running time: fifteen minutes
setting: a house in the woods in another world
Halcyone, a disgraced noblewoman
Poppy, her mother, a cook
Septimus, their footman
Leviathon, their cat
Aurora, a queen
Zora, her sister
Cavaradossi, an adventuring aristocrat
Halcyone lives in a house in the woods while her sister, who has become queen, wages a war against a multitude of opponents, including their father. A dreamer, deeply insecure about herself (the king her sister married was once Halcyone’s lover), Halcyone has made a habit of allowing herself to be seduced frequently by passing strangers. This often results in the birth of babies who eventually turn into pigs and then usually die under mysterious circumstances (it is eventually revealed that Halcyone’s mother kills them out of pity). Despite visits from a pair of queens leading a rebellion against Halcyone’s sister, the depressed noblewoman wallows in her sadness, only bonding with her cat, whose predatory nature makes for an ambiguous friendship. Eventually, after her latest lover abandons her again, Halcyone comes to understand that she must be the change she constantly yearns for and when an invitation from her sister (which is a thinly disguised deathtrap) arrives, Halcyone abandons her latest child and goes to meet her death.
This troubled and troubling little play was inspired by the summer I spent in a production of Alice in Wonderland, playing several roles, including the frog footman in the Duchess scene and the Knave of Hearts. The Duchess scene is a particularly bizarre episode from the book often dropped in stage and film adaptations, in which little Alice encounters an aristocrat living in isolation whose baby mysteriously turns into a pig. One day I was chatting with the actor playing the Duchess (it was a drag role in our production), Geoffrey Nolan, and when I asked him about his take on this particular moment in the story he said, “This isn’t the first time it’s happened to her” and for some reason that stuck with me- and haunted me- all the rest of the summer. When I sat down to write this play (originally as a birthday present for the production’s producer, Karen Offereins), both of my characters became the inspiration for Septimus and Cavaradossi, respectively, and the Duchess was transformed in Halcyone- a beautiful, ethereal song of despair. It is, arguably, the most depressing play I have ever written. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t some funny lines, because there are, but it’s basically a long suicide note and it took three drafts and getting through its first production for me to realize I wanted this play to be happier than it was- and to be uplifting, when it wasn’t. Because it was staged as part of the tenth annual Bay One Acts festival there is a printed version of it now out there in the anthology they do each year and while that doesn’t bother me per se the play does have the unique distinction of being the only piece I have ever heavily revised POST production. Which is really interesting when you consider how short it is. But wallowing in despair isn’t an easy headspace for me to get into and the fact that this began as an Alice in Wonderland revision (and remains so, though with less “wink wink” to it now) stopped me from going where the script really needed to go until after I was confronted with it in performance multiple times. Which is not necessarily a bad thing (is anything that results in better work a bad thing?) but it was a new experience to have and now I’m rather fond of this dark little gem. Maybe because, like the mutant pig babies the heroine is cursed with, it was such an unusual birth.
Women’s Will, March 6, 10, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, 23, 25, 26, 2011, part of the Bay One Acts Festival 10, at Boxcar Theater in San Francisco, California. Directed by Kate Jopson; Art Direction by Cody Rishell; Costumes by Kate Jopson; Lighting by Wil Turner IV; Sound by Brendan Aanes; Scenery by Maya Linke; Stage Managed by Amber Couture. Cast: Sylvia Burboeck (Halcyone), Ryan Hebert (Cavaradossi), Tristan Cunningham (Leviathon), AJ Davenport (Poppy), Myron Freedman (Septimus), Valerie Wagenfeld (Aurora), Maura Halloran (Zora)