running time: fifty minutes
setting: a prison cell at the top of a castle tower
Beatrice, a young woman imprisoned for murder
Haemon, a political prisoner sharing her cell
Tybalt, a nobleman and brother to Beatrice’s husband
Ursula, handmaiden to Beatrice
Mutius, the jailer, mute
The Angel, a winged, vengeful manifestation of Beatrice’s will
Beatrice has been imprisoned after murdering her husband. Awaiting her execution in the cell of Haemon, a political prisoner, they philosophize about the cruel nature of the world they live in and eventually Beatrice confesses to having killed her husband because she was in love with his brother, Tybalt. Beatrice’s servant, Ursula, arrives with the news that despite pleas and protests on her behalf, the Prince has signed her death warrant and she will be hung in the morning. Tybalt arrives shortly after with an alternative: the Prince will let Beatrice go free if she agrees to marry Tybalt and become his responsibility. Afraid of her own rage and will, and unwilling to walk into yet another potentially disastrous marriage, Beatrice declines the offer, choosing instead to die and thus escape a world she feels she can now never belong to, having given in completely to her previously unknown dark side. She exchanges her chance at freedom to win Haemon his, and thus redeemed, goes to her execution a martyr instead of a murderess.
My early work is categorized by two fairly consistent qualities: a focus on women as the central characters and a morbid, almost unforgiving, bleak aesthetic centered around purification through pain. I still do think we tend to learn the most about ourselves when the chips are down, and discover our true strengths only after our egos have been dismantled and left us vulnerable to change, but apparently back then I felt you couldn’t send that message with comic relief or even a balanced sense of universal light and dark. Certainly one couldn’t learn this lesson and win, or even survive, and while I do tend to think the world remains a place of fairly shallow and small-minded people, I’m comforted to see that hope is something which eventually found its way into my work (not to mention tolerance of other viewpoints and personality types). This remains my most depressing play, despite having re-tooled the ending since the original production, but in a strange way it’s also one of my most passionate- you can really see me pouring my heart out into Beatrice and Haemon and Tybalt- the last of whom is actually the most interesting character in the piece, being both the hero and the antagonist. Because I wrote this when I was so young there’s a lack of theater tricks and audience sensibility that leaves the poetry and darkness of my teenage soul quite unobscured, and something about that pleases me. But on the other hand, I can’t really see this being produced again, partly because of its lack of finesse but mostly due to its unceasing morbidity. Even the soundscape of the play, all the dialogue set against muted screams and sounds of torture, seems intended to hammer into the audience’s head that life is pain. And while there’s a great deal of truth to that, life is also joy. And in my opinion, a good drama shows a little bit of both. One more interesting note: the angel’s speeches are all written in Elizabethan sonnet format, something I thought very clever at the time, despite the somewhat embarrassing fact that the play is set in the fourteenth century. This could be why I still don’t write very many period pieces.
Catalina Foothills High School, December 15, 1995, part of the “New Play Festival” held in the CFHS Little Theater in Tucson, Arizona. Directed by Stuart Eugene Bousel; Assistant Directed by Stacy Lynn Flatt; Costumes by Juli Golder; Lighting by Todd Spencer; Sound by Stacy Lynn Flatt. Cast: Amelia Doyle (Beatrice), Stuart Eugene Bousel (Haemon), James Ackerman (Tybalt), Katherine Wilding (Ursula), Daniel Ribiero (Mutius), Evan Schaffer (The Angel)