Captain Spaulding on Skull Island

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Raven Theatre, where I’m lucky enough to be employed, is currently doing The House of Blue Leaves by John Guare.  I’ve long enjoyed Guare’s work, so I wrote up an appreciation of him for a Raven e-blast.  We weren’t able to use my musings, but I thought I might share them here.

So here it is.

Really, Really, Really Funny Darkness: An Appreciation of John Guare

I’ve always been a fan of dark comedy.  Whether reading novels by Kurt Vonnegut or Neil Gaiman, or watching movies like Barton Fink, Brazil or Arsenic and Old Lace, stories that make me laugh but also make me wonder if I’m supposed to be laughing have always been my cup of tea.

My first exposure to the work of John Guare was in college when I stage managed a production of his short play A Day For Surprises.  In the play, one of the stone lions in front of New York’s Public Library comes to life and eats one of the lady librarians.

What a revelation!  This short, absurd play about love and grief and the unpredictability of life and was both so funny and so dark at the same time that I had to track down more of this playwright’s work, all of which had that same duality that I found so wonderful.

Oddly enough, The House of Blue Leaves was not one of Guare’s plays that I read in that initial frenzy. A few years later, I was lucky enough to see a production. Everything I loved about A Day For Surprises was in The House of Blue Leaves a thousand fold – so many moments of laugh-out-loud humor, but underneath it all darkness bubbling right below the surface.  The ending left me shocked, but with a sense that it was, really, the only ending that worked for these desperate characters.

The following year I had my first play produced, Dr. Goat: Goat Doctor.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, The House of Blue Leaves had a major influence on my script.  Dr. Goat had that same sense of bizarre wackiness, yet ended on a very, very sinister note. The majority of my plays since then have had that absurd, darkly comic tone.

In its own way, darkness sheds light on the travails all of us face in life.  Unlike Guare’s protagonist Artie Shaughnessy, we may not have a wife who acts like a dog, or a mischievous son who’s gone AWOL from the army, or party-crashing nuns that won’t leave our apartment – but we all have moments where we feel our life should be a little bit more.

And isn’t laughing at that a good thing?

JOHN WEAGLY’s short plays have received over 100 productions by theaters around the world.  His collection of shorts Tales of the Twinkling Twilight was seen on Raven’s stage in 2012 and he co-adapted Raven’s holiday hit Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Goose with Artistic Director Michael Menendian. He can be found online at www.johnweagly.com.

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