Monday, January 26, 2009

Week Two, Day Eight - "Pushing the Envelope"

Pushing the Envelope
Written by Joe Janes
8 of 365

Trey Vanbetheysen III, late 30s - early 40s

(Lights up on Trey. A thin, pale man in dark clothing. A black mock turtleneck and a dark tweed sports coat. He sits at a small table with a cup of Starbucks coffee. He is speaking to someone in the direction of the audience. There is more than just a slight sir of superiority about him.)

You want to know about my life in the theatre. Well, what shall I tell you? Currently, Trey Vanbetheysen III’s plate is full and overflowing. The food on my plate is messy, expressive and busy. But I love it. Relish it. Wouldn’t trade any of it. There are theater people in Ethiopia who don’t get to do half of what I do. The biggest leg of mutton I’m trying to gobble up is a dramatic play I wrote and will direct starring one John Malkovich. A brilliant story masterfully woven. It really pushes the envelope. My intention is to push the envelope. In fact, it’s titled, Pushing the Envelope. It’s about a Depression-era Italian immigrant farmer with no arms. He must get an envelope to the post office to be stamped and mailed. As he struggles pushing the envelope along a dirt road and to the city with his nose, he reveals the mystery and pathos and sheer brute angst that is his life through a series of gripping monologues. What does the envelope contain? Is it a check for the bank to keep his farm from being foreclosed? Is it a love letter to his wife in Rome begging her to come to small town Midwest America? Is it his last will and testament as we discover he his dying from a terminal disease? We are led to believe it is the RSVP to a wedding invitation. His own daughter’s wedding. His dream is to give her away, but he cannot because he has no arms, you see. The stuff guts are wrenched from. It’s not a tearjerker; it’s a tear gusher. Tears will gush from their ducts and flow like a burst damn from audience to stage. In the end, after three engrossing hours – the first hour, completely silent, by the way - he finally arrives at the post office, knees bloodied, nose and chin shredded by dirt and stone, only to discover it’s a national holiday and the post office is closed. Columbus Day. Who was also Italian. Oh, delicious irony. His son will never get that college tuition and will end up a struggling farmer like his father. Oh. Could you not tell anyone that last part? I didn’t ruin it for you, I promise. It’s all in how the story is told any way. It’s like Shakespeare. You know how they’re all going to end, but you enjoy the journey just the same.

No, no, no, no. …You’re not in theater, are you? He can’t just carry the envelope in his mouth. Don’t you see? It’s all monologues. He needs to speak. Plus, it’s called Pushing the Envelope, not Mouthing the Envelope. I suppose he could carry it for the first hour, but then it wouldn’t be a whole hour. Probably best just to leave art to the artists.

PTE will put me firmly on the map. My forte, what I have a reputation for, is musicals based on tragedy. 9/11, Bhopol, Chernobyl, Katrina. I wrote Titanic – The Musical, but not the one that you may have heard of. Mine was an improvement on that one. I saw it and said to myself, “Trey, this is shit. You can do better. And I did.” My first act ends with a stirring emotional upheaval via a duet between the iceberg and the hole in the boat. (sings) We weren’t meant to be/But how can we resist/Steel and ice at sea/We should not exist!...A twist of fate/ A twist of steel/A destined date/The captain’s wheel - spi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ns out of control… Too Andrew Lloyd Webber? I get that a lot. Hell, I’ll take the comparison. Puts me in good company.

You may have heard about one I wrote and almost starred in about Johnstown – the great flood of 1889, called Merrily We Drown. It was optioned and workshopped for Off Off (off) Broadway. Ultimately, the investors didn’t have faith that we could effectively pull off the title song and closing number, the grand finale. All the townfolk and a few of their horses, underwater, dead, singing and synchronized swimming while being swept away in a funnel. Esther Williams meets Our Town meets The Wizard of Oz meets an equestrian show. Brilliant. Some day. Some day.

My longest running production here in Chicago was a remount of a musical extravaganza I created in college. Myself and a few of my gang o’ thieves remounted it here in the old Zebra Crossing space. A time travelling sci-fi musical murder mystery starring Anne Frank called Panic in the Attic. It’s one of the few tragic-based musicals in my cannon that has a happy ending. Anne escapes from the Nazis in her time machine and lands in America in the 80’s, changes her name to Winona Ryder and falls in love with Christian Slater. They live happily ever after. Sorry, I get a little choked up when I think about PITA.

Pushing the Envelope? Well, baring any complications, we hope to go into production in the fall. Right now, we’re waiting for Mr. Malkovich to get back to us on the script. I have it on good authority that the play is in his mailbox at the Steppenwolf and he is aware of its existence. Confidentially, I’ve heard he can be a handful to direct, but I’m not worried. I’m not afraid to direct via iron fisting. I’m not afraid of Sir John Malkovich. I once told Dustin Hoffman I thought his work was shit…I call it as I see it. He ignored me. Or didn’t hear me. It was a crowded room. Music playing.

So, you see, with the demands of my theatrical life, I need a flexible schedule. Your health insurance is also very attractive to me. And, I’m not sucking up to you here; I really do enjoy your coffee. Lord knows how many thousands of dollars a year I have given to your fine corporation. Least you could do is throw me a little bone of employment. You’d never have to worry about me running out of black mock turtleneck shirts.

(He gets up and readies to leave.)

Well, do let me know. I have other people who have expressed interest in my services. Oh, and – this is in no way a bribe, you have very striking eyes - if you are interested in theater, I could get you up on the stage in one of my productions. You won’t even have to audition. (confidentially leans in) Malkovich will need an understudy.

(Lights fade)


Thank you Beata and Jenny for contributing to the cause. I still need to raise $880 to reach my goal of $1,000. All the money goes to 826-CHI, an educational non-profit. Any amount you can donate is welcome and will make a difference. You can support the cause by sponsoring my and my 'stash Zed by clicking HERE. Thanks.