The Play (Dialogue) Is the Thing.
I’m near the end of a latter draft-a stage script I’ve been working on for about two years or so, with some time off. Comedy, with a few touching (one hopes) moments.
It’s the first full length play I have written. I like it. I think it’s funny when it should be. The plot is not complicated, but I hope the dialogue is fun for most people to listen to. And of course, fun for future actors to deliver.
The plot is straight forward for the most parts. Not many sharp twists and turns. Maybe a surprise here and there, but nothing to blow people away. It wasn’t designed to blow people away.
Some people will argue against this, but I’ve always felt that in script if the characters are memorable and the dialogue fun to both speak and listen to, half the work if not more, is done.
I’ve been in theatre for a lot of years now, in all kinds of different plays. Some had complicated plots, and some had virtually no plot. Everything in between. And while upon reading a script I can be impressed with plot depth or twists to a certain extent, as an actor it means little if none of the characters say anything memorable.
This is not to suggest that plot doesn’t matter in a play. Of course it does. But Shakespeare himself wasn’t considered a keen plotter. In fact, most of his plots are structured around plots that already existed. May not be totally fair of me to pull the Bard out like that to prove my point, but when it fits it fits; Shakespeare is not beloved for his plots. he is beloved for his language and characters.
But set him aside for a moment. Goldman’s “The Lion in Winter” (in which I played Geoffrey once) is bar none my favorite non-Shakespeare script. At times it dips its toes into “convoluted plot” territory. But I, and I imagine many thousands of people over the years (thanks in part to the movie version as well) find it easier to overlook some of that thickening plot due to the absolute brilliance of the dialogue. Seriously, if you took the 30th best line in this script and put it in just about any other play, it would be the best line of that play.
But if the characters were flat? If their speeches were droning, repetitive affairs? The script would deservedly be long forgotten, if it ever would have been published and produced at all.
Boring characters doing something interesting will to me always lose out in a head to head battle against fascinating people doing mundane things.
Even in such genres as farce, wherein nothing is to be taken at face value and nobody represents any realistic person, we still must recall the nature of a character and what he or she brought to the absurdity. Otherwise, it’s boring people yelling, falling, and slamming doors for two hours. Who cares?
Other people will almost certainly not be amazed by the plot of this play I am writing. But I hope they will remember with a smile the characters and some of what they say.
If that happens, I will have done my job as a playwright.