On “King of Shadows”
King of Shadows is a play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who is also a writer for the television show Big Love, and for the Marvel Comics series Marvel Divas. He went to the Yale School of Drama. Unlike me.
So, probably Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa should be explaining to me how things work, and not the other way around. Who am I? I’m nobody, I don’t know anything. Except, bullshit. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, here is the deal:
HUMAN BEINGS CANNOT SPEAK IN PARENTHETICALS TO EACH OTHER.
This is a thing that is IMPOSSIBLE. Just…look, for fuck’s sake, try it. Try and talk to somebody, and say something in parentheses, and something not in parentheses, and see if they can figure out which is which. They fucking can’t, because parenthetical statements in dialogue don’t even make any god damn sense. Here, look, here is an example from your own play:
ERIC: I was kidding. (Obviously.) You had one of your–an interview, right?
How is that different from this line:
ERIC: I was kidding. Obviously. You had one of your–an interview, right?
What is the difference there? The line “Obviously” is clearly not directed to the audience–because you denote it when a character is supposed to direct a line to the audience. It’s not a stage direction, like everything else you put in parentheses–ironically, what parentheses are actually FOR. It’s not even a commentary on the content of the line!
Listen. It is confusing to read, because most sensible people ignore small stage directions, on account of how wildly they vary in performance. And it is confusing to try and perform, because there is no way to perform the difference between a line in parentheses and a line NOT in parentheses. And it is confusing to be in the audience and try to understand it, because either the actor will make it obvious what he’s doing and we’ll have no idea what it is BECAUSE PEOPLE DON’T SPEAK IN PARENTHETICALS TO EACH OTHER, or else he won’t make it obvious, and we won’t notice it.
For fuck’s sake, what’s WRONG with you?
Also: you don’t need to write in what is left unsaid in a broken line. Like here, when you wrote this:
JESSICA: …Safeguard against forces you know exist but have no idea when — or how– they’ll (Unsaid: “–attack.”)
See, that’s fucking stupid. The entire point of language is that the words in the beginning of a sentence imply its ending. The entire reason that it’s interesting that part of a sentence is left unsaid is because the sentence itself IMPLIES WHAT IS LEFT UNSAID. That’s the whole fucking POINT of it. You don’t need to tell us what is left unsaid, because if we can’t figure it out, it’s because you wrote the line wrong. Idiot.
Since I’ve gotten worked up now, let me just say a few more things. One: there is no such thing as a “mini-beat.” “Beat” is actually the smallest perceptible amount of blank space on stage. If you start writing any smaller, you’re actually starting to literally dictate an actor’s inflection. This is insulting to the actor, insulting to the director, and wildly impractical as a writer, since it leads to choppy and incomprehensible rhythm onstage.
Two: I know NYTheatre said your characters were “richly-drawn”, but this is incorrect. Part of the problem, I suppose, is that the play is so short that there isn’t any room to actually develop characters, which is probably why Nihar is so blase about being a prostitute.
Three: likewise, I know that the New York Times said that “Just as the audience thinks it has the whole picture figured out, Aguirre-Sacasa adds more pieces to the puzzle, leading to a series of twists at the end,” because it’s written on the back of your script. This is also bullshit, and I hope you know it. I hope you read that criticism and thought to yourself, “Yeah, it’s nice that you said that, but that’s really a load of crap.” Because it is. The play proceeds precisely in a double-reversal model. A thing happens that we’re suspicious of, but believe. We find information that disproves it. We are left with information that supports it. Double reversal. Rod Serling, to whom you were compared, typically did a story like that in twenty to forty minutes–that’s because it is not a robust model on which to hang a two-hour play.
Four: Science fiction and fantasy are typically tricky elements to get onstage, and there is a good reason for that. The reason is this: SF/F are actually served by verisimilitude, and plays, onstage, are really very lousy at verisimilitude. You probably noticed that, when you realized that in order to create the sense of supernatural events occurring, you had to just have people narrate weird things that happened to them, which generally serves to undermine the mood that you’re looking for.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, it just means that you have to abandon realism, and you have to abandon it way more thoroughly than just having people deliver monologues to the audience. That is the SMALLEST STEP you must take in order to escape from the tyranny of the real in order to make your fantasy work onstage.
In conclusion: your play King of Shadows isn’t bad, it just seems pretty half-assed, like a vague stab of a play, that you made with your hand over your eyes and only the most crude awareness of where your target might be.