Having digressed religiously yesterday from my intended subject of my second long play, Magick, weʼll return to the track today.
Magick came out of the summer after Janet and I married in May (and had to cancel our still-becalmed honeymoon/vacation in Bermuda — after four or five postponements by the then-travel agent to adjust for many snow days — because our then-superintendent couldnʼt count to 180, and so we had to add five extra days of school as May began, which is how we ended up honeymooning in romantic, exotic Minneapolis). We were living in the little apartment on Maple Street then, and I spent the long dreamy days of summer reading all the books I wanted to read, of course, and also tomes on black magic as well as writing my then-newest play. The black magic was research, of course.
I donʼt know what possessed me to decide to write another long play, besides: probably attempting to impress Janet, getting really quite mad at televangelista mendacious power-seeking (and Herr Robertsonʼs normal wild irrationality and self-promotion — whatever happened to the virtue of humility?), thinking about social pressures and popular girls (Tina Fey is such a Janey-come-lately), pondering Judaism, investigting Kabbalah and black magic (I actually bought a little black paperback entitled Necromicon at a strange and tiny little bookstore in a strip mall on Highway 20 West in Dubuque — and still have it… somewhere, oh Great Cthulhu — and the spellchecker appears to know the word “Cthulhu!”), and learning about Janetʼs little sister Dianeʼs childhood imaginary friend Collywather. Plus a lot of other stuff.
Somehow all that boiled over into a second play, this time set in Michigan, in an imaginary small town, Grayport (fans of the Hardy Boys may catch the allusion), which a newly divorced young mother, Joan Aubrey, has come to open a used bookstore in an abandoned church (which owed much to my growing familiarity with Peace Pipe Playersʼ Kirchhoff Theater here in Maquoketa, and which I actually imagined as the exterior of that bookstore and where I fantasized about filming a screenplay version of this play) owned by the local wealthy Jewish guy, who also happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Protagonist Diana Crane works at the bookstore, where she interacts with: her little nemesis, Donny Carter, a comic-book fiend (whose parents happen to be religious-right nutballs); Mark Ramsey, a science-fiction-reading young man (the romantic interest for our intrepid heroine); and the newly divorced bookstore ownerʼs young daughter, Karen, who has strangely developed at thirteen an imaginary new friend called Collywather.
The imaginary friend involves the school counselor, Madonna Nietzsche (a little personal life joke involved in that name as well as a philosophical allusion), who was a noticeable advance on the rough draft version I had created for Speak No Evil of a goofily liberal, jargon-addicted Educator-with-a-definite-capital-E. But a group of very popular and Eighties-style ValGal-lingo-spouting girls who despise Diana (a mutual assessment) but enthralled by visions of themselves as witches (how punny for me), become fascinated with Karen and Collywather (who they imagine is some kind of supernatural being, perhaps, to their excitement, a demon). The leader of this awful group of snobbish “gels,” one of whom is Donnyʼs misled older sister, got named perfectly Storm Darroway (a Poul Anderson allusion/nametheft).
Like Speak No Evil, the play covers quite a lot of time, in this case from before school starts in late summer through the night of Halloween, when the witch girls try to perform a demon-summoning (with rituals taken from my research! chillingly enough), but are fooled and foiled by Diana, Mark, Karen and Donny. A major element of the plot(s) concerned Donnyʼs parents becoming obsessed with the bookstore being an evil influence on the community and summoning a local televangelista underling to create a campaign against smut and perdition in town, culminating in a rally to “Close Down the Devil” (only to be quelled by the actual televangelist, Slim Jim Thompson, who thought the publicity wasnʼt the kind he wanted associated with his Power Hour broadcasts). —I hadnʼt at that time encountered the drive-in theatre gone-Crystal Cathedral preacher guyʼs Hour of Power, so the echo is purely coincidental (and wholly appropriate).
Somehow, as August waned for me in real life, I still hadnʼt finished my script (if I am remembering correctly). And then personal tragedy imposed its savage weight as my mother, who had been ill with cancer for a year but valiantly persevered to be at my wedding, died over Labor Day, while the whole family was home (Old Threshers time, of course, for you knowledgeable about Mt. Pleasant). I really donʼt know what the school did as I was suddenly gone for a week (or what kind of lesson plans I didnʼt create; I wonder the same thing about the horrible week just before Christmas a year later when my father died). I do know that in those pre-volleyball-as-a-school-sport days we didnʼt have to hold auditions for the fall play (which was slated for just before Halloween that year) until the middle of September because we could rehearse three or four evenings a week then (not so after there were three or four evenings of volleyball games each week until mid-October).
Rehearsals are a not even vague memory for me, although I think we actually had quite a lot of fun. I know the crowd really got into their start-of-Act-Three (I hadnʼt yet learned to divide long shows into just two acts for one intermission) rally scene. I even thought up funny, repulsive names for each of those characters. Ah, those were the days when we had thirty and more students on stage for our productions. Now there arenʼt even thirty in a graduating class at Andrew…
It was an exciting production with a really fine cast, and Diane was shocked and thrilled when she first heard the possibly supernatural imaginary friendʼs name (Janet and I and had kept it a secret from her until the show). I had also appropriated and expanded upon some of her unique and memorable neologisms and turns of phrase for the witch-girlsʼ slang and chatter.
Magick premiered during the narrow window of a few years when I experimented having more than one public production of a play (Friday and Saturday nights, October 29 and 30, 1982), an experiment that failed because rather than enlarging our audience, all we did was cut the normal crowd roughly in half each night. Both crowds seemed delighted with the show, however (as was I), completely — to the best of my knowledge — overlooking the swipes at religious-right televangelism and orthodoxical narrow-mindedness.
I was so pleased with the production that we redid this play. It is the only full-length show of mine that I have tried twice — except for the long version of Sleeping Beauty which I wrote/revised for Peace Pipe Players so we could transform the ship set for Anything Goes into a castle (thanks forever, Jean Buchner! — for that and My Fair Lady and…) for a summer production; it became my final fall play at Andrew.
Anyway. Magick played well both times (and the girls sixteen years later, in 1998, had a great time recapturing the then-fading and not-yet quite-refashionable mid-Eighties. The sets were fantastic both times (my design idea brought to life by Steve Lucke and his art students, including great faux stained-glass windows that were still surviving (for the most part) when I left the Andrew sets/props/costume stocks a year ago. We also purchased shelving for the books in the bookstore (one set throughout, the interior of Sanctuary Books) both times — in 1982 from my own pocket, thus providing the new household with some bookshelves, and in 1998 for metal storage shelves that are still going strong in the Andrew Drama storage areas.
The books on the bookstore shelves were mine both times (including the dozen or so titles named in the script, such is my Belasco-like dedication to ultra-realism — a statement which you should, please, read with the intended irony). The books and possibly the language of the popular girls are the only things that really date the show, to my mind. I really should get the Magick script into the proper order to ship off to play publishing companies (once this Census job wraps, of course).
—By the way, I spelled it M-A-G-I-C-K for no good reason except to look good, having appropriated that spelling from Aleister Crowley, who wrote one of my resource books (not knowing then that the particular antiquated spelling I enjoyed would become in this perverse era overbreaingly popular and inextricably linked to follow sex…)
And thatʼs the not-so-quick version of how I developed a second three-act play. Thanks for your time and (I hope) interest.
I had originally intended to explore the genesis of all the long plays I wrote, but weʼll see if that plan survives the weekend.