Dennis Smeal, literary manager for the Arden, discusses the workshop of his new play, Meticulous Gentlemen.
So the name of the play is Meticulous Gentlemen and I wrote the first draft exactly two years ago. When it wasn’t immediately greeted with unanimous praise, submitted for the Pulitzer Prize for best unproduced play and placed on the Arden production schedule, Terry told me, “Smeal, if you wanted to write an easily producible play, you would have. But you didn’t. You wrote a play that needs a workshop first, and you want a 68 year old British actor and a 45 year old American actor with very specific looks and sexual orientations which you probably shouldn’t reveal if you ever actually get that workshop and find yourself blogging about it.” Terry actually said some of that – the first part. Anyway, the workshop is finally happening and what is unspoken and unpromised and TOTALLY the elephant in the room is that if all goes well and I do my job and turn this rough draft into something that will amuse and inform and transport Arden audiences to another world through the miracle of storytelling, it might (finances, designers and actors availability pending) make it onto the production schedule next year!
The first day of the workshop consisted of the actors, Russell Leib (Caroline, or Change) and Ian Merrill Peakes (All My Sons, etc.) reading the play once straight through, and then reading through the first act and talking about it. This was the absolutely first time I’d ever heard the play out loud per Terry’s request. I had never been able to hold out before but now that Terry is the director of an Obie Award nominated play and an Emmy nominated short film, I guess we all should maybe pay a little more attention to what he says, right?
The actors read the play. The actors are awesome. The play has its moment. (Oops that was a typo. I meant to say “moments” but think I should leave it that way now. Maybe it’s a Freudian slip. Well, not exactly Freudian because it’s not sexual, so more of a non-Freudian slip. I guess that would be just a slip.) But you know what IS sexual? This play. It’s actually got sex stuff I can’t describe on a website your children might read. And it’s gay. The Arden is going to try to tell you that you don’t have to be gay to like this play, and while that’s true enough, trust me, you’ll like it best if you’re gay or you know someone who’s gay or you wish you were gay or you wish you knew someone who’s gay. ‘Cause there’s a lot of gay in this play. For example, the word “gay” is used 72 times in the play. To be fair, 9 of those times is in rapid succession and in reference to a beloved American composer who isn’t Sondheim. That’s actually a good test of whether you would like this play. If you know who that probably is, you would like this play. If you don’t know who that is or might be, you ought to see this play anyway because while you might not like it, it will be good for you.
Anyway, bottom line at the end of day one – the first act has some problems and apparently it’s the playwright’s job to fix them. So I take my script to Fork where the lovely Ellen is leaving to go to a holiday party in a lovely black frock and after a hug from her I get to work. Hugs from Ellen are one of my playwriting secrets. Ssshh. I don’t need Michael Hollinger or Bruce Graham hearing about this. They already have the advantage of having been born with a lot more words than I was. Terry seems to think they just make better use of their time and talents but I know it’s all in the number of words you were born with. By the way, at Fork, I have the Chef’s Selection of tapas which includes the most amazing calamari ever, delicious albondigas, and a pretty terrific crab cake in a spicy but not too spicy aioli. I sit at the bar for four hours and rewrite the first 30 pages of the play, trying to make it “flow” better and hopefully making it less “bumpy”. Here’s what I try to do. I try to NOT be smart, ’cause I like to be smart but being smart is easy. I try instead to be honest, which is hard. That’s one of the interesting things about storytelling.
You’re making something up, which is inherently a lie, but then you have to make it honest if you really want anyone to connect with it. So basically the rule is “Lie honestly.” So this is what I try to do. Then back to the Artist’s House to type the pages, call home and get some sleep.