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SIGNS OF LIFE: Six Comedies of Menace

Preface to SIGNS OF LIFE
At This Performance . . .
©Joan M. Schenkar

"Writing is a life sentence to solitude. Writing for theatre is a life sentence to standing on a stage with your skirt up over your head. Between utter seclusion and total exposure, I have tried to locate an even more extreme position: the theatricalization of feelings so complex that the only way to access them is laughter. I cannot forget that The Last Laugh is always (literally) on us. After the flesh is gone, every skeleton sports a persistent smile.

Each of these plays was composed as much as possible as a piece of music. Each one has movements, developed themes, arias, duets, etc. I have always meant to mark the plays for performance much as music is marked—for prose language does not offer us the nice distinctions of pitch, stress, tempo, and juncture that music does. In this edition, I settled for underlinings (rather like crescendi) to indicate stressed words or syllables, and for different styles of spelling and presentation to express what is unique and inalienable to each work. I have always paid more attention to the sound of language than to the sense of it, figuring that if I get the sound right, the sense will take care of itself. It usually does.

Each of these plays has been influenced by my own private Himalayas of Art and Thought: Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, 19th and early 20th-Century highbrow Novels, Expressionist painting, Feminist theory and practice, Modernist literature (including Miss Barnes and Mr. Beckett), Post-Structuralist theory and code, the entire Classic Comics series, and rock n’ roll. Although Family Pride In the 50’s is not included in this volume, a photograph from the New York production is on the dedication page. It represents the last, brilliant stage set Reagan Cook—who designed the premieres of half the plays in the book and whose ability to extend a metaphor into constructed meaning for no money at all was without peer—made for me before his death.

Plays happen, for an audience, in the dark. Reading them requires a very good light. I love this apparent contradiction and am encouraged by it, for it turns the act of reading plays—which for me is often more interesting than seeing them—into a waking dream. In order to stage plays in your head, you must first allow the comforting illusions that light your inner life to be switched off—and find the darkness inside yourself. Only then can you perform that singular act of Higher Personal Mathematics that reading these plays makes available to you: the division, the multiplication, the fractioning of your very Self.
(At this performance, the role of the Author was played by Joan M. Schenkar.)"