put that away! Oh my God!
HER: Okay, okay…
They laugh. The don’t talk for a while. She is no longer knitting. He is holding one of her hands between his. Tightly. He is staring ahead. She is not looking at him. She is looking out the window.
HER: I used to smoke. I used to do everything. I was a bar dancer.
HIM: You used to dance on bars?
HER: In bars. I mean not professionally or anything. I’d go to bars and dance. All the time. I was out with some people from work a couple of weeks ago and I started dancing and everyone said “You’re really good!” See they don’t know how much I used to dance. They’re a lot younger and I don’t talk about myself. So I guess it was hard for them to imagine that I could dance. But I did and they were so surprised.
HIM: You remind me of my mom.
HER: I do?
HIM: She was awesome. Like…wicked awesome. You’re just like her.
HER: That’s so nice.
HIM: My mom didn’t smoke, though.
HER: I shouldn’t either. It’s how I lost my teeth.
HER: When I was twenty-nine I had to get all of my teeth pulled. All of them. I was always in foster care and places like that, like I said, and I was malnourished all the time. Plus I smoked. And that ruined my teeth. So when I was twenty-nine the dentist said I had to have them all pulled. The teeth I have now are fake teeth. They come right out. Want to see them?
They laugh. She does not pull out her teeth.
HIM: I’ll bet you’re a good mom.
HER: I’m okay.
HIM: You just have the one son?
HER: And a daughter. She travels a lot. She speaks French. Fluently.
HIM: I speak French.
HER: Say something in French.
HIM: I speak French really good.
HER: Say something.
HIM: I can speak like…if I went to France I would know all the time what everyone was saying.
HER: Say something in French. Anything. Say just one word in French.
HIM: My wife speaks French.
HER: You’re married?
They stop talking.
HIM: She’s Indian.
HIM: No! No! Indian.
HER: But like what kind of Indian? From India?
HIM: I don’t…She’s Indian!
HER: Why are you getting upset?
HIM: My wife is Indian.
HER: Tell me about her.
HIM: Tell you about what?
HER: Your wife.
HIM: She’s Indian.
HER: Does she have to wrap her head all up? Tell me about her.
HIM: That’s…what do you want me to tell??? She’s Indian!
HER: What I’m saying is, when she goes out, does she wrap her head all up?
HIM: I’m married!
They don’t talk for awhile. The plane has been in the air about two hours. The man is starting to calm down and sober up. The knitting woman is staring ahead. He is holding her hand. Now he is stroking her hand. The plane is now over Oklahoma. We will land soon.
HIM: I’m rich.
HER: You are?
HIM: Yes. My father left me a lot of money.
HER: He died.
HIM: Yes. And I’m really wealthy. I’m like…beyond everything. Beyond everybody.
He gestures out the window.
HIM: I own all of this. It’s all oil fields. I own all of this.
HER: I hope you’ll stay in touch with me.
HER: Because you’re nice.
HER: Don’t yell.
HER: Because you’re nice. I’ve never met anyone like you before. I hope you’ll call me.
HIM: What is happening?
HER: What do you mean?
He leans in close.
HIM: What is happening?
They stare at one another.
HER: My son is supposed to pick me up. Maybe you’ll meet him.
HIM: I have to call.
While the plane is still hovering, he takes out his phone and dials. I’ve never seen anyone do this before – make a phone call in the air. He begins talking. He tells someone the plane will land shortly. He tells them he’ll see them soon. A flight attendant appears seemingly from nowhere.
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Are you making a phone call???
HIM: I –
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Terminate that phone call right now! Right now!
He hangs up. The flight attendant walks away. The man puts his head in his hands. The knitting woman puts her hand on his knee. He turns to her.
HIM: What is happening?
HER: I don’t know.
They look at one another.
HIM: What is happening?
HER: I don’t know.
They look at one another.
HIM: I love you.
He kisses her. She kisses him back. I can tell by the sound that they are kissing one another on the lips.
HIM: I love you.
He kisses her again. She returns the kiss. They look at one another. They kiss again for a third time. They sit back. He is staring straight ahead. She is smiling, look at him.
HER: We gave the people around here an earful, didn’t we?
The plane lands. I get my bags and start down the aisle toward the exit. The man gets up as well. He asks her if she’s coming. She says no, she has to wait for someone to bring her a wheelchair. On my way out of the plane, I see the wheelchair. It has her name on it. It’s an unusual name. I google it later but the only match I find is a poet who died over a decade ago.
In the baggage claim area, I see the knitting woman in her wheelchair. She is alone. The man is not with her. She doesn’t appear sad. The veil is lifting. The dream is beginning to fade. People don’t fall in love on airplanes. 70 year old women and 30 year old men don’t fall in love with one another.She knows they won’t see one another again.
But maybe he calls her. Maybe they stay in touch.
May, 2019 – Residency with Ignition Arts in Oklahoma City, workshop of CLEAN SLATE (with Kate Brennan)
May 20 & 22, 2019 – The Diner Plays – ENTRÉE produced by Pegasus Theatre and THE ASK produced by EAGLE THEATRE
June 2, 2019 – BLOOD: A COMEDY (reading) Best Medicine Rep, Gaithersburg, MD
June 28 – July 4, 2019 – Developmental workshop of ALiEN8 at Drexel University in Philly, PA (with Kate Brennan)
August, 2019 – IF I COULD, IN MY HOOD, I WOULD – Yendor Productions, Newark, NJ
October, 2019 – WAYS TO BE HAPPY at Dreamcatcher Rep in Summit, NJ
November, 2019 – PANTHER HOLLOW at Stockton University
November, 2019 – ALiEN8 at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA
February, 2020 – FIXED at Solid Lines Theatre in St. Louis, MO
I have not written on my blog for awhile. Did you miss me? I’ve actually been over on another website talking about some other projects and I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to tell you all about it.
For a while now, composer Kate Brennan (http://katebrennan1.wixsite.com/katebrennan) and I have been writing what we believe are some very special musicals geared toward young adults. It started when the good folks at McCarter Theater’s Education Program put us together last year to create a new show for their Summer High School Intensive. The result was a show called ALiEN8. Since then, we’ve workshopped ALiEN8 with Ignition Arts in Oklahoma (https://www.ignitionarts.org/) and the show is scheduled for a production at Drexel University in the Fall of 2019. We’re also talking to a few other folks about productions – more on that as it develops. This past summer, we created a new show for McCarter called CLEAN SLATE. We’re currently looking for opportunities to workshop and develop it further.
When Kate and I started discussing this project, we wanted to write shows for YA audiences. Not necessarily HARRY POTTER or HUNGER GAMES knock-offs, but stories that put young people front and center. We’ve been very inspired by the current generation of high school students and their ability to accept cultural differences, whether they have to do with gender, race, religion or nationality.
As a theatre artist and educator, Kate brings years of experience, an exhaustive knowledge of YA literature and her prodigious musical talent to this work. I’ve been writing shows based on the experiences of young people for the better part of two decades. Between the two of us, we’ve managed to create something pretty unique. The young people we’ve worked with have been profoundly inspirational and encouraging. These aren’t educational touring shows about single topics like bullying (although there’s nothing wrong with that – I’ve done those too) but stories inspired by the concerns and passions of young people.
And occasionally there’s time travel, parallel dimensions, mysterious visitors from elsewhere, and a little bit of magic.
I won’t outline the shows here – more info can be found at the ALiEN8 website – https://alien8themusical.wordpress.com/
You can find a synopsis, photos, testimonials, song demos, and more about us. Enjoy!We’d love to see the shows done at the professional level, but we also think that really committed high school and college theatre programs would like them as well.
Okay. That’s it for now. More to come another day – possibly news about a Kickstarter campaign or a concept album (or two).
THE RISE AND FALL OF WAIVE GORDON L’PREVE
By David Lee White
Waive Gordon L’Preve – President of the National Firearms Organization
Mabrid McClinter – The NFO’s spokesperson
Crank – A teenage intern
(We are in Waive Gordon L’Preve’s private room at a large conference center. There is a table, a couple of chairs and a large safe in the corner. There are two doors. The main door leads to the conference hall. There is also a side door which serves as a private entrance and exit.)
“And so, once again, I’d like to thank all the members of the National Firearms Organization for once again electing me, Waive Gordon L’Preve to be your president. I promise that I will…will continue…dammit!” (he pulls out his notes and looks at them, then continues) “Will continue to serve and protect the rights of gun and rifle owners all over this great country of ours.” And then they clap a cheer, applause, applause, applause “Thank you! Thank you!” (He stops. Catches his breath. Wipes his brow.) Whew. Wow. (to himself) Come on, Waive Gordon L’Preve. You can do this.
(MABRID MCCLINTER enters via the side door. She is agitated.)
Mabrid! I was just…uh…
I mean I knew it would take the membership awhile to get used to an attractive woman being the new spokesperson, but some of these guys can’t stop staring at my boobs .
They’ll get used it just like I did. I hardly think about your boobs anymore. Maybe six, seven times a day, tops.
They’re so obvious about it. My eyes are up here!
It’s a new world, Mabrid. Things change. They’ll just have to realize that sometimes that boobs are attached to a real live woman with important things to say.
Here’s the cash box, by the way. Half these guys register for the conference with cash only.
They don’t want their wives to know they’re here. They leave less of a trail this way. Put it in the safe will you?
(MABRID puts the money in the safe.)
You okay, Waive?
You don’t seem right.
Just a little nervous this time.
(CRANK enters via the main door. He is a sullen teenager.)
What’s up, Crank?
I was supposed to come in here and tell you something but now I totally forget what it was.
That doesn’t help me, Crank.
Oh, right. Five minutes until your speech.
How’s it going out there? Natives getting restless?
I can’t tell. It’s like I’m in a dark tunnel. I see things happening but it all seems so far away.I didn’t sleep last night. My head wouldn’t stop thinking about horrible.things. I hate my life.
He was really the best intern out of the whole program, huh?
You just need a couple days off, Crank. You’re doing great work.
When I’m around these people all the time and all they talk about is how dangerous the world is, it starts to get to me, you know?
World’s a rough place. Right Mabrid?
Killers around every corner.
It’s like I’m sinking into a pool of impenetrable darkness. Maybe I just need a girlfriend.
A good woman can turn a man’s life around. Right Mabrid?
I was listening to these people out there talk and it was all about how Mexican immigrants are ruining the country and I started thinking, “Isn’t this racist? It sounds so racist.”
You know, when you think about it, liberals are far more racist than conservatives. I mean you have to really think really hard before it becomes obvious. It almost feels like you’re forcing yourself to believe something that isn’t true. But then eventually, it starts to make sense.
I’m thinking about killing myself if I don’t kiss a girl by the time I’m eighteen. And depending on how things go after that, I might still kill myself.
Oh, don’t be so dramatic. You are an invaluable member of this organization and a real credit to our intern program.
Thanks, Mr. L’Preve.
And when the conference is over, I’m going to take you to the range and we’re gonna release some tension by firing off some rounds. Sound like fun?
Nothing sounds like fun. Maybe if someone told me they loved me, I’d feel better.
I love you, Crank. Now get out there and set up some chairs for the banquet, will you? Help yourself to some chicken salad.
Kids now are so crazy.
Be careful of that one.
These kids get depressed and the next thing you know, they open fire on their classmates.
Crank doesn’t seem depressed to me. He just needs a sandwich.
I don’t know. One more high school kid loses his shit and this whole organization is gonna fold like a house of cards.
But it’s not our fault. It’s mental illness’s fault.
Can’t sue a mental illness, Waive. And you know these libtards are just itching for someone to sue.
It makes me giggle when you say libtard.
Cut it out.
Don’t! I’m gonna be up there giving my opening remarks and I’m gonna hear your voice saying libtard and I’m gonna start laughing!
You have about four minutes to get yourself together.
How do I look?
Nice and shiny.
What gun should I take out there?
That pretty gold one. I thought that was your luck charm.
Smith & Hunter just sent me a new handgun model and it’s a doozy. I thought I should show it off.
Let me see.
(WAIVE goes to the safe, opens it, and pulls out a pistol)
Now, before I do anything with this, I’m gonna check to make sure it’s not loaded. Then you’re gonna check to make sure it’s not loaded. Okay?
I have checked the gun and it is not loaded.
(WAIVE hands the gun to MABRID. She checks it.)
I have also checked the gun and I can confirm it’s not loaded.
Okay. What do you think?
(WAIVE poses with the gun.)
I like it. It’s classy.
I think I’m gonna go with it.
(WAIVE opens his coat, revealing a shoulder holster. He puts the gun in the holster.)
Man. Why am I so nervous?
I’ve done this a thousand times. This should be easy.
You’re under a lot of pressure Waive. Things aren’t like they were ten years ago. Gun owners are an oppressed minority now.
I was listening to MSNBC yesterday –
There was your first mistake.
They were saying such hateful things about me. I just kept thinking…”These people don’t even know me.”
I’m telling you, the media hypes all this stuff up. It’s irrational. They’re trying to make it seem like we’re the bad guys.
We’re not, right? We’re not the bad guys.
Of course not.
Two minutes, Mr. L’Preve.
Wow. My stomach.
I need to sit down. Is this stage fright? Am I getting stage fright? I don’t know if I can go out there.
Now you listen to me Waive Gordon L’Preve. You are an American hero.
And there are thousands of people out there ready to listen to how you’re going to fight for their god given rights. We are under fire, right now. All of us. And I can go out there and talk and let strangers look at my boobs all damn day but that’s not going to inspire them like you are. This is why you were put on this planet. This is your job. You are Waive Gordon L’Preve. Now get up, go out there and kick some ass.
Yes. I can do this.
(WAIVE stands up)
No, Waive. Thank you. Now get out there.
(WAIVE takes the gun out of his holster and goes to the safe.)
You’re not gonna use the Smith & Hunter?
(WAIVE puts the gun in the safe, then takes out a gold gun)
Nope. I think I need my lucky gun.
(The gold gun goes off, shooting MABRID. She falls over, dead, dead, dead.)
(Pause) Mabrid? Mabrid? Oh my God.
You okay, Mr. L’Preve? (sees MABRID’S body) Oh, my God. Oh, sweet lord.
It was…it just…
It was an accident.
Didn’t you check to see if it was loaded? You always check to see if it was loaded!
I checked the other one!
Why didn’t you check that one!
You were supposed to check that one!
I didn’t check that one because you said you were using the other one!
Oh, this is bad. This is real fucking bad.
Don’t curse! There is a code of conduct for the interns at National Firearms and it includes refraining from cursing so stop fucking cursing!
Does the code of conduct include shooting the organization’s spokesperson? Because you just shot the organization’s spokesperson!
It was not my fault!
Well it wasn’t my fault!
It was more your fault than my fault!
Oh, my God. I knew something like this would happen. The world is so awful. God, I’m so depressed.
What do you have to be depressed about?
There’s no way out of this! Walls closing in…sinking into pit of despair –
(There’s a knock on the door)
Waive? You in there?
Don’t come in! I’m…um…masturbating!
I’ll be out in two minutes!
I mean I may as well just die. That’s the only way out of this.
(WAIVE gets an idea)
You know what, Crank? This wasn’t your fault.
No. You’ve been depressed lately, yeah?
Yeah. Pretty bad.
So you haven’t been thinking clearly.
People just don’t understand what that’s like.
It’s true. They don’t.
(WAIVE leads CRANK to a chair and sits him down behind it.)
It’s like everyone is coming after you and no one wants to give you a fair shake.
That’s exactly what it feels like.
(There’s more knocking on the door.)
Waive? Waive? You in there?
(putting the gun in CRANK’s hand)
When the world starts crashing down on you, you’ve got no choice but to defend yourself, right?
Okay, Waive! I know something’s wrong in there! Unlock the door or I’m breaking it down!
Repeat after me. I am not responsible.
I am not responsible.
This is not my fault.
This is not my fault.
(WAIVE goes to the safe, takes out the cash box and tucks it under his arm. The pounding on the door gets louder and louder.)
You just keep saying that over and over.
This is not my fault. I am not responsible.
We’re coming in, Waive!
(WAIVE sneaks out the side door and exits. The pounding on the main door gets louder. CRANK holds out the gun and aims it directly at the main door as the voices outside get louder.)
This is not my fault. I am not responsible. This is not my fault! I am not responsible!
END OF PLAY
On Friday, I was a “room parent” at my son’s school. We went on a field trip to the Palmyra Nature Cove. This is how that went.
It’s nine am and I’m here in my son’s classroom. His name is Nick. Nick is incredibly excited that I’m a roommate for today’s field trip. I’m nervous because sometimes I can barely control Nick. The sheer volume of children in the room is making me delirious. It’s like there are twenty Nicks. There are two other dads going on the field trip. Both of their names are Jeff, so I feel a little left out. I’d feel better prepared if my name was Jeff. Nick has been telling all his classmates that he’s going to take them ghost-hunting. He’s referring to an app I have on my phone that uses the camera to make it look like there are ghosts in the room. A boy comes up to me and says “Are we going ghost hunting?” “Maybe later,” I say.He says “I’m not allowed to go ghost-hunting because my mom says she doesn’t trust you.”
We’re waiting for the buses to arrive. I’m in charge of Nick and his two friends Derek and Jason. A large group of kids is doing a dance move called “The Floss.” It’s this hip-shaky-arm thing that makes no visual sense. – like MC Escher doing hip-hop. One of the teachers looks really frustrated. Eventually, she shouts “Kids! Kids! Everyone has to stop flossing right now! No more flossing!”
I don’t think I’ve been on a school bus since I was in eighth grade. The school’s principal, Mr. Randal, boards the bus.
– “Kids! Can I have your attention! Listen, I know you’re excited to go to the Palmyra Nature Cove. Remember – you can talk when the bus is moving, but you have to use your inside voice because you are *inside* this school bus. But when the bus stops, you have to be quiet. Can anyone tell me why?”
– “BECAUSE SO THE BUS DOESN’T GET IN ANY ACCIDENT!”
– “Sure, okay. Also, I want everyone to be on their best behavior. You are representing the Peter Muschal School. You are all wearing your Peter Muschal t-shirts, right? I’m sending along t-shirts from another school. If anyone gets out of line, your teachers will make you wear a different school’s t-shirt.”
NICK: Can we go ghost hunting dad?
ME: We’ll see. Maybe after the nature hike. The other parents don’t trust me.
NICK: What’s on the nature hike?
ME: I don’t know. Birds, probably. Fish. Frogs. Turtles.
ME: I hope not.
NICK: You hate snakes.
ME: I do.
NICK: You’re afraid of all snakes.
ME: I don’t want to talk about it.
This bus has that school bus smell. I kind of wish one of the kids would vomit. Not because I want anyone to be sick, but I’m remembering the smell of vomit on the school bus and that minty, bleach sawdust that they put on top of it. I think experiencing that trauma is an important part of childhood development. Plus, when I was a kid, we all wanted to sit in the back of the bus because there were so many potholes on the road that the back of the bus would lurch and throw you completely out of your seat and into the aisle. Nowadays, kids wear seatbelts on the bus because they’re soft.
I’m sitting next to one of the Jeffs. He asks me how the playwright business is going. I tell him it’s outstanding and that writing plays is a financially viable skill. He tells me he does market research for a perfume company. He works in the division that puts perfume in laundry detergent and has to do a lot of data gathering. “Sometimes,” he says “I go to other people’s houses. I watch them do laundry and I sniff their dirty clothes.”
A boy turns around in his seat and says his name is Rick. But I shouldn’t call him Rick. I should call him potato. “Guess my last name,” he says. I can’t guess. “Chip!” he says. I have to admit, I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t guess that.
Because I want to document this field trip, I occasionally turn on my voice memo app and say key words into my phone so I don’t forget what happened. It’s because of this that one of the parents is staring at me funny as I look at my phone and say the words “Vomit. Sawdust. Potato Chip. Bus Accident. Someone doesn’t trust me.”
THE NATURE PRESERVE
– “Hi, guys! My name is Lucy and I’ll be your tour guide. We’re gonna go on a nature hike today. We’ll see some of the other parts of the cove. There will be some wild Turkeys. We just got some baby geese so you’ll see them with their mommy and daddy geese. Also, you’ll probably see quite a few snakes.”
– Can I go ghost hunting?
– Pay attention to the tour guide.
– I just want to see your phone for a second.
– Can I take a picture?
– Please, dad?
– I want to take a picture.
– Because you just want to see the ghost hunting app. You don’t really want to take a picture.
– Yes, I do.
– No you don’t.
– Pay attention to the tour guide.
– I want to take a picture.
– Okay. One picture. One. And then give it back. No ghost hunting.
– I’m serious.
– Here’s my phone.
– Thanks. HEY GUYS I’M GONNA GO GHOST HUNTING!
– Give me back my phone!
The tour group is walking along a forest path. Every once in a while, one of them leaps off the path into the grass and I have a tiny stroke because I’m convinced they saw a snake. Then one kid shouts “WHY ARE THERE SO MANY TURDS?” It becomes impossible to control the group once the subject of turds has been brought up. They almost don’t even care about the family of geese that Lucy points out. They are screaming like someone has dropped napalm on them. To be fair, there are an awful lot of turds. But I’ll take stepping on twenty turds over seeing one snake. Kids are so immature.
I’m walking with Jeff #2. He says, “I don’t know how these teachers do it. All these kids. I can barely handle my two. All that screaming. I get so overwhelmed and my brain shuts down and I kind of lose it. I have to, like, breathe deeply and focus so I don’t go crazy. I don’t know how these teachers do it.”
About twenty feet ahead is a flock of wild turkey. They’re amazing – tall and regal. Jeff #2 starts talking to them – not in English, but in Turkey. He can make perfect turkey sounds. One of the turkeys turns to look around at where the noise is coming from. They really are magnificent animals. A few seconds later, I realize that Jeff #2 probably learned to make turkey sounds so he could hunt them. Suddenly, I’m very hungry for turkey.
LUCY: Who wants to see a tadpole?
EVERY KID: MEEEEE!
LUCY: BACK AWAY! BACK AWAY! DO NOT CRUSH THE TADPOLE!
Haven’t seen a snake. Stepped on three turds.
I overhear Jeff #2 talking to Lucy – “One time I went camping and took my two boys on a hike. The fog got so thick I couldn’t see six inches in front of my face. I thought we were gonna be attacked by a bear. My boys wouldn’t be quiet. All that screaming. I get so overwhelmed and my brain shuts down and I kind of lose it. I have to, like, breathe deeply and focus so I don’t go crazy. I don’t know how you teachers do it.”
INSIDE THE WELCOME CENTER
– Hi, guys! Everybody gather around! We’re going to play a game! Who wants to play a game?
– I DO!!!!
– Okay. Well this is a game about bears! Who wants to be the first bear?
– Whoa! Okay! How about you, sir?
– YES! I CAN BE A BEAR! I PLAY FOOTBALL!
– I PLAY HOCKEY!
– I PLAY BASKETBALL!
– I’M A NINJA!
– Okay! You’re all gonna get a chance to be a bear. But the first bear is a special bear. You know why? Because he lost his leg in a trap and has to hop on one foot. We call him “Hoppy Bear!”
– I WANT TO BE HOPPY BEAR TOO!
– NO, I’M HOPPY BEAR!
– I WANT TO BE NINJA BEAR!
– Hold on, now! So Hoppy bear has to collect these cards. I’m gonna scatter them around the room and they have names of plants and berries on them. Each plant and berry is worth a number of points and each bear needs to collect eighty points!
– I WANT TO BE ANOTHER SPECIAL BEAR!
– Okay. You got attacked by a porcupine and the quill went in your eye! So you are “Blind Bear!”
– No. Only temporarily. Here, put on this blindfold. You also have to collect eighty points of plants and berries. The rest of you have nothing wrong with you. You just have to collect the cards. Go!
– (INSERT SEVERAL MINUTES WORTH OF RANDOM CHAOS HERE)
– Okay! Everybody stop! Now add up your cards.
– I GOT TWENTY-FIVE!
– I GOT FIVE!
– I GOT FIFTY!
– I GOT THIRTY-FIVE!
– Well, only two of you got eighty points so you are the only two allowed to live in the forest. The rest of you have to live somewhere else, including “Blind Bear” and “Hoppy Bear.” Does everyone understand why we did this? Why do you think we played this game? Anyone?
OUTSIDE IN THE PICNIC AREA
It’s lunchtime. Nick is done eating his raw broccoli and veggie straws and wants to use the ghost app on my phone. I finally give in. He and about ten kids are running around the lawn looking for ghosts. I kind of figured “What the hell?” It’s lunchtime and there are no activities. But suddenly one of the other parents shouts. “KIDS! KIDS! GET OVER HERE! AND GIVE NICK’S DAD BACK HIS PHONE!” I don’t know this parent, but I’m guessing it’s the one that doesn’t trust me.
BACK ON THE BUS
Sitting next to Jeff #2 on the way home. He says “Man. These teachers are something else, aren’t they? All that screaming. I get so overwhelmed and my brain shuts down and I kind of lose it. I have to, like, breathe deeply and focus so I don’t go crazy. I don’t know how they do it.”
“Everything I’m about to tell you is true. And, fair warning, some of it is upsetting so I’m going to apologize in advance. There are eleven corpses in this show – eight victims of suicide, one tragic accident, one fake dead body and one cat. I apologize for that. I especially apologize for the cat, although it’s not me that kills it. There are references to sex in this show – awkward, humiliating sex or, in my case, the humiliating and awkward lack of sex. I’m sorry. There are also two skinheads, one reference to public fornication, a few ghosts, Satan and Shakespeare. I’m sorry that I take a few potshots at religion although I feel it’s warranted. Also, because of lifelong feelings of self-loathing, I feel the need to say “I’m sorry” for everything you might find offensive and for that, I apologize. So let me just start with the first dead body and you can tick everything off as I go along…”
Can’t wait to bring PANTHER HOLLOW to Luna Stage this Friday (12/15/17). There’s only one performance so get your tickets now at http://www.lunastage.org
In the meantime, here’s an article written by Clara Wilch at the University of Pittsburgh a couple of years ago –
Bringing Light to Dark Places- Pitt alumnus David Lee White on his new one-person play “Panther Hollow”
by Clara Wilch
In a recent conversation with alumnus David Lee White he explained that theatre has “always been what I’ve done. It’s my medium, it’s the language I speak… the only way I’ve ever really seriously interacted with the world.”
White began studying at the University of Pittsburgh as an acting MFA in 1991. Since then, White’s theatre experiences have multiplied along with his talents, expanding to include director and playwright. Among White’s early experiences playwriting were the “great” classes of Pitt’s Dr. Kathleen George, and a staging of an original piece by the school. He is now the Associate Artistic Director and Resident Playwright at Passage Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey. White’s most recent endeavor, the one-man show Panther Hollow, is the newest fruit of White’s lifelong labor and passion for theatre, as well as a deeply personal return to the landscapes of Pittsburgh.
White recently brought Panther Hollow to our city for a performance at the Arcade Comedy Theatre, and is currently in talks with Pitt about an upcoming, on-campus production, the details of which we will be excited to announce.
Panther Hollow is directed by John Augustine and confronts, in comedic and confessional fashion, the darkest point in White’s struggles with clinical depression. He summarizes the potent concept of his play- “Back in 1995, I had just finished grad school and was still living in this run down house in Panther Hollow. One morning, I found a dead body hanging from a tree down the street from my house. I spent the next year cruising therapists, popping meds and trying to piece my broken life back together. When I turned forty-five, I stumbled across my twenty-year old journal and starting piecing the story back together. This show is the result.”
And this result, believe it or not, is hilarious as well as moving. “I’m unable to avoid comedy,” White said, and he does indeed demonstrate excellent humor in discussing even the most difficult of times. Bringing forward the comedy that surrounds serious issues can be “breathtaking” for White, who cited the work of John Guare and Christopher Durang as examples. White accomplishes this same juxtaposition in revisiting the most “internally intense year” of his life with openness and a readiness to make people laugh.
This is not to say the writing process was easy. White says he struggled with how to honestly approach these experiences, how not to judge such loaded subjects or himself. He also wrestled with how to portray that period in a dramatic way because “depression is really kind of boring.” Eventually, enthusiastic audiences convinced him that this is a story they wanted to see told and subjects they wanted confronted. They were drawn in by White and his journey as well as the intriguing atmosphere of Pittsburgh, which developed into an important component of the play. In three words, White describes Pittsburgh as “nostalgic,” “confusing,” and “ever-changing” (an intriguing setting indeed!)
Despite the highly autobiographical content of his play, White’s vision is large- the motivation for telling his own story comes in part from his long-time mental health advocacy. White described how the play is a way of sharing information about the deep and unique structures of depression and illuminating ways of emerging out of it- for those who may suffer, and loved ones who struggle to help them. More basically, it is a means of creating communication and openness about illnesses and even treatments still shrouded in mystery and, too often, stigma.
Through the process of developing the play and facing its challenges, it became “liberating” for the playwright and audiences. White explained, “staging the worst year of your life, and having people laugh at it… to put this out there and share this with other people who’ve experienced this” is a way “to say, ‘Let’s not be embarrassed by it.’” By “it” White does mean depression and mental illness, but he also means any experience that causes people to feel isolated and embarrassed. White’s speaking honestly about difficult and lonely times, the sort that had once ashamed him but in fact help define us all, becomes a way for audiences to regain compassion for themselves and openness towards others. This simple but very important transformation of perspective and emotion is just that sort that theatre is able to create, and a testament to White’s multi-faceted commitment to the form.
Asked to advise young artists less far along on their paths, White offered “don’t wait.” “Don’t worry about whether or not it’s going to make you famous,” he said, “do what you want do as soon as possible. Right away.” It’s a good lesson from someone who has not stopped exploring and discovering his creativity and himself, and who has strengthened and contributed to communities in the process of hard work, honest bravery, and an eye for the humor to be found just about anywhere.