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


New playwright premiere

Yes, I did go see Waiting for Godot at the Taper on Friday night, and it was marvelous. It was surprising how fresh and entertaining the play was, and how moving in its conclusion, especially given how many times I’ve seen productions of it. Big congrats to the cast, director Michael Arabian, all the designers, and everyone else involved, on a flawless production.

But there’s another production that I’d like to talk about at greater length.

On Tuesday night I was able to see another play, this one the world premiere reading of a new play that marked the literary debut of a promising new playwright: my daughter Emma. Emma is an 8th grader who participated in a program at her school by Center Theatre Group — the folks who put on that Waiting for Godot production you should see — wherein students work for many weeks with a playwright who is a teaching artist to learn how plays work, and how to write one. Over the course of the school year, they do improv games, write scenes and lines of dialogue, and get to work with professional actors, culminating in an evening of readings by those professional actors. (One of whom, it turns out, was Rob Nagle, whom I’ve worked with at Moving Arts.) Eight of these brief plays, each of them co-authored by small groups of the students, were performed on Tuesday night by the actors.

Here’s the plot of the play by my 13-year-old daughter and her co-authors:

A father asks his (13-year-old?) daughter if she’s done her homework. She says she wants to watch TV first. (As I was watching this unfold, I was immediately hooked by the theatricality of this setup. I closely related to it, and its inherently theatrical complications.) He gets angry and loses his cool — so the daughter and her mother leave. They just get on a bus and leave town. For good. And then the father is angry with himself (for enforcing homework, I guess).

Clearly, there’s a lesson here for all of us, and that lesson was not lost on me: Be careful about how you insist on homework getting done, lest your wife and daughter get on a bus and leave town for good.

Over the years, I have made appearances in the writing of other people I’ve known, sometimes in poems, sometimes in plays or stories or essays, sometimes thinly disguised and sometimes not. One time I went to the reading of a play at the Pasadena Playhouse by someone I know and the characters were discussing another character, unseen in the play, who seemed rather much like me, and whose character name was “Mr. Wochner.” That seemed eerily similar to my own name, which is “Mr. Wochner.” So I have had previous experience of seeing a character that might or might not be based upon me shown in another light. But to be the abject villain of a piece — a piece written in part by my daughter, in which our heroine simply wants to watch TV unfettered by the necessities of homework — was new. And to witness the wretched state that the encounter with a demanding father left the mother and daughter in as they rode the bus to a faraway town was to leave me questioning my approach to homework. (Mother: “Do you think we’ll be okay?” Daughter: “I don’t know.”)

I was impressed with all eight of the students’ plays. They were funny, they were dark, they were brave, and they were untrammeled by the proclivities of professional playwriting that insists upon such things as subtext. In these plays, what is said is what is meant, and that made me hunger for such a world, where if we don’t want to go somewhere we say it, where if we want something from each other we just demand it immediately with the expectation that it will be given. The evening was a window into the mind of 13-year-olds, and that made for an experience I’ll long remember. And I offer this as proof: Tonight I took my family out to dinner, and then when we got home, we watched some TV. And when it was over, and only when it was over, did I tell my daughter to go do her homework. I don’t want to find her with a one-way bus ticket to elsewhere.


7 Responses to “New playwright premiere”

  1. Dan Says:

    I had no idea you & your family had such a Dickensian relationship, Mr. Murdstone.

  2. Werner Trieschmann Says:

    I read all of this and I just think, “13! You have a daughter that’s 13!” Seriously, congrats to her for the play and the not-so-subtle message.

  3. Ellen Lewis Says:

    I absolutely love this, Lee. Your daughter is following in your playwriting footsteps!

    I’ve done a couple projects where I’ve gotten to read the work of young playwrights and talk with them about it, and it’s so much fun! In one of my favorites, the action all took place on a raft, inside the belly of a whale (which had swallowed our young protagonists). The raft was in danger of melting from the belly acids of the whale. There was a battle with sharks, which had also been swallowed. It was great. Kids!

  4. Joe Says:

    …. beckettian.

  5. Mark Chaet Says:

    In grad school, which happened before I ever took up acting, I made a short film called “Grades”, in which a little girl (played by my film making partner, a young adult) has to show her terrible report card to her dissolute parents. She climbs the shadowy staircase, gives her report card to her father (played by me, because the actor cast in the role failed to show up), father freaks out…and shoots her. The end. Yes, even then I was a genius with a streak of violence.

  6. Lee Wochner Says:

    Mark, I must see this film. Tell me it still exists!

  7. leewochner.com » Blog Archive » Young playwrights get early break Says:

    […] Three years ago, my then-13-year-old daughter had her first play read by professional actors. (Here’s that story again.) […]

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