Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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Intermission

February 19th, 2017

Posting on this blog may pick up again now that I’ve actually completed a first draft of my new full-length play, “How We Know You.” While I’m surprised that it took about eight months — especially since I was able to write 26 pages in the first week — but there’s nothing like a deadline to get something finished, and I’ve been seriously cranking away at it again the past two weeks. I think I got it in just under the wire for a first reading that was already announced and already scheduled for Sunday the 5th at 5:30 at Moving Arts. Assuming, that is, that my preferred director doesn’t hate it and he’s able to get it cast in time.

So now I’m celebrating. Although I write a play or two (or more) a year, I think this is my first completed full-length in… three years? Four years? Celebration means:  I went to the gym to burn off all that excess energy after typing “END OF PLAY,” then stopped on my way home to pick up a bottle of Grey Goose, which I’m now drinking with some cranberry juice while munching homemade popcorn and writing this.

While I was at the gym, and, again, celebrating finishing this play, I started to think about the plays that I haven’t finished. Now, in general, I’m someone who finishes what he starts. I believe in that, and also, when I was in a writing program in grad school, one of our teachers counseled us on that. “You have to finish what you start,” he said — and then we never saw him again, because he quit to go take on another writing job. Despite that, I have done my best to heed his advice, even if just because the perversity of his hypocrisy strikes me as funny. But there are some plays that I haven’t finished — yet. Eventually, I will get around to finishing all or most of them, assuming I don’t die first.

(Side note:  Whenever I think of a writer knowing he’s going to die, I’m reminded of Louis L’Amour, whose writing room had stacks of manuscript and letters and papers in every direction all across the room. When he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, L’Amour came home and started going through all those papers, to sort them out and clean them up. But his wife kindly said to him that he needn’t worry, because she’d take care of it — and so, he was able to go back to writing. Every writer should be so lucky as to have a spouse like that.)

Anyway, I have about 35 finished plays, and almost two dozen that are either almost finished, somewhat finished, more fragmentary than the Dead Sea Scrolls, or pretty much just a title and a few lines. Here are some of the unfinished plays I hope to finish writing.

“7 Horns” (full-length)
This play I actually had a developmental process on, and a reading at some college. (Was it Occidental College, alma mater of Barack Obama? I think so.) It’s about a small town facing impending real-estate development.  Interestingly — well, I think it’s interesting — the play had a mother and adult daughter talk about the death of their son/brother; when we were working on the play, there was a mother-daughter duo in our acting company at Moving Arts and they were extremely effective and moving in this scene. Later, I found out that they had indeed lost their son/brother, and they wondered if I had written this scene expressly for them. Nope — just happenstance.
Odds of getting finished:  After the reading, a playwright friend said to me, “You know, developers aren’t evil.” Many years later, I have come around to his way of thinking. So… I’ll need to see if it’s still relevant. To me.

 

“The Bar Plays” (full-length)
 About 20 years ago, I saw a couple of Canadian playwright George F. Walker’s “Suburban Motel Plays,” a cycle  of one-acts connected only by virtue of taking place at the same motel. My thought then:  I could do this, but with a bar!
Odds of getting finished:  To my practical/pragmatic side, It still seems like a very producible side, and I did write one or two of these. The problem is that I don’t go to bars much any more. (In the larger scope of things, maybe that’s not such a problem.) I would have to do research, and I’m not sure this is the sort of research I’d enjoy doing.

 

“The Cratchet Family Christmas” (one-act)
Every July or so I dig this up, and what I’ve got of it still makes at least me laugh. It’s vile and funny and completely unsentimental.
Odds of getting finished:  High, dammit! This must happen!

 

“Creator” (full-length)
A dying literature professor has decided that because he is dying, the universe is dying: It is a projection of his subconscious. His daughter is a professor of modernist literature; they have disagreements over meaning: what is important, what is real.
Odds of getting finished:  I’ve written scene one, scene three, some sort of interlude, and I have notes for some other parts. The problem? In my mind, the literature professor had a compelling argument for why he was the Creator — and in the 14 years since I started this play, I’ve forgotten what it was.

 

“Crotch Rot” (full-length)
I couldn’t remember anything — anything — about this play, so I just looked at it again. It seems  to concern three stinking 20-something members of a grunge band.
Odds of getting finished:  Slim. But I’ll probably pirate the characters or dialogue for something else.

 

“The Epiphany Party” (one-act)
Four female friends mock the celebration of Epiphany by holding a party in which each of them is supposed to have an Epiphany.
Odds of getting finished:  Actually, this is finished. I just don’t like it.

 

“Fear, Inc.” (full-length)
In which the government is orchestrating terror attacks in order to keep the public under control. I should point out that I started this long before the Trump administration came into being.
Odds of getting finished:  This should happen. I mean:  relevance!

 

“I, Teratoma” (full-length)
I’m sure that every playwright has a play in which a blood-sucking tumor named Terry eats its way through family and friends. For laughs. (It’s a comedy. Of sorts.)
Odds of getting finished: Very high! You’ve got to love a play where the playwright has written himself a note that reads, “MAYBE TERRY HAS A MOUTH. OR A SLIT FOR A MOUTH. OR A VAGINAL OPENING ON ITS ‘FACE.’ ” Just writing that here again inspires me to go finish it!

 

“Inspecting Fitzgerald” (one-act? full-length?)
This is comprised of several short scenes featuring Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, including the (in)famous true story of the time Hemingway inspected Fitzgerald’s manhood in a restaurant bathroom.
Odds of getting finished:  I had a reading of the existing pages once and everyone present wanted the rest of the play. But it’s been so long that those people may be dead now. Hemingway and Fitzgerald live on, though, so I should finish this.

 

“Ripped-Up Dog-Face Guy” (one-act? full-length?)
This was inspired by a book my then-8-year-old son was reading, called “The Gardener.” Evidently, Ripped-Up Dog-Face Guy was going to be a character name for me.

Odds of getting finished:  I still love the musicality of that name; that’s really what I was hung up on. But that’s about all I’ve got. I also seem to recall that I was turning this into a song at some point.

 

“Secrets of the Wonder Thing” (full-length)
This is the only sequel I’ve ever attempted. It depicts a dystopian alternate version of our own Earth — one in danger of becoming all too real, under Donald J. Trump — but is actually hopeful in that mass change results from individual action. Even when the individual action is taken by strange people with seemingly useless superpowers.

Odds of getting finished:  Well, the first part, “Anapest,” was produced in London and New York, and had workshop in Los Angeles, New York, and Arkansas. And, again, the topic seems awfully relevant….

 

“Sex in the Year Zero Zero” (full-length)
Like those motel plays, this was going to be a series of somewhat-connected one-acts about sex. Guess in what year I started this.
Odds of getting finished:  Probably. The parts that I’ve already written have gotten readings, and play well. I just need another fifteen years so that I can write knowledgeably about elderly sex, and then I’m all set.

 

“The Never Was” (full-length)
The action cuts between the two surviving members of a rock band and their younger selves, as they reunite in a bar to hash out grievances and, maybe, finally get some recognition because a car company wants to license one of their songs.
Odds of getting finished:  I’ve got forty-one pages written on this play. Including the ending, which I promise you is killer. I know exactly how this play goes. So — I should just finish it. (Clearly, this is a note to myself.)

 

“Troubled Men” (full-length)
This is the full-length version of my one-act “About the Deep Woods Killer,” which concerns the son of a convicted serial killer, who is trying to keep himself together and stay away from alcohol and suicide. “About the Deep Woods Killer” was produced some years ago in Los Angeles and got very strong reviews and, more importantly, made several women in the audience cry. It’s a sensitive play coming from a not-terribly-sensitive guy. (That would be me.)
Odds of getting finished:  Similar to “The Never Was,” I’ve got almost forty pages, including the ending — and it’s a strong one — and I’ve got notes on the rest. So — I should just finish it. I did get a little gun shy when I caught myself doing something I counsel others against — I was writing one character as, clearly, the villain of the piece. Ouch. I’m still embarrassed. So I’d need to fix that, plus, well, just finish it.

 

Other unfinished plays:  “Friends for Life,” “God the Communicator,” “House Arrest,” “Second Ice Age,” “Imperium,” “Ozma of Oz” (my only attempt at a full-length musical), “Play Idea,” “Reactor,” and “Speedy.”

 

I have no doubt I’ll be doing rewrites on “How We Know You.” That’s how the process of playwriting works. But I’d also like to wrap up one of these other ones this year. Which one should it be?

 

That’s entertainment

February 12th, 2017

One night last week, after another full day of Trump, I decided to take my wife to see the touring production of “Motown the Musical” at the Pantages in Hollywood. I’m not generally much for musicals, but I love Motown (who doesn’t?), and I thought it’d be a fun evening out, and a welcome distraction from everything going on in the news:  protests, police actions, presidents breaking the law, and more.

The show was everything I was hoping for:  great songs well-sung, interspersed with some storytelling as we moved chronologically through the history of Motown. If a glance at the program left me wondering just how on Earth the show was going to get through more than sixty hits from the Motown catalog, the show soon clarified it:  while occasionally you’d get the full song, or most of it, for the most part you’d get about three bars, which is the musical equivalent of a nod in the direction of a song you know. Which was frustrating. You’d get keyed up to hear a song you love, and just when you recognized it, it was over. Imagine hearing, say, a “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — but then having it cut off at “Ain’t No–.” It was kinda like that; like ain’t no song finishin’ no how.

That said, the performers were terrific, especially a little boy who completely channeled the pre-adolescent Michael Jackson, and a beautiful honey-voiced young woman who, in an extended sequence that replicated Diana Ross’s solo debut in Las Vegas, reminded everyone present just why Ross was a huge star.

The show also reminded everyone about something else.

As the history moved further and further into the 1960s and later, the backdrop turned to Vietnam and Watergate… and protests, police actions, and presidents breaking the law.

My wife turned to me and said, “Wow. Nothing ever changes, does it?”

Mapping out our past (and our future?)

February 8th, 2017

diversemap

Here’s a map from 1940 showing just how diverse the United States of America has always been. (And an explainer, here.) Just as a reminder to some.

Actual, not alternative, fact

February 7th, 2017

Clearly, California is falling apart. How else to explain that it just surpassed France as the world’s 6th largest economy, even though it’s only one out of 50 states? Sad.

 

No shame

February 3rd, 2017

There’s an awful lot of reprehensible behavior in the world.

But targeting the parents of a murdered little boy represents a subterranean low. Even for the friends and allies of our president.

Outrage

January 30th, 2017

Sure, there are some disconcerting things going on in Washington, DC — but let me tell you about my car.

I drive a hardtop convertible that I like a lot. It’s a BMW 428i, with all sorts of fun and fancy features, including a little button that retracts the hard top into the trunk and lets in all the freshly rain-scrubbed splendor of the Southern California sky. I put this top down frequently because it’s one of the reasons I got the car, and because I can.

I also like how the car accelerates, how it syncs all the music from my phone, how it interacts with my phone, how it helps me find my way around (extremely helpful, because I can get lost from the kitchen to the bathroom), how the seat automatically adjusts for me, and all sorts of other things.

Recently, I’ve been hearing a sloshing sound, the sort that one might hear if one left a half-empty bottle of water on a rear floorboard. When coming to a fast stop, I’d hear this sloshing around. At some point, I pulled over and looked under the seat, but didn’t see a bottle of water, and then opened the trunk but didn’t see a bottle of water in there either, and then looked under the seat again, and then under the passenger seat front and back, and then back in the trunk again, but still found no half-empty bottle of water.

On Friday night, I took my daughter and her boyfriend to the Arclight in Hollywood to see “Split.” I asked my daughter if she could hear that sloshing sound, and she said she could, and so could the boyfriend. When we parked at the theatre, we got out of the car and looked under the seats and inside the trunk and everywhere else we could think to look, but couldn’t find a bottle of water.

On the way back, we all noticed that the sound was gone. Hey, no need to worry about it any more!

On Saturday, I drove down to Corona del Mar to stay over with some friends and although the weather was glorious, I didn’t put down the top. Yesterday, I drove back, unpacked and cleaned up a bit at home, then got back into the car to Moving Arts for the readings of two new plays by friends. I put the top down and reveled in the warm late afternoon sky. I parked in front of the theatre, lifted up  on the button to raise the hardtop — and nothing happened.

I tried again. And nothing happened.

Just as with looking for the elusive bottle of water, I tried it again. And again. With no change in result.

BMWs have warning lights and messages and ding-dongs for any possible thing that might happen. Well do I remember the time in a previous BMW when seemingly the entire dash lit up with alarm to let me know that it was snowing. (Which, you know, I could see by looking through the windshield.) So it’s understandable that I wondered what I was doing wrong because I was getting no such alarm. Finally, I decided to leave the car parked with the top down because it was either that, or just drive back home.

After the readings — and now we’re starting to get to the point of this stem-winding story — I drove home and parked the car in my gated back yard and went online to make a service appointment with the BMW dealer in Glendale, the car being under warranty. The online appointment booking software allowed me to walk through the whole process — but wouldn’t offer any appointments, ever. Not even for weeks again. I tried it on Safari. I tried it on Chrome. I tried it on Google. So I went to Live Chat. No one came on. So I called them. I worked my way through the phone tree to the service department, which asked me to leave a message — but which had a full voicemail box. Finally, I decided to just watch a movie with my family (the remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” which cheapened the meaning of the word “magnificent”).

I got up this morning and, again trying things that previously hadn’t worked, tried to book an appointment via Safari, then Chrome, then Google, then tried Live Chat, then called, and no one picked up, and there was no way to leave a message. (I now think that some surprisingly insecure part of my psyche must suspect that I’m always at fault.) So I just drove over to the BMW dealer, because barring smoke signals, there was no other way to make contact.

I told the service advisor the entire story above and said, “It must be the hydraulic system.” He looked at me and I explained that the sloshing sound was probably a cylinder that controls the top, and the liquid had leaked out, and so there was now no pressure. He duly wrote down what I said, took the car, and got me a “concierge” (a soon-to-be-banned-by-Trump immigrant who told me he’s worked for this dealer for 10 years, and whom I tipped five bucks out of sympathy) to drive me to my office. While they weren’t sure how long they’d have the car — “These convertible hard tops are complicated!” he said — they were out of loaners, and I figured I’d wait to see how long they’d have the car before I figured out what to do. In the meantime, I got to my office, and I arranged for a drop off to a lunch meeting I had, and a pick up after it.

Four hours after I left my car, the service advisor called to say it was ready.

“REALLY?” I asked. After all, “convertible hard tops are complicated!” But he assured me it was ready.

“The window lost its initialization, so we just reset it and it works perfect.” In other words, it’s all computerized and something wasn’t talking to something else.

“You’re sure, right?”

“Oh, yeah. They raised and lowered it five times. Works perfect.”

So I got someone to drop me back off in Glendale, I signed the car out, I shook hands with the service advisor, I got into the car, admired the nice wash and wax they had applied, the music I like got picked up automatically from my phone and started to play, and I buckled my seatbelt and pressed the button to lower the top… and nothing happened.

So, of course, I tried it again. And again.

Then I got out of the car, fuming, and called out “MARCO!!!!” because that’s the service advisor’s name.

I showed him that it didn’t work, and he got in and tested it himself and said again, “They raised and lowered it five times….” which means either he was lying to me, or “they” lied to him.

I said, “This time I get a loaner.” Which he made happen.

And then, as he was filling out new paperwork to reopen the case, I said, “You’ve got a QA problem. Because this is not the first time I’ve been told a car was fixed here, and I’ve picked it up, and it wasn’t.” He agreed. What else was he going to say?

A nice young woman came and got me out of the lounge area, where I was filling the room with smoke coming out of my head from watching some Trump defender getting grilled by Anderson Cooper, and told me that the loaner was ready. It’s a nice, brand-new 2017 black 430i, larger inside than mine. I got in and went to set the navigation — but there isn’t any in this car. And it isn’t synced with my phone. And I can’t field phone calls in it. And it doesn’t know me or my ways at all.

So that’s the really big thing.

Yes, there have been other things going on in the nation today, a day when the president fired the acting attorney general because she had the audacity to uphold the law she had sworn to uphold, but how can any of that compare to our creature comforts? As a friend of mine keeps noting sanguinely on Facebook, he keeps looking out his window and doesn’t see any rubble anywhere.

What to say?

January 29th, 2017

What is there to say about the past eight days that hasn’t already been said elsewhere and better? Nothing, except to say that I’m honestly terrified — by what has already happened to my country, and what the immediate future undoubtedly holds.

Every day I’ve been taking some sort of action in opposition. I marched in the women’s march (and, yes, there were 750,000 of us crammed into downtown Los Angeles in a remarkably friendly, peaceful, thoughtful, considerate protest). I’ve been doing emails and phone calls (and we’ll see if they have any impact). I agreed to help out with the endorsement meeting for Congressman Xavier Becerra’s replacement next Sunday. (Becerra is our new state attorney general, so there’s an opening.) I signed up to help swing a district near me from red to blue.

And, importantly, every day I’m looking for some comfort that, maybe, the reign of terror won’t be permanent. Here are some that I’ve found:

  • On Thursday, I went to a local Democratic club meeting. Normally, it’s hard to get eight people out for this thing. Thirty-eight people showed up — the vast majority of them new to political engagement, and eager to take on Trump.
  • I have many Republican friends — conservative, patriotic, Republican friends who consider Trump a radical and not a conservative, and also a traitor. Some of my well-connected Republican friends have reassured me that we haven’t lost the Republic (yet?) and that we’ll bounce back from this. This piece in The Atlantic, from an actual conservative Republican, supports this line of thought.
  • The ACLU won some victories against the immigration ban.
  • Three million people showed up to march against Trump last Saturday. That’s a lot of people. Assuming that we have elections in two years, that could make quite a difference.
  • Finally, even Dick Cheney says Trump’s immigration ban is un-American: “Well, I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.”

I have no idea what’s going to happen with all this, and neither does anyone else. Except I’m sure it’s going to get worse. In the meantime, we need to do our best to enjoy the day, be grateful for what we’ve got, and fight for what we believe in.

Focusing on the positive

January 20th, 2017
  • It rained again in Los Angeles, and we need the rain. And when the clouds parted around 3 o’clock, the sky was beautiful and clean and the air was fresh and crisp.
  • I had a pretty good lunch at Pickup Stix, a fresh Asian place, and a nice time with my friend and business partner during it.
  • A kind lady came to my office and gave me an EKG (I’m buying more life insurance) and I aced that yet again.
  • I had an extremely enjoyable discussion about values with good people in Pasadena.
  • Someone who works for me unexpectedly thanked us for how he’s been able to learn and grow under our mentorship over the past three years, and then he left early to go buy a new car. That really felt good.
  • And shortly I’m going home to enjoy my wife and family and play a game or watch a movie and have a little wine and maybe read a comic book or two.

Some of us are going to need this sort of positive reinforcement for a while.

Advice for today and every day

January 20th, 2017

FondFarewell

Don’t hope for the best.

Work for the best.

Where Obama is going in retirement

January 19th, 2017

It’s not where you think.