I subscribe to a service that, for a monthly fee, provides playwrights with an extensive list of playwriting opportunities throughout the country (and sometimes the world).  In addition to the monthly listing, the service also sends email messages that are supposed to help playwrights improve their craft.  These helpful hints may be beneficial for fledgling playwrights, but for more experienced writers they are a little too basic.  As a result, I rarely read the tips and tricks.  This month I did.  And this is why I must write this entry.

This month’s offering was entitled “How to Make Your Characters Sound Different,” which proposes to help playwrights give their characters individuality, particularly in how they say things.  The author surmises that characters sound the same when the inexperienced playwright makes all his or her characters sound like the playwright!  “You want each of your characters to have a unique voice.  To sound like a unique, three-dimensional human being,” we are instructed.  Bad sentence structure aside, the idea that characters should sound unique is a worthy one (although three-dimensionality in the contemporary world may be a stretch).  I have no objection to this point nor the argument that writers should focus on each character’s agenda and attitude.  What I do object to are the examples the author uses to make his point.  They are typical of our modern sensibilities.  In other words, they suck.

Please take note of the author’s first example of a character’s line:

You slept with her?  What are you, out of your mind?

He contrasts this with the line of another character:

So you slept with her.  Where’s the harm?

One of my pet peeves with the way contemporary playwrights write is that they place an undue and immature emphasis on sex.  For the modern playwright, casual sex is as prevalent as breathing, heavy or otherwise.  Of all the examples this author could have chosen, he went with the cheap, infantile lines of the sex-starved metrosexual—the central character of many a lousy play by lousy playwrights.

But wait…  there’s more…

Continuing with these adolescent bits of dialogue, we get this set of lines as another example:

You can’t just go sleeping with someone just because they’re lonely.  How do you think that would make her husband feel?

Followed by

Millions of people are lonely.  Are you planning to sleep with all of them?

Do you see the worldview exemplified by these lines?  It is a world of lonely people, making connections through non-verbal intercourse, signifying nothing.  The author of the second set of lines claims that his first example is “moralistic” and the second one “sarcastic.”  This is downright scary.  Where, I wonder, would any thinking person find a moralistic stance from “How do you think that would make her husband feel?”

Rather than being moral, I think it’s an immoral attempt at humor, a la Neil Simon, whose characters truly do all sound the same: they are all witty, sarcastic, and underdeveloped.  In fact, I blame Neil Simon for helping usher in an era of truly bad playwriting by extending television comedy sketches (at which he excelled) into two-act laugh fests.[1]  Coupled with interminable and unfunny sketches from Saturday Night Live and you have one-dimensional characters talking about sex when they’re not talking about sex and only after they talk about sex.

So, I guess it is no surprise that when searching for examples the contemporary playwright can relate to, the author chose the only thing on a playwright’s mind (except perhaps the set-up for the next joke): meaningless sex.  This is the progressive worldview for all to see: lonely characters, alienated and misunderstood, cope by having casual sex as their means of escape and to connect with other lonely people trying to shield themselves from the doom and gloom of daily existence.  And these are the comedies!!

In closing, let me offer you my take on this sad situation with the new lyrics I composed from the song “You Gotta Have Heart” from Damn Yankees (one of my favorite musicals):

You gotta have sex!

All you really need is sex.

When you know your writing really does suck

Throw in a fuck

For effects!

 

You gotta get schtupped

When your writing is bankrupt

Though you have nothin’ good to compose

Strike a new pose

And schtupp.

 

When your writing’s battin’ zero

Only sitcoms as your source

Mister you can be a hero

If you throw in intercourse

 

There’s nothing to it, but to do it!

 

You gotta have sex!

Lots and lots and lots of sex.

Oh, it’s fine to write some terrible plays

That’s all that there is these days.

Just be sure to add sex!

 

******

[1] Simon’s plays follow a very formulaic path: two mismatched lovers/roommates/colleagues, both of whom are incredibly witty, try to cope with each other.  Even when he attempted to be “deep” with his trilogy, he never really escaped the mono-dimensionality of the television sketch/sitcom character.