In the 1950s, the Americans believed they knew the identity of all the spies who worked
on the Atomic Bomb: David Greenglass and Klaus Fuchs. They were wrong.
There was one more, a young man of 18 named Ted Hall.
When J. Robert Oppenheimer saw the Atomic explosion at Trinity, his first words were,
curiously, a quote from the Indian epic the Mahabharata.
This is a story of those two men.
This is a different kind of play.
A long time ago, I had the privilege of meeting the lighting designer, Sonoyo Nishikawa. My eyes and head were still concussed by her contributions – alongside Robert Lepage – to the piece ‘Seven Streams of the River Ota.’ It was a nine hour spectacular of theatre; one of those impossible experiences. At the end you felt only pain for it ending. If someone had said it was beginning all over again, those nine hours, I would have stayed there in my seat.
Over the course of a couple of days, Ms. Nishikawa described to me the collaborative method that LePage and his company had used. I was done for. I wanted to be a part of that world. But, to be a writer is to be guaranteed that no invitation will come. Writers (goes the not completely wrong-headed thought) represent the hierarchy. The top down, do-what-I-say approach of the traditional theatre. Much of New Theatre has worked in opposition to that. Language can come from action, from group experience, from improvisation. And of course it can. But that’s not how writers work, generally speaking.
I already had the idea for a large play. It would be about Los Alamos, about Ted Hall, about the history of quantum mechanics, of political movements in the US, but it would also be about the Mahabharata and early American comedy. I wanted to break all of the rules of traditional script writing, as I knew them, of small cast sizes, of triangles of people trapped in rectangle rooms, of restriction, of language. I wanted to place myself not only in that Lepage room, but to bring myself into the company of several New Theatre groups that have influenced me profoundly – The People Show, DV8, Volcano, Complicité, Brook. I set myself rules. I won’t go into them here. They were fairly extreme.
And, as it turned out, just what I needed.
What it means…. if you have experience at reading scripts, much of this will still be unfamiliar to you. I use a large amount of visual devices, soundscapes, shadow puppetry, movement – all described, as carefully as I can.
I’ve taken on the roles of a collaborative company, designers, a choreographer, puppeteers, a director, and made it into pathological condition. It’s multiple personality disorder as methodology.
I know. You don’t have to tell me.
But here’s the punchline. No part of this, except the dialogue, is meant as a set of top-down instructions. None of what I have suggested is the solution. It can be, but I don’t dictate that it is. You’ll see, I hope. This is my part of the conversation. This is one hand clapping. But this hand is enormous. Like the 50-foot hand of Kong.
To explain further would take days. I’ll leave it there. And also leave the play, here.
I grew up in London. I write plays. I play guitar.
Everything else is probably true. But I’m not particularly happy about it.
(Melanie Lora Meltzer, Set by Brian Bembridge – The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder)
I’m providing some of my plays as PDFs, that you may download to read – or indeed have readings – free of charge. I maintain all copyright for purposes of production. All the usual legalities apply. If you would like to enquire as to a production, please contact my agent, Kate Brower c/o Alan Brodie Representation. If you wish to have a reading or workshop, I hope you will get in touch, both as a courtesy and also so I might attend, if possible.
Hope you enjoy.
Broken Hands – NY Fringe award for Outstanding Writing.
The Piano Men – the ACT Theatre best new play. (Workshops with the Purple Man Theatre – Dir. Marc Weitz, Dramaturg Liz Engleman; Workshop – ACT Theatre, Dir. John Langs)
The Good Book – Produced at the Boston Court, dir. John Langs, Designer Brian S Bembridge
The Good Book
The Piano Men