Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hello Central! - "Deleted" Scenes from NEXT

 From the press release, because our publicist, Edie, said it more succinctly than I ever could: 

"Dialogue with Three Chords will host a benefit night for On Behalf of a Grateful Nation, an organization that raises funds for wounded veterans and military families. HELLO CENTRAL Deleted Scenes from NEXT is written by Stephen Gracia and directed by Michael LoPorto. It is an expansion of NEXT, produced by Abraxas Theatre Company at HERE Arts Center, which follows a group of WWII soldiers as they wait for their turn at a military-sponsored whorehouse. It includes a burlesque performance and starts at 8PM on October 27, Downstairs at Mr. Dennehy's pub on 63 Carmine Street in Greenwich Village. Admission is $10."

I never though that I would return to NEXT in quite this way.
I had no doubt that I would return with a new arsenal of editing tools once I let the version that ran at HERE Arts Center in February, 2011 settle for a while. The visuals conceived by Michael LoPorto and the creative team had inspired new additions to the narrative, and I planned to sit down and change the script accordingly. 

I knew that the character of Danny would need a bit of a rewrite. It took me the three week run, the month of rehearsals prior, and the almost year of discussion   that led to the process and production to really understand the characters I had created, and I now had clearer idea of how to tell their stories. 

I recognized the need for tweaks and changes, and when the idea of doing a fundraising event for On Behalf of a Grateful Nation (the not-for-profit organization we partnered with in February) came up, I thought that throwing together a collection of “scenes that you didn’t see”-- conversations that were happening simultaneously or, at most, just before or just after the action you saw on stage -– would be fun. What ended up happening was entirely different.

“Hello Central” is less a hodge-podge of scenes and more of an entire second play-- taking place before, during, and well after the war. It’s a full companion piece, and that’s shocking. Revisiting characters like this, telling another story using the same people…crafting a sequel, of all things, seems somehow wrong. If I did it right the first time, I thought, then the story should be over. There should be nothing else to say.

But then, If I’m completely honest with myself, NEXT is less of a straight narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end, and more of a collections of moments that hang within a structure of two or three themes. There’s resolution at the end, and little journeys that move throughout both acts, but the acts are completely separate, with entirely different tones and pacing, and even within the acts, action and journey are broken up by narration.

This structure made it easier to write a re-visitation with those characters. It was a matter of finding moments between the ones you saw in the original production. And, naturally, those moments between seemed to necessitate visiting a moment months before the play and a moment years after. Looking at NEXT this way, through the lens of the new Hello Central!, has put me in mind of a quote from Gravity’s Rainbow, (Pynchon in general and GR in particular had a huge influence on NEXT, though I’m not sure that’s obvious.)
"It's been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home — only the millions of last moments... nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments."

NEXT and Hello Central are just that: aggregates of last moments, which is the nature of writing fiction about war. There is no kingdom, no home, nothing but the “now.” And that now is terrifying, and it’s the moments of peace, of pleasure—of laughing or drinking, of fantasy and sexual release that break up the moments where death feels imminent.