running time: two hours
setting: Italy and England
period: The Edwardian Age through World War II
The Stage Directions, who tells us the Stage Directions which are not just Stage Directions.
Eustace, an English orphan who is a ward of his cousin Harcourt.
Lord Harcourt Worters, an English aristocrat who travels the world.
Lady Mary Worters, his mother.
Leyland Inskip, an American tutor, educating Eustace at Harcourt’s expense.
Miss Beaumont, an Indian woman, Harcourt’s fiancé.
Graham Lucas, a middle-class Englishman.
Mrs. Lucas, his wife.
Emily Lucas, their daughter, quite serious.
Rose Lucas, her twin, quite romantic.
Reverand Sandbach, an Anglican minister in love with Rose.
The Boy, who tells us the story, which is not just a story.
A red croquet ball falls from the sky and the Narrator tells us there will be no explanation for it. At the close of the 19th century, two English families- the aristocratic Worters and the middle class Lucas family- picnic on the slopes of a mountain in Italy accompanied by an English reverend. When the youngest member of the party, petulant teenager Eustace, carves a whistle out of a stick and blows on it, they are suddenly visited by a supernatural force none of them can identify or describe. Upon returning to their hotel, Eustace begins to exhibit strange behavior, eventually bursting through the window of his room and running off into the night. The story then shifts to several years later, when Eustace, now preparing to leave for University, has grown into a more socially adjusted, if moody, intellectual. He lives with his cousin, Lord Harcourt Worters, who has returned from an excursion East with an Indian bride, known as Miss Beaumont. She is secretly the object of Eustace’s affection. Harcourt buys his fiancé a small woodland but decides to fence it in after a young boy is caught carving his name in the trees. Miss Beaumont objects and then runs away one night after she and Harcourt argue, vanishing. Eustace, who Harcourt had sent away after the boy humiliated him, publishes a successful book of poems about a dryad, and eventually marries Rose Lucas, who had met years before at the picnic in Italy. Harcourt attempts suicide but is prevented from killing himself when he is accidentally shot by Leyland, his secretary. His mother sends him to Italy to recuperate, where he is part of a traveling party that includes Mr. Lucas and his other daughter, Emily. Near a small village in Italy where a miraculous spring gushes from a shattered tree, Mr. Lucas decides he does not wish to return to England and Rose, Leyland, and Harcourt, unable to convince him to move, let him remain. Years later, Eustace, now quite old, gets off a train on his way to a poetry lecture and follows a woman who looks like Miss Beaumont through a hedge on a country road. On the other side he finds a croquet match in session, all the participants people from his life. A young boy, who has appeared throughout the play but never been identified, hands Eustace a croquet mallet and he hits the red croquet ball through the first hoop of the game.
To say this play was a difficult birth would be an understatement, but it was, and I haven’t gone back since its first public reading. I should because I’ve had some exceptionally divisive response (always a sign that something is going on), and in many ways it’s one of the most experimental pieces I’ve ever written, and contains some truly exceptional and eloquent moments. Based on a collection of short stories by E.M. Forster, one of my favorite writers and strongest influences, I didn’t set out to do an adaptation but was attempting to write a musical based on the various legends of the god Pan. The problem was that one, I had never written a musical before and didn’t really know where to begin and two, having finished See Also All, Pastorella, Everybody Here Says Hello! and the adaptation of Rat Girl in the year before, I was both emotionally and creatively drained, and didn’t know what I wanted to say- or if there was anything to say. I wasn’t feeling joyous, and Pan is all about joy. Struggling to find something, I re-read Forster’s collection Celestial Omnibus, and decided to finally attempt to adapt it. What followed was a rough couple of months writing under a pressure not usually one I like to be under, but what emerged was a strange and beautiful tale about the cycle of life, change, destruction, and healing: exactly where I was at, at the time. The play is not a strict adaptation of Celestial Omnibus, the title story is never even referenced in the play, and characters from separate stories are combined to create a loose narrative arc, but it is very Forster, with several parts composed of collages of Forster’s quotes and other works, and the principal tales of Eustace and Miss Beaumont largely intact from the book. The play is experimental, structurally, in a number of ways, but perhaps most experimental is the Stage Directions, which are written as direct addresses to the audience, as if they were being narrated, often discussing the philosophical and theological implications of what is going on in the play. That the Stage Directions might end up being the best character was never my intention, but it is more or less what happened, and would prove to be the chief challenge (but also primary appeal) in attempting a full staging of the play. Still, considering Forster’s own narrative style and pension for the strange but charming, I can’t imagine getting rid of them or telling this story any other way and having it be as powerful as the reading proved to be. Maybe it’s because in the end, it’s a play about figuring out what we really need in a world full of noise and distractions, and the Stage Directions, with their gleeful clarity and refusal to be anything besides Stage Directions, albeit charming ones, best exemplifies this idea, and that everything we perceive as outside of us, comes from within, if we’ll just listen to it.
No Nude Men Productions, November 8 2014, part of the San Francisco Olympians Festival at the EXIT Theatre, San Francisco, California. Directed by Stuart Bousel; Artwork by Brian Yee. Cast: Stuart Bousel (Narrator), Megan Briggs (Mrs. Lucas), Andrew Calabrese (Mr. Lucas), Mikey Conner (Boy), Alisha Ehrlich (Rose/Emily), James Grady (Harcourt), Brian Martin (Eustace), Radhika Rao, Nickolas Rice (Leyland Inskip), Kim Saunders (Lady Worters), Ron Talbot (Reverand Sandbach)