The Trilogy is Over

Yesterday I put the finishing touches on Space Carl OR How to Get Lost on Planet Venus *no relation. Thus closes what accidentally became a trilogy.

In The Untitled Pirate Play, after a bad breakup, Carl sets off on a hero’s journey like young Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. The ambition of the other characters is more than enough to propel the play, and Carl spends most of the story hiding or in the brig. When he finally tries to take a stand, other plot elements have come together at that moment to destroy the ship he’s on. The play is about ambition and the corruption of power, and in the end both the guilty and the innocent suffer the consequences. Carl is the only survivor.

There was something delicious about taking the form of the hero’s journey, positioning a character as a lead, and then having this character have no impact on the play.

In And Then, She Picks Up the Sword, Carl happens to be an attendant to the obnoxious Prince Driftwood who is supposed to marry Princess Wimberley. He spends most of the play having lost all his memories and thinking that he’s a dragon. He dies when his heart is used to make a potion, but he’s resurrected with a borrowed heart. He misses the climax of the play.

The process for creating this play was innovative – based on a student’s set design – but a major element was that this was my response to elements of Shakespeare rom coms that bother me – essentially, how the love stories happen. Initially Carl appeared as a wink to people who knew Pirate, but he ended up having his own transcendent moment at the end… and I knew he needed a story of his own.

I have a complicated relationship with the hero’s journey, both as a trope and a structure. Structurally, it centers the entire story on the actions of an individual, and the ‘right’ way for the story to end is through their choices. Luke blows up the Death Star; Odysseus defeats Penelope’s suitors. I question this for a number of reasons that I won’t get into. It’s also considered a ‘masculine’ form, and is usually centered on men. I wanted to make a play that both uses and subverts the hero’s journey genre. And the ending of Space Carl, I hope, does this – his body is ‘hosting’ an alien organism, he escapes the climax, the villains are defeated by poetry, and more.

Gender representation is an issue. I did worry that it would appear that I’d written three plays for male leads, but I also know that Carl’s impact is so negligible on Pirate Play and he’s such a side character in Sword that he’s not actually a lead in either. Part of the joy is that the audience may expect him to be the protagonist, but he’s not. Also, it doesn’t change either play to have him be a Carla.

In Space Carl  I knew that pretty much any part could be played by any gender, but I also knew that if you’re trying to subvert a masculine genre, when you make the lead a woman, the statement on the subverted structure becomes, “This is the GIRL version of a hero’s journey. It’s not a real hero’s journey.” For our production, I did end up casting a young woman, though she’ll play it as a guy for that reason.

The beautiful thing about making a play set in space is that gender explodes and the limitations that are usually placed on casting go out the window. On his journey, Carl stumbles on his ex, but his ex had an encounter with a body switcher, so ANYONE can play that part. The ex (named JJJJ) has a second ex, but this character has also switched bodies. As for the other aliens, what I realized was that, although most sci fi universe bifurcate genders into male and female, you could just as easily have a species with one or five or six hundred genders, which means that every part could be played by anyone.

Why is this important now? One of the first questions people making theatre with young people ask about a play is ‘how many boy  roles and how many girl roles?’  This question bothers me on many levels (not the least of which is that there are many trans and non-binary kids coming out at younger ages, and this question is insensitive to them). It gives me great joy to write a play where, should this be produced by others, that question becomes meaningless.

Anyway, there’s a new play in this world now, and I love it.


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