My new play Ligature Marks will open next week on July 17 at The Brick’s Game Play 2013 festival. Here’s a few basic facts about it:
What’s it about? It’s about 75 minutes long. Possibly shorter. I promise.
Okay, I’ll quit being a dick. It’s about a super messed-up couple. Terry just got out of prison and all he wants to do is play his online multiplayer game Noir. Jill loves him beyond all reason or dignity. So in order to make sure she never has to live without him, the two of them plan the perfect crime.
My frequent collaborator Jordana Williams (director of Frankenstein Upstairs, The Particulars, and many other shows) is directing. Which is a damn good thing.
I’m acting in it with one of my favorite actors, Rebecca Comtois. We acted together in a play in ’06 that her brother wrote called The Adventures of Nervous-Boy and had a blast, so I’ve been looking for a way to act with her again ever since.
It’s not based on a dream.
Let me expand on that last bit. I wrote Ligature Marks under somewhat unusual circumstances. I’d just finished my sci-fi/horror play Frankenstein Upstairs, which was a big long epic drink of water. Usually when I finish a play, I’m tapped out for a while, and the last thing I want to do is write anything: not an email, not a tweet, not anything.
But I had this weird leftover burst of… something after Frankenstein. Energy? Or it might have been compulsion more than energy. Or maybe compulsion’s a form of energy, I don’t know. But I’d had Ligature Marks in my head for a couple years, and my brain was suddenly like, “Okay, it’s crowning! I guess we’re doing this!” As a result, in an odd way,Ligature feels like a twisted B-side to Frankenstein: there’s all these motifs and words and images that crop up in both plays, despite the fact that they’re mostly quite different.
You’d never guess watching Ligature Marks that I wrote most of it in a weird feverish sleep-deprived state over a week in Costa Rica. It’s so deeply set in the middle America of Panera and under-employment that it seems wrong that I hand-wrote a big chunk of it in a tiny plane while flying to a remote area of the Costa Rican rainforest. But that’s how it happened. And as a result, some deeply strange stuff emerged.
Because to a certain extent, Ligature Marks is a format-play straight out of the Mac Rogers Kit. I’ve developed a basic structure I’m very fond of, that I return to again and again: an ordinary contemporary setting with at least somewhat relatable characters that is suddenly invaded by the genre world. My basic structure is: science fiction, horror, or mystery either creeps or stomps into your living room. (It’s a structure derived from the that beloved, seminal artist from which all playwrights get their ideas: I’m referring of course to Stephen King.) And Ligature Marks follows that format, on the surface: it’s about two ordinary people who’s lives are invaded by a noir-style crime story.
Except… there’s something off about this play. Jill and Terry feel strange, grotesque, hopeful in a way I haven’t attempted before. I understand their behavior emotionally, but I don’t totally understand it rationally. And at around the mid-point, the play takes a turn that I don’t completely understand, even though I wrote it. The people in the story begin to change, and I made a conscious decision to not know exactly how or why. Despite writing this play and acting in one of its two roles, I don’t completely comperehend what happens in the last third of this play.
And that was a conscious choice. I decided to take advantage of that sleep-deprivation, that dislocation I felt in Costa Rica. Like I said, the play’s not based on a dream – I did that once many years ago, but normally getting ideas from dreams is really not my style – but I did make a calculated choice to let my brain slip down to that subterranean place where my irrational, reptilian terrors are. Louis CK did a great job of explaining this red-curtained room in one of his recent stand-ups when he warned against the hazards of sleeping too long:
“For eight hours, your dreams are your brain taking your memories and your fears and putting them in order. After eight hours, if you stay asleep, your brain looks at you like, ‘Okay, you wanna see some shit? I mean, if you wanna fuck around, I’ll show you some shit, I got some shit here. You wanna find out who you really are, you sure you wanna stick around for the late show? ‘Cause this gets fucked up now. Maybe you forgot about… THIS!’ [EVIL GARGLING SOUND]”
I’m the opposite, of CK. For me, if I’m severely sleep-deprived, as I was going into that Costa Rican vacation, that’s like a shortcut to CK’s “late show.” And it’s not a place I normally like to go when playwriting. I haven’t for many years. I’m scared of the “late show.” But I knew it was the right place to go with this play. Video games kind of always feel like a dream world to me. And noir is the genre for me, much more than horror, that seems to grow directly out of my nightmares.
So I decided to dig down a little bit. I don’t know if I’ll do that again for a while, but I’m glad I did it this time. If you’d like to come check out the results, we open on July 17th at 8pm. That may not sound like a late show, but trust me, it is.