I love bookends in the theatre. I’m always looking for a good bookend in my plays, especially children’s theatre, where I’ve often adapted a fairy tale or collection of stories. What’s a bookend? Well, let’s say… you have these stories and all of them are kinda stupid. You’ve been collecting them over the years as you’re worked your way through fairy and folk tale collections. Stories with questionable outcomes or morals or ridiculous characters… you get the idea. So you want to throw them all into a play and you’ve titled your play ‘Fairly Stupid Stories’ which is good title, its certainly descriptive. But how to bind them all together? Narrators are helpful but can be boring…one of my hard and fast ‘rules of playwriting’ is Show It, Don’t Tell it. Best to come up with a good Bookend.
A Bookend is a device that opens and closes the show… in theory it gives you, the playwright, the compelling reason to tell your stupid – or feminist – or ethnic – or whatever – stories that are now a collection. Or even, A story. One story often needs a Bookend too. “Fairly Stupid Stories’ by the way is one of mine, one of my better ones I think and the Bookend came to be a traveling troupe of players in medieval England who happen to be just the very worst players in the land, I mean, they really really stink – so, they only have the stupidest of stories. There is another big twist to the Bookend but you’ll have to go and read it if you want to learn that secret….
Theatre is back. Finally. Thank you all the gods above. It’s been 18 months and I just hope we never have to go through that again.
And so my first Bookend is this: The last show I saw before the Plague year was ‘Seize the King’ at the Alliance Theatre. The first show back, also at the Alliance. Their first show back, as it happens, a new musical called ‘Darlin’ Cory”. Book by Phillip DePoy, Music by Kristian Bush, Lyrics by DePoy and Bush.
Of course I went high with hopes. I swear to you, every single time I walk into a theatre, any theatre, I want to be blown away. I want to have to rearrange my personal list of ‘Top Ten Greatest Shows’ I’ve ever been privileged to be in the Audience for.
Bet you can guess what I’m about to say now.
Nope. Not even close.
Set in depression era back mountain Appalachia, ‘Darlin’ Cory’ is the story of a tiny, tight knit community with a dark secret at it’s rotten heart. It’s a great premise and there’s loads of possibilities there. But while the show kept my interest during its runtime – I’m that happy to be back – I left disappointed. The music was lovely and it should be: Kristian Bush is part of the group Sugarland. But I can’t remember a single melody. The actors were fine and in great voice, but they wandered the stage without focus – unless they were singing, in which case they invariably came right down to the apron to sing to us. For a region that is so rich in native dance, there was very little of it in the show. There’s a choreographer in the credits but… ?
Finally, the story. Remember that rule of mine – Show it, Don’t Tell it. Far too often important plot points were ploddingly explained. Act One’s not too bad, but Act Two felt rushed and half finished.
Bookends? Well, here’s the thing: The show opens with one – the secret murder. But then at the end of the show, we get another: Mystical Cory in the trees. I know that doesn’t make sense to you. It didn’t make sense to me either. Yes, they’re connected but … nope, didn’t work. Not for this playwright.
But damn. It is still good to be back, and I will go back, and I will continue to hope to see another GREAT show. It just wasn’t this one.