I have a problem with one of my plays. I keep submitting The Last Of The Daytons to contests and theaters. I’ve been doing it for a long time. It has been an ATHE finalist, a semi-finalist at the O’Neill and Ashland. It has had many nibbles but no bites. Recently, Luna Stage asked to see a rewrite but then rejected it.
Because I love the play, I’ve always thought that I just haven’t found the right place for it yet. I know the story. I know the characters. I know how they talk and feel. I’ve been with them now for years and have seen them change and grow with each draft. The draft I send out now must be the sixth or seventh. Or eighth.
I thought for a while that the nature of the characters was the problem. The people could be considered out of the ordinary but many of us are out of the ordinary. I think it was John Steinbeck who, when told that his characters were too eccentric to be real, said that the disbelievers had probably not taken the time to get to know their neighbors.
(This an aside but one hard to resist. Stephen King, in his excellent book, On Writing, talks about a man he worked for who had two hooks for hands. He would put one hook in cold water and one in hot, then clamp them on someone’s neck.)
I recently received a thoughtful critique from readers at the Women’s Work Festival at White Rooster Productions in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, which they gave me permission to quote.
They didn’t have a problem with the characters.
“I like the characters in this play, they are very normal in their abnormality (talking to invisible friends, escaping from hospitals in their pajamas, etc) and that works well.”
What did disturb them was the tone. “I started out reading it as a comedy (perhaps not what you were going for?) but the climax turned violent.” It read like two plays that aren’t melding comfortably together and they thought that I should think about the tone. “Perhaps addressing the tone in the beginning and aiming towards the darker shades would be beneficial.”
Could the tone have been the problem for other readers as well?
The Co-Artistic Director, Ruth Lawrence, who is also playwright, suggested that the tone is important to tackle because “tone isn’t something you can explain to your readers. It is there on the page, not in your intentions. Especially to cold readers.”
I’m wondering how to do address this. I’ve done three staged readings and think, having seen them, that the tone remains consistent and that the end of the play is prepared for in the first two scenes – a search for a father who is never talked about and a dark note about a death in the Gulf War.
I’ll reread the play again carefully. But if I still think that the tone is consistent and the plot clear, what do I do when I send it out again? Do I add a note? A prologue? Should I keep sending it out? I have a DVD that I have offered to send along with submissions but so far, nobody has asked to see it. As a reader myself, I know that it takes time and effort to give the submissions the consideration they deserve and a DVD may just too much. (I’ll also have another look at the DVD myself.)
I’m very grateful to the White Rooster for giving me some insight into why The Last of the Daytons has always been a bridesmaid and never a bride. If anybody out there has any ideas or has struggled with this problem, I would love to hear from them.
I would like to see this play off on a honeymoon.