Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Past Curfew" by Arthur M. Jolly (play script review)


This script is available for sale in physical form only at the time of this writing (the ebook didn't work for me):

Official author website: http://arthurjolly.com


Title: "Past Curfew" 
Author: Arthur M. Jolly
Time and Setting: (Contemproary- first staged in 2010)
Genre: Drama
Length: 43 pages
Naja's debauchery rating: (PG-13) for for language, adult situations and sexual content

This is one of the few playwrights who will allow strangers on the internet to use his monologues for free. He's also one of the few free monologue writers whose work will conform to most schools' requirements for their students' monologues:
  • The monologue is from a play, not a movie, novel, short story, or a monologue book. It is not a stand-alone piece, or your or your friends' writings. 
  • It's been produced on stage. 
  • There are no accents. 
  • It's under five minutes.
  • It's contemporary (written after 1950, although the cut-off dates do vary).
I found and practiced this monologue here from a play called Past Curfew. I bought the script in order to analyze and learn more about the monologue's character, an alcoholic mother rambes about what her life might have been if she hadn't had a baby. It's a great monologue with some really calloused words directed at her daughter. In other words, it's great drama that jumps straight into conflict. An actor can't ever know how well he or she is doing without video taping him or herself, but I have always suspected that I and most others don't do as well with subtle as they do with big (don't practice in the mirror to try and find out either. I'm hoping to write a book about acting one day, and that book is going to recommend against practicing in the mirror).

I came at this monologue from the standpoint that the mother was attempting to get her daughter to show affection for her by having her fill a drink. The daughter seemed not to comply, so I thought it was reasonable to play the mother as having suddenly felt compelled to use her resentment, a venom constantly circulating through her, as something which could be tapped and used to punish her daughter by releasing some of it in a long, steady, painful flow. I approached the mother as someone running so low on emotional, physical and mental resources, that she didn't have the energy to form and uphold a system of ethics that would prevent her from using tactics like that in order to get what she felt she needed in order to keep going another day.

Unfortunately, I enjoyed the monologue a whole lot more than the play. I had different expectations for the character, Sarah, and was really disappointed. None of the aforementioned character development I did for the monologue transferred to the monologue.

This play is about the mother and daughter exclusively, and divides its attention between them equally. I found this 50-50 division distracting. The conflict s mainly due to the struggle for independence that Sarah's teenaged daughter has. Kristie (age 17, relative to Sarah's age 34) openly despises her overbearing, mean-spirited, alcoholic mother. Technically, the play has a third part for a 17 year old boy, but he is definitely a foil for the ladies.

Unfortunately, the mother has a very good sense of humor and the daughter does not. The mother is quick-witted and clever, and the daughter is not. The mother is experienced and is more right more often than her daughter. Kristie's boyfriend, Michael, wants to whisk her away to Hollywood and Sarah seems much too right about her skepticism about his Hollywood idea working out well. I guess this is a realistic portrayal of how this family's dynamics could be, but Sarah is right most of the time and only paranoid or offensive about 30% of the time, so she too often comes across as sensible and caring.

Sarah is not a perfect mother, but she just seems a little uneducated. She seems to care a great deal and the daughter does not. I felt that that was a problem in terms of creating a good sense of equally matched enemies playing spoons. In the monologue, I felt that Sarah was a formidable force against the just and matronly love we have come to expect from parents. The mother seemed to have had the misfortune of being born in a small town cesspool of ideas, so one often has very little choice but to find the mother very interesting and likable and the daughter much less so. You understand both characters, but you just can't like a teenaged girl who calls her own mother a whore and a slut and a bitch and slaps her. To get away with that, the girl has to have a much more interesting or sympathetic personality or she needs to be pushed much, much farther than she was. Although the play addresses cutting, and maybe that's a tie-in with how the daughter is so much less alive than the mother (if we assume that cutting done by teenaged girls is done in order to release an over-abundance of repressed feelings), it still doesn't make for an interesting bit of conflict. Actually, the way Sarah handles it only furthers the imbalance in terms of which character is more obviously the likable, reasonable one whose feelings or opinions should be trusted.

Kristie has her youth going for her in terms of likability and also her good-girl persona, but it isn't enough unless you have just the right bird-like daintiness in the actress playing her. I have a hard time imagining such a thing, but of course, that doesn't mean it would be impossible to pull off.

I never felt that the play acknowledged the daughter's part in the family fights. The daughter never demonstrated much if any care much for her mother, which seems highly unnatural. No matter how much a broken down teen is going to dispassionately renounce his or her family, there's got to be some traces of "before" the attachment was severed, unless the kid just doesn't really attach to people aside from how he or she was raised, and that's certainly not very easy to relate to. If I don't see that mixture of attached and detached particles floating around this kind of character, I just think that the author(s) have been watching too many movies or reading too much fiction without reading  enough self help or psychology books. And even that is pretty bad compared to getting the information directly from talking with and observing real kids who have had a difficult time growing up.

But Kristie literally says she never cared for her mother to her mother's face after very little provocation. I don't believe it, unless the actress is going to read those lines like Kristie is lying and in denial. But I don't know if that's the performance that is expected or not based on the text.

Even after we find that Kristie has to take her mother to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, and even after Sarah slaps her daughter too, I did not feel that Sarah was at all wrong to slap her daughter after the things she said to her. It's wrong for a parent to do that, but I was still also left thinking, "Heh. Good for you. That kid is such a brat! Why haven't you kicked her out of the house and left this hick town? Just go. You go to Hollywood..."

But although Sarah is more sympathetic, she's still definitely not all that sympathetic and engaging. I would have felt as though Sarah was a lot more worthy of my emotional investment if she was the only main character and if we focused on her guilt or her conflict with the exploitative, slimy men in her life. But we definitely get the impression that the daughter is supposed to be the good guy. I never bought it. The mother's raving was always more silly and sad than anything- like that rose cutting scene or that wire hangar scene from Mommy Dearest. Personally, I felt a lot more sorry for the mothers and their problems as they struggled to lavish more attention and trinkets and love on their kids than most of us could ever dream of. A wire hangar through clothes? Are you kidding me? Living in mansions with servants when you could have been born in the middle ages, or a war zone, or my fucking alley... just having to put with your mother's... eccentricity that developed while she was working under pressures and circumstances most of us could never imagine in an era of double standards! And you did nothing but reap all the benefits of her wealth when she never even had to have you at all? The wire hangars negates all of those benefits! You disobeyed your mom and she got mad you? *gasp* No! No one else's mother would ever do that, and if they did, it would clearly be evidence of insanity.

The most startling thing was how this monologue was never actually in the play. I kept looking for it, and when I found it, it was in bits and pieces from several different lines of dialog from a multiple, very different scenes. In the play, a lot of stuff happens between all the scathing words Sarah is saying to her daughter. In the monologue, it's a straight shot of flaming, radioactive venom lobbed at her daughter during a blind alcoholic haze. But in the play, Sarah is just saying those lines of dialog as cold, metered carefully dosed responses to her daughter's much more intense, much less reasonable hate. The monologue was a fun, irrational, lively tirade- great for the stage- but, my little drama queens, you will not get any of that in the play.

But at least the character, Sarah, is still... basically the same in both pieces of writing. She's still humorous, self-degrading and trapped in crusty, out-of-date ways of thinking, buying into a small town's double-standard for men's and women's sexuality. I never once felt like I could blame Sarah for her mistrustful,  overbearing attitude toward her daughter since she seemed like such a product of her environment. She was flawed and made some hurtful mistakes, but at the same time, she was kind of admirable for sticking it out in the town that had hurt her so much, waiting for the moment that she could finally figure out what went wrong. Waiting for that one key thing that would unlock the personal meaning in those experiences.

The one major thing that bothered me about the play was how Sarah never once seemed to rebel against this out-dated belief system, and her daughter never encouraged her to either even though she was younger and had access to more ideas and more criticism of more ideas through school and the internet. Maybe this is a common thing! I grew up in a medium-sized versus a small town. It was really, really different from living here in SoCal. I've only visited small towns. The stories I heard there were phenomenal, but it would take effort to really put myself in that situation on a substantial, gut-level (and I'm getting out of practice with doing it too). But I was under the impression that the play had no awareness whatsoever of this kind of double-standard as a common problem.

I get tired of old ideas really quickly and that's one I thought most people were already aware of and had processed. I get really impatient with people who haven't figured out basics like that, but I think everyone has different levels of tolerance for old and new ideas.

In my opinion, because an old idea is always going to be new to someone, or because people may have been approached with a good idea in an unreasonable manner, or have seen a basic, obvious idea like that one bundled in packages with other ideas that don't make sense, or perhaps because an obvious idea is entangled with unresolved emotional baggage that limits impersonal objectivity, we need to approach social issues like physicists. We need to identify the problem we're solving for, we need to identify the system, the surroundings, and all the forces acting on the bodies in that system, and we need to look for predictable, repeatable formulas that describe recipes for emotional disaster.

I strongly question free will. We feel before we think. Impulses and signals move through our body before conscious awareness of those impulses is possible. We don't often view moral issues or drama as being as predictable as the gears turning in an alarm clock, but I think this is how our emotional lives go. It's unfortunate that we often run wild with our ethics without questioning whether or not ethical behavior is  subjective in the first place. What if we can calculate pain? I guess we connect this idea of rigid moral truth with the fear of the negative effects of religion or any dogma that ends in unexpectedly negative consequences.

I felt that the play believed it was, and rightly so, a universally-held opinion that Sarah was terrible and that Kristie was destined to have wonderful sexual relationships in contrast because she was planning to sleep with boys like Michael that she felt a genuine connection with. I don't think that's how reality works.

A mother is supposed to protect her kids, but Sarah just didn't have the social skills necessary to do it in a respectful way. But I didn't feel that was the point the play was going for.

It wasn't a tragedy. It wasn't a comedy. It was a fairly bland, unpleasant drama with its humor coming from the villain. I know this review is ending on a fairly negative note, but I still definitely recommend the monologue, and so I also have to recommend reading the play in order to know where Sarah is coming from and where she is heading.

The official page for Past Curfewhttp://www.arthurjolly.com/pastcurfew.html


The poster for Past Cerfew's 2010 premiere.