I'm working on a new play - a man running for re-election, and filled with self doubt. Here's the first few pages:
AT RISE: Evening.
Dark brooding shadows blanket the walls, with only defused light from distant windows to make the darkness uneven. Overhead lights
cast unflattering pools of lights intermittently
around the portico floors. At rise MISTER PRESIDENT is standing quietly, lost in thought. CHARLIE enters.
(Speaking into a
I found him. South Portico. No, it’s ok, we’re coming.
(To MISTER PRESIDENT)
Mister President? Excuse me, sir.
What is it, Charlie?
We need to go back in.
I have my coat. It’s ok.
They want to go over your speech one more time.
Oh. Well that’s nice.
You’re on the air in twenty minutes.
“Fellow Americans. Good evening.
Buenas noches. Erev tov. Masa el-khair. This is your President
speaking, and I’m taking this opportunity to formally announce that I am
running for re-election. Now there’s a surprise. And why am I doing this? That
is the question, isn’t it? Because the past four years have not been as bad as
everyone predicted they would be, and the consensus of opinion now suggests
that with me in office the next four years will more than likely be just about
the same – and that’s not a bad thing, now is it? Because I’ve looked over the
other candidates – I’m sure you have, too – and wondered just what rock most of
them crawled out from under. I’m doing this because it’s expected I would do
Because to do anything else would be to admit
defeat - for some obscure reason a journalistic underling will create - in his
spare time - on a Sunday afternoon fifteen years from now. I’m doing this
because I enjoy bleeding – especially in public.” Did I say it right?
I think you said it all.
I haven’t even started.
You don’t really feel that way.
Sometimes, Charlie. Sometimes.
You don’t intend to say anything like that on television, do
Probably not. No. Of course not.
We should be going in.
Do you know what someone asked me the other day?
The, uh, the national vegetable something festival. The
kids? You remember.
We should be going in.
Charlie. Humor me.
So there we are, sailing along smartly if I do say so
myself, and they never once suspected the only way I recognize corn is because
it says so on the can. I mean, I was born and raised in Detroit, for God’s
sake, what did they expect?
And if you tell me one more time we should be going in, I
will fire you on the spot.
So – anyway – we’re sailing through the Q and A section –
yes, I have a dog, yes, his name is Herman, no, he does not sleep with me, and
this little poop holds up one hand – red hair? Freckles? Looks like Howdy
Doody? Google it. Anyway, I can already taste the dirty martini that’s waiting
for me, when “Why do you want to be President again?” And this stops me dead in
my tracks. Why did I want to be President again? Do you know who our greatest
President was? Don’t answer that – I’ll tell you. George Washington. Thoughts?
None I’d care to share at the moment.
Wise decision. Now I am aware that in saying that, scholars
will most certainly disagree, and categorically declare Jefferson as our
greatest President – or Lincoln, Roosevelt, whomever, and they will give you
every reason in the world to support their assumptions. And they would be
wrong. Washington was the man. And why? Because he served his term and then
quit. He did his best in the time allotted to him by the Constitution and then
packed up his bags and went home. The man could have been king! Certainly half
the country wanted a king. But he knew – for the good of the nation he helped
create – when it was time to step off the stage.
Are you saying that’s what you should do?
Thinking about it. Howdy Doody got me thinking about it. Why
did I want to be President again? For that matter, why did I want to be
president in the first place? Four years
ago I could tell you – did tell you.
I want to be President because I have a vision for America – a passion. And the
course of action is – was – so very very clear. Four years later the vision is
not so clear. I want to … finish what I started. Something like that. Do you
know the White House has a cook on staff twenty-four hours a day?
Honestly. I want to be re-elected because I hate the thought
of giving up hot fudge sundaes at three-thirty in the morning. Real fudge –
home made. Where do they come up with it? I don’t know. How’s that for
incentive? Not only that, but – are you bored?
No sir. Not a bit.
No I didn’t. Sir. Respectfully.
If I’m boring you, the Governor of Pango-Pango is still
complaining because he hasn’t found someone to clean the goose droppings off
the capital steps on a regular basis. Say the magic word and the job is yours.
Mister President …
(HE holds an
imaginary cell phone to his ear and speaks into it.)
Hello Air Force? Do you have anything that on a good day
might make it to the American Samoa Islands? Perfect. Thank you.
(HE puts the “phone”
back in his pocket.)
Mister President …
You’re in luck – booked first class on the Amelia Earhart
Special. Non-stop. Well, …
Now that’s a low blow.
Why are you doing this?
Bushido. Death before dishonor. You do it every time you run
“If I’m not elected, I can claim I didn’t want the job in
the first place.”
Charlie, Charlie …
Forgive me, Mister President, but
that’s the truth.
At the moment I am in the process of writing five plays simultaneously.
I never planned to do that - who would?
Two of the plays are on commission. Fortunately they are both short - twenty minutes each. One is about politics, the other is open to whatever I want (so it's about politics as well. The first company will get a choice.)
Play three is actually one my wife and I wrote together six years ago, and has spent its life sitting on a shelf. Her book, PAINTING THE RAIN, is a novelized version of the play. In short, people started asking about the play, so it is being dusted off and polished.
Play four is another co-author deal. I have a friend (another contest winning playwright), and we are writing a play together about elves. (Not Elvis - elves!) Since she lives in another state, we email dialogue back and forth in Dropbox. So far this has been quite enjoyable.
And play five is, I suppose, another political. A man is running for President, and bit by bit you discover he is in an asylum and mentally ... uh ... insecure. The point here being that anyone who runs for President (and has any clue at all in regard to what's going to happen to him) cannot possibly be entirely sane, Cute idea. I hope it works.
Ok, I have a story to tell you. Many years ago
(MANY years ago) I was in an Equity waiver production of “Wonderful Town,”
written by Leonard Bernstein. (“Equity Waiver” meaning the leads were Equity,
the supporting cast was whatever was capable of walking and chewing gum at the
same time. Yes – I was one of them.) We were opening in Ft. Wayne Indiana at a
quite respectable theatre when we got work that Bernstein himself might come to
see our show. (We were one of the first groups outside of New York to actually
produce this musical.) On the night he was scheduled to attend, we outdid
ourselves … (What if he likes me? What if HE likes ME?) I mean, he was doing
SOMETHING in Cleveland at the time. What if …?) But he didn’t show. Instead, he
sent a 21-year-old LACKY to see OUR show and EVALUATE IT to the great maestro.
I remember, greatly disappointed, standing backstage and listening to this
character sing our praises – that we had done good, that he would tell
Bernstein that we had done him proud – yeah yeah yeah. Bullshit. Most of our
cast dispersed. (There was a bar two blocks away we called home.) I felt sorry for
this guy – obviously he had made a 200-mile-trip for a less than enthusiastic
response. So as the cast departed, I invited him to join us. “I can’t,” he
responded, “got to get back to Cleveland.” We shook hands in parting. “Jack
Petersen,” I said, “glad to meet you.” “Steve,” he responded. “Steve,” I asked.
“Sondheim,” he responded, “Steve Sondheim.”
With the encouragement of my wife, I've decided to attempt to write a story (I'm far more comfortable with writing plays.) So, for your consideration, here is a small section. The character "speaking" was born in India in 1930, so the time now would be about 1946.
Sometime in the sixteenth year of my life my
father came to me with the following offer. “Son, I think it’s time to buy you
a new suit.”
‘Thank you,” I replied. I was both pleased and honestly perplexed.
Unless he wanted something, my father rarely spoke to me. And the thought that
he wanted to participate in some aspect of my life was quite beyond my
“Would you like to know why?” My father was being both tenacious and
purposely vague. And he was enjoying every moment of our conversation.
Yes, thank you, I would.” If this conversation reads as somewhat
stilted, it’s because I honestly don’t remember it. Nor do I recall much of
what would happen in the next few days. However, because the events occurred,
it seems probable this conversation occurred, as well.
“It’s for your wedding day.”
This snippet of information shouldn’t have come to me as any great
revelation. In the caste system practiced throughout India, my place was quite
near the bottom of the social food chain. The way of life was well laid out,
and had been refined over many generations. You were born, worked, married,
worked, produced children, worked, and died. It was that simple. Life was
orderly and without surprises. Everyone seemed quite content.
Well, almost everyone. I believe with an almost certainty that all human
beings are basically optimistic. I believe that disaster will strike someone
else before it strikes me. The fallacy in this logic was that I didn’t know
anyone else, so when my turn came it caught me completely by surprise.
My mother gushed. “Her name is Alisia, and she’s definitely above your
station.” I’m not sure I truly appreciated my mother when she gushed. This was
in fact the first time I had ever seen her do it, and I’m sure I didn’t
“I had to work hard for this match. It wasn’t easy. Her grandfather is a
true Brit, I certainly hope you understand what that means!”
waited for my mother to pause for breath. It would prove to be a long wait.
“No, you don’t. I can tell by your expression that you have no idea what
this could mean for your future. Well. Believe me, I’ll be pleased to tell you.
It means that … and that … and that … not only in this life, but in several
lifetimes to come! So you just think about that!”
She said other things. I know she did. Her voice began to echo in my
head. The tone of her voice became deeper until it was nothing more than a
grumble of sound, not unlike that of distant thunder. At the same time, the
edges of my vision darkened, and it appeared that moving objects were slowing
My mind withdrew to some safe place, and the processing of information
became questionable. I moved hypnotized through the next few days. I know there
were people around me. I know there was a ceremony of some sort - I can vaguely
remember a blur of orange and white.
Awareness returned to me in a snap. One moment I was in our small
kitchen, talking to my mother. In the next moment I was in my own room, and
across from me was … the enemy.
She was sitting on my only chair. I was sitting on the bed. She was
thin. I was thin. She stared at the floor. I stared at her. Her hands were
folded in her lap. My hands were folded in my lap. She was wearing her
one-and-only sari. I was wearing my one-and-only suit. Her eyes were red, her
nose was running, and she had a nervous cough. I had … my one-and-only suit.
Great. She was already ahead of me on points. Neither one of us spoke a word.
Eventually I fell asleep. I think she did the same.
For an artist,
inspiration starts with a gnawing hunger. No hunger, no inspiration, no
art. Culture defines civilizations. Art
where I’m going with this thought process. A friend bemoaned the fact that
people in the dramatic arts are paid less than their counterparts working in
Walmart. And, unfortunately, I believe this to be true in the broadest sense.
Actors have the only unions where ninety percent of the membership is
unemployed at any given moment. Art is a luxury. Food and shelter come first
(as they should). Yet art defines us. Look at any generation. What comes to
mind ? Music? Movies? Clothing styles? It’s all art. Even architecture falls
under someone’s artistic impression
(or lack thereof.) During World War Two Winston Churchill was criticized for
not cutting the Arts budget for England. His reply? “If we do that, what are we
So Art is
appreciated. Established Art is appreciated. Something – or someone – has to be
around long enough to attract an audience. There are places everywhere (and IN XANADU is no exception) where “followers” are courted. Have enough followers
and you win a prize. (I’m still waiting.) The point is, an artist is
acknowledged. That is, he or she has put together enough of a body of work to
create a style to which audiences gravitate.
So we have been
talking about someone who, after years of perseverance, has “made it.” Well and
good for that person.
But what about
the poor shmuck working equally hard, who has yet to be discovered? (And, isn’t
this the majority of us?) Regardless of the potential for rewards, a person in
arts needs to express beyond what ‘normal” life will allow. If you have never
been there, it’s like a drug. However, because the need to express is an end
goal, the need to be understood and appreciated falls into second place.
Because of this, when the dust settles, the artist realizes that he or she has
placed a low price on him or herself as a commodity. It’s a psychological Catch-22.
Lower the price, reach more people. Raise the price, reach fewer. Like race
horses, artists have traditionally been supported by the very rich, and I
suspect for many of the same reasons …
Will this change
at any time in the future? I doubt it. Look around. The value of an individual
artist’s work usually only increases dramatically after he or she has been dead
for a period of time.
It started when I became a major winner in a playwriting contest in Indiana. At the same time my agent dropped off the face of the earth. The two events together started me in a new direction. Since my wife is a published novelist on Amazon, I got the idea of doing the same thing - publishing plays on Amazon. Sixteen of 'em, all re-written in Amazon-speak. Took months.
Anyway. After looking at all this stuff put together, I was impressed. Never had "collected works" before.
Here they are. I'd love for you to look around, give me your impression. Click here.
Writing has picked up considerably. So has exposure, apparently.
I entered a short play in a local contest. It won a presentation, which was a week or so ago. I attended, and I must tell you, it's always a grand feeling when you see people saying your words, expressing your thoughts ...
I entered TWO one-act plays in a contest in Atlanta, Georgia. This was months ago, and I have been told that both are still in consideration. ONE would be fine, but the chances that both are still in the running, well, that is rare indeed, and I am certainly honored.
In mid summer I entered one of my better plays in the Writer's Digest Playwriting Competition. Results will be announcer in the Spring. Modestly, my plays have always placed well in this contest during previous years, and they graciously gush over my work. Still, who knows? Maybe somebody will see this one and do something ... (And why not? I'm having a good year so far.)
A play I wrote for a competition in Indiana is also doing well. The man in charge has called me several times, and I'm impressed by how impressed HE is. I really do hope this one wins - serious money here.
And all this has inspired me, at least to some degree. I'm in the process of writing a sequel to one of my earlier plays. Never done that before. Fun and very interesting.
So there you have it - ego trip all the way, but I wanted you to know what's been going on in my life.
I posted this on Facebook and got such a response that I thought I would re-post it here.
I have been reading with great interest about our growing
itch to involve ourselves in the Syrian civil war. We are presently approaching
the point where Congress and the Senate will approve the President’s request to
punish the President of Syria for (supposedly) gassing his own people.
brings three questions to my mind.
First, who are we gonna hit? I don’t see
good guy-bad guy here. I see bad guy-worse guy here. They keep changing
positions, and none of them at all like us very much.
Second, we will go in there
on the pretext that gassing people is a bad thing. Isn’t the implication there,
then, that dropping bombs on them is acceptable?
And third, I don’t have enough
of the facts. I certainly don’t trust any news service. Everyone seems to have his
own spin on what is or should be the proper course of action, based on inside
information only a select few posess. For whatever reason, Russian President
Vladimir Putin seems to be the only mature intelligent voice out there, and
that truly does scare me. Truth is, nobody wants us there. And, as bad as it
is, it’s a civil war. My thinking is that as long as the conflict remains
within the borders of Syria, it would be in our best interests to stay out
of it. On the other hand, when have we ever done that?
As a writer, I've enjoyed my share of success. Certainly I've seen a number of my plays produced. But there was always a quality to that effort - everything being a "hands on" experience, up to a point. Then I got my agent who lives in Oregon (I've had two agents as a playwright. The first one lived in South Carolina and worked tirelessly for me. seven days a week.) And, perhaps that's the point - my last agent was selective, allowing opportunities to pass that I felt should have been investigated. (On the other hand, he booked one of my plays at a theatre in Edinburgh Scotland I never thought would have happened, since in it I poke fun - lightly - at the Scots.) The point of all this is that my agent and I have parted company, and I am once again booking my own plays, making my own decisions (and keeping the 15% commission). Shall I find another agent? Of course. Eventually. In the meantime I'm looking, and finding the present situation not entirely unpleasant.
And I'm starting a new play. The babe and I went to a Farmer's Market last weekend and I bought a loaf of bread from a charming baker who told me she loves her work, and would "bake bread 24 hours a day if (her) husband would let her." With that thought, I was hooked - and am in process of writing a one-act about a woman who gets up at 2:30 in the morning to start a loaf of bread baking, and then goes back to bed. The entire play is dialogue between husband and wife IN the bed. (And for those gentile readers who might be shocked about a play where a man and woman are in bed together, I would point out the fact that since they ARE married, there will not even be the suggestion of sex involved ...)
For the first time in a goodly number of years, I'm not directing any plays, nor do I have any scheduled in the near future. I would never have thought this - lack - would bother me, but it does! (One of the great secrets of relaxation is to yell at actors for a couple of hours and then go somewhere and have a very dry martini.) As a point of interest, the last theatre I worked for just entered their first play in a contest without me. (They came in at a dismal last place ...)
Just this week I got back from visiting my new doctor ... (I've outlived my previous THREE. What does that tell you?} Anyway, I received a completely clean bill of health. (And this somewhat surprises me. I've rarely done anything to actually deserve that.
... except perhaps one thing. I love to walk, and am blessed with an abundance of parks nearby. Two days ago I found myself on a pier, half a mile in length, that surrounds a peninsula. The pier is just off shore, and if there's a purpose to it all, I certainly can't find it. There's not even a play here. Fiction, unlike reality, must make sense somewhere along the line.
Today is Friday, August 23rd, 2013 at exactly 9:01 PM, according to the little measurer of time that's built into my computer. I don't know why I feel that it's important to have said that, except that when I post these things sometimes it says it's 2:47 in the morning and it really isn't.
I entered two plays in a contest today - in a city where I once worked. In fact, the theatre where the plays will be read is a building I helped design, and then moved away before the first shovel of sod was turned over. Just thinking about it gave me an odd feeling. And it still does at this very moment.
I was offered the opportunity to co-direct a play written by a friend of mine. After attending a couple of rehearsals I dropped out. Without going into a lot of details, have you ever been involved in a project and every instinct in you is telling you to leave by the nearest exit? (I co-directed a play a couple of years ago, and I should have known better this time. It's like two men in a canoe trying furiously to paddle in different directions at the same time.)
I am acting as an advisor (only) to another friend who is also directing a play. It came to me that for the first time in half a century I don't have a play of my own to direct. I have purposely backed away - for awhile - so I could do some serious writing, but it's amazing how quickly you can find yourself out of touch.
I feel better now. Thank you for allowing me to bring you up to date on my musings.
Another 4th of July has come and gone. I know there were parades. I didn't go. It's not that I'm lacking in patriotism - I'm not. But in those periods of time when we are not at war with ... somebody, we quickly forget why we celebrate this holiday in the first place. Let's face it - veterans marching down the street are not nearly as interesting as the well-endowed pageant queen in the back seat of an open convertible. (For that matter, when was the last time you actually saw veterans marching down the street?)
And so, we choose to honor High School marching bands, clowns on miniature motorcycles, and candidates for political office. We have replaced flag carriers with participants in bed races. And perhaps this is a good thing. Germany and Japan, once our most bitter enemies, have prospered with our help and become our strong supporters. Russia actually needs us now for a number of economic reasons, and England - (Remember them? That's where all this started.) England has almost blindly followed us in too many of our adventures ... (Think not? Ask Tony Blair. Isn't he presently the British representative to the South Pole?)
So I stay home - listen to the fireworks (and gun fire) from a respectable distance. I drink a shot of Vodka in Mexican beer to all those who have gone before me and those who have followed. God bless you! I thank you for your sacrifices. I would love to think we have learned something from our history, and that your descendants will never be called upon to follow in your footsteps ...
In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn a stately pleasure-dome decree: where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea. So twice five miles of fertile ground with walls and towers were girdled round: And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
Jack Bunny is the alter ego of a playwright, theatrical director, and drama critic. If you are at a party and see a 150 pound rabbit at the punch bowl, it might be him!
(On the other hand, it might also mean that perhaps you should step away from the punch bowl for awhile.)
ANOTHER DUMB GHOST STORY (Full length)
THE REVENANT (Full length)
CORIE (Full length)
MORGAN (Full length)
VOLLEYS (Full length)
ELYCE TIMES ONE (Full length - written with J.E. Ocean)
THE DISENCHANTED FROG (Children's One-act)
THE ART OF BUILDING BRIDGES (One-act)
FROM MY VANTAGE POINT (One-act)
THE TRIAL (One-act)
WHAT'S NEW IN LATHERDUE? (Reader theatre One-act)
ROUGH DRAFT (One-act)
THE GRAND GILDER (One-act)
Old friend remembered
We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
George Bernard Shaw
I hate writing, I love having written.
If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.
It must be summer. I can smell California burning.
Starbucks is where certain relationships go to die.
I can only answer the question 'What am I to do?' if I can answer the prior question, 'Of what story do I find myself a part?'
Walmart always makes me cry ...
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.
The Bible in the hand of one man is more dangerous than a whiskey bottle in the hand of another.
Can people stop dying please? Just for a little bit. maybe.
Mettle not in the affairs of Dragons, for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.
He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise in heart.
Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.
This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
In my many years I have come to the conclusion that one useless person is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a Congress.
Wearing underwear is as formal as I get.
"Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain ..."
Our revels now are ended.
These, our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, and, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.