Me and Tennessee Williams at the Ten-Minute Play Festival

It’s been a long dry spell–six years–since I last had a play performed in the sort of church basement venues that community theatre is consigned to, but I’m hopeful–now that the President of the United States has declared the pandemic “over“–that things will start to pick up in the low-rent drama world that an amateur playwright such as myself inhabits.

Waltham, Mass., back in the day.


I’m sitting in The Busted Watch, a friendly neighborhood bar in Waltham that recalls the days when this little burg was known as “Watch City” because of all the timepieces it cranked out year after year.  “Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution” is another monicker it is known by, although I wouldn’t refer to it that way unless you’re like a really good friend of it; not just Christmas card friendly, in other words, but hey-let-me-buy-you-a-drink friendly.

I’m waiting to see if I’ve made the cut for the upcoming ten-minute play festival to be put on by The Watch City Players.  Maybe I won’t make the big Saturday night performance, but I’m hoping to at least make the Friday night lights of the junior varsity.  I don’t know what it will take for me to get “off the schneid,” as my dad used to say, by which he (and others) meant to break a losing streak.  I’ve never actually been booed, but I was hissed in Lowell, Massachusetts when one of the characters in my last play referred to his former girlfriend’s German/Yiddish heritage, whose language gave birth to the now archaic phrase.  Everybody’s so touchy these days.

I’m waiting for the panel of judges to hand down their decision when who should sit down next to me but Tennessee Williams, whose plays continue to be performed nearly four decades after his death.  He’s achieved what all playwrights hope for as long as they live–posthumous fame!  Yes it always comes too late, but then so does my wife when we’re going out to dinner.

               Tennessee Williams


“Mind if I join you?” he asks, and it is all I can do to keep myself from gushing all over him like an autograph hound and saying “Oh my God–you’re one of my biggest fans!”

Williams and I couldn’t be more different.  He’s a successful playwright, I–well, if you want to meet someone who’s had a little success writing plays, I’ve had as little as anybody.  He’s gay, I’m straight.  He’s short, I’m . . . average in height.  He’s an alcoholic, I’m a moderate social drinker who never imbibes more than a pre-dinner sherry, a six pack of beer, a gin and tonic, a bottle of red wine, an after-dinner port and maybe a single malt scotch in a single sitting.

“So what’s eating you?” he asks, cutting right to the bone.  I’m not surprised; he seems to have a penetrating insight into the emotional injuries that cause people to run off the rails, to mix my metaphors.

“I’m a failure–isn’t that enough?”

“You’re not a failure–yet,” he says with calm assurance.  “Not until you die before you give up.”

          “Oh, please–get a grip.”


“Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had a play performed,” I say.

“Like that didn’t happen to me, at the beginning, middle and end of my career?”

“Very Aristotelian of you, but I don’t think you ever went seventeen years without having a play performed in New York,” I say.

                Bruce Jay Friedman


“Ouch,” he concedes, then nods to the bartender and orders a martini.  “That is bad.  And the last one was?”

“‘Welcome to Endive,’ in 2005.  At least I was on the same bill as Bruce Jay Friedman.”

“Don’t know him.”

“Wrote ‘The Lonely Guy’s Book of Life.'”

“Never read it.”

“They made it into a movie with Steve Martin in 1984.”

“Who’s Steve Martin?”

“I guess I should probably keep my references to the years before you died, huh?”

“That would be helpful, yes.”  He took a sip of his martini and looked me up and down.  “My guess is you’ve still got a shot.”

“You do?”

“Yessss,” he drawls out.  “I happen to know that you and I have a lot in common.”  Death will do that for you–all of a sudden you’re omniscient, you can see through people like those “Visible Man” and Visible Woman” kits they used to sell in hobby stores.

“Like what?”

He closes his eyes as if to communicate with the inchoate and the extramundane.  “I seem to see a connection to the University of Missouri.”

“My two sisters went there, and I went to a lot of their football games.”

“How about that 1960 Orange Bowl!” he says, recalling the win over Navy that capped a perfect, if slightly marred, 11-0 season.   “I went there but dropped out when I failed ROTC.”

“How, exactly, does one fail ROTC?” I ask.  “Isn’t it just marching back and forth and handling dummy rifles?”

“Yes but I wasn’t cut out for that.  While I was there I pledged Alpha Tau Omega.”

“You’re kidding!” I say.  “I went to a drunken rush party there!”

“And you decided on the basis of that Bacchanalian beer fest to attend college elsewhere–correct?”

“Yes, yes I did.”

“Well, I went on to Washington University in St. Louis.”

“One of my sons went there!”

“So I gather.  And during the summer I worked at International Shoe Company in St. Louis.”

“My mom and dad met there!”

“That’s so sweet,” he says drily as he nods to the bartender for another drink.  “I couldn’t stand it.”

“I can’t say either of them had an artistic temperament,” I say.

“I wrote poems on the sides of the damned shoeboxes.”

“Now, now,” I say, as the son of a former shoe company owner.

“It was mind-numbing stuff.  I lived for a while in Provincetown.”

“So did I,” I say, then add sheepishly, “but only for a weekend.”

“I had a play–Battle of Angels–performed in Boston.”

I’ve had a play performed in Boston!”

“And did you make any money on it?”

“Well, no.  It was community theatre.”

“That’s okay.  You know the old saying?”


“You can’t make a living in the theatre, but you can make a killing.”

“Ha,” I replied, and I meant it.  At this point I’m running a deficit if you add up all the play contest entry fees I’ve spent and put them in the balance across from my *cough* receipts.

“What else?” he asks.

“Well, I’ve been to Chicago, New York, Miami and Key West–and you have too, right?”

“True but trivial.  Anything else?”

“I was raised Catholic.”

“I was converted, but it didn’t take.”

“Yeah, those Ten Commandments are awfully tempting.”

“Are those do’s . . . or don’ts?”


“I was a failure as a screenwriter,” he says.

“This is getting downright . . . eerie–so am I.”

“Okay,” he says, as he signals to the bartender to bring him his check.  “I think you’ve got enough to go on.  Now get back to your desk, get your ass in your chair, and get to work, okay?”

“Thanks,” I say, and I mean it.

“One last piece of advice?”


“Don’t depend on the kindness of strangers.”



Me and Alfred Jarry at the Ten-Minute Play Festival

           Alfred Jarry orchestrated the riot at the opening night performance of “Ubu Roi,” inviting his drinking companions from a local bar to heckle and, if possible, provoke a fight or two when “Merde!” was pronounced as the first word of his play.

                                                   Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life, Alastair Brotchie

Alfred Jarry

It’s Friday, opening night of “Six Playwrights in Search of an Ashtray,” the annual ten-minute play festival put on by The Bovine Players, a local theatre company in Waltham, Mass.  I’m not happy that I didn’t make the cut for Saturday night, and am relegated to the slate of performances that will be staged before an audience tired from a week of work.

Waltham, Mass., back in the day.

I’m sitting in The Busted Watch, a friendly neighborhood bar that recalls the days when this little burg was known as “The Watch City” because of all the timepieces it cranked out year after year.  “Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution” is another monicker it is known by, although I wouldn’t refer to it that way unless you’re really good friends with it; not just Christmas card friendly, in other words, but hey-let-me-buy-you-a-drink friendly.

It was in Waltham that I had an early success in the highly-competitive world of ten-minute drama.  My ten-minute play about ten-minute plays, “The Ten-Minute Workshop,” was voted best comedy of the festival and got a rave review–the only review I’ve ever received, good or bad.  I thought the world was my oyster, or at least my littleneck clam, but I found soon enough that the shimmering surface of unpaid drama festivals was just a thin veneer that covered a worm-ridden table beneath it, not to wear out my metaphoric welcome or anything.

I then hit a dry patch that has continued for two years; no performances, just one “finalist” designation that was like ashes in my mouth, not that I know what ashes taste like apart from the well-done ribeye I’ve just finished.  I’m stewing in my own foul juices, bitter about my lack of prospects, when who should appear beside me but Alfred Jarry, the playwright who rocked the world of French drama out of its realistic complacency in 1896 with the opening line of “Ubu Roi”–simply “Merde!”–or colloquially shit French absurdists say.

“Alfred?” I say hesitantly.  I try not to impose on celebrities, even when I’m stuck in an elevator with them, as I was with four-time Boston Marathon Champion Bill Rogers in the early 80′s.  I figure they’re entitled to some privacy, even if they’re standing right next to me in a confined space trapped between two floors of an office tower.

“Correct,” Jarry says.

“Wow!” I say, stupidly speechless.  I bite my tongue to keep myself from saying “You’re one of my biggest fans!” as people in my position–neophyte meeting heirophant–are wont to do.

Blind and unwavering undisciplined at all times constitutes the real strength of all free men,” he says, then orders a 12-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon–what a hipster!

“So’s your old bowling ball!” I reply as he is served, and we clink bottles–”Ching ching!” I add.  “What are you doing in the western suburbs?”

“I came seeking an alligator watch,” he says as he takes a long sip, Jeff Bridges-style, holding the bottle by its neck with two fingers.  “My alligator’s always late.  How about you?”

“I live in the next town over,” I say.  “I’ve got a play being performed tonight.”

“Cool,” he says as he grabs a fistful of Pepperidge Farm Pizza-Flavored Goldfish.  “Applause that comes thundering with such force you might think the audience merely suffers the music as an excuse for its ovations,” he adds, almost as an afterthought.

“I wish,” I say mournfully as I sip at my Malbec, a wine still so new to the American market nobody can pull the snob on me when I drink it.  I like it that way.

“What’s the matter?” Jarry asks, and I’m heartened to find that the great dramatist is interested–if only a little–in my humble career.

“I can’t get any traction,” I say.  “If I get a play performed, I never hear from the theatre again.  It’s like Sisyphus, pushing the rock up the hill.”

“Well, you know what I say,” he says, shaking his head and twisting his mouth into a bitter expression.


“God is the tangential point between zero and infinity.”

I ponder this for a moment and, after figuring out that I’m not going to figure it out, return to the matter at hand.  “Do you have any suggestions . . .”


“On how I can . . . get noticed?”

He gives me a sidewise glance and a sly smile.  “You’re talking to the master,” he says proudly.

“I’m all ears,” I say, signaling to the bartender to bring us another round.

“No you’re not,” he says.  “I can see eyes and a nose and . . .”

“I was speaking figuratively.”

“Oh–gotcha,” he says.  “You’d be a monster if you were all ears, and it is conventional to call ‘monster’ any blending of dissonant elements.”

“For a brief and shining time I played monster man on my high school football team.”

“And you’ve been dining out on it ever since–correct?”

“Yeah,” I say sheepishly.

“I call ‘monster’ every original inexhaustible beauty.”

Fair enough, I figure–I’ll take that any day of the week, including Sundays.  “So-any suggestions?”

“You know anybody here?  Besides me, I mean.”

“Sure, there’s Smitty, and Mad Dog, and Clem and Toad.”

“Sounds like a terrific bunch of guys.”

“You sound like a fraternity rush chairman.”

He draws himself up to his full five feet height, apparently offended by the comparison.  I realize I shouldn’t have said it, but it’s too late.  “We shall not have succeeded in demolishing everything unless we demolish the ruins as well,” he says, fairly bristling, “But the only way I can see of doing that is to use them to put up a lot of fine, well-designed buildings.”

I apologize again and he calms down a bit, sufficient for me to renew my inquiry.  “So . . . what would you suggest if I want to break out of the dull round of the Boston Globe’s twice-weekly Metrowest section?”

“Your friends who you just mentioned?”


“Bring them to the performance tonight.  Have them heckle you–maybe even start a fight.”


“Because all publicity is good–even bad publicity!”

I allow this to soak in–think of my job, my wife, my family.  Not sure I’m ready to take the leap until the mortgage is paid off and the kids are out of college.

“Isn’t there something offensive about your play?” he asks, pursuing his questioning.

Let Me Buy You a Drink? Well, sure there is.  It’s a ground-breaking treatment of a taboo sexual subject.”

“Oh come on–it’s 2013.  There are no sexual taboos left!”


For the first time, like Mike Tyson in the ring with Buster Douglas, somebody has rocked the Great Jarry.

“You . . . may have something there.”

“In a light-hearted way, of course.”

“Sure, sure,” he says, and I can tell he’s thinking things through.  “You know . . . you might not want to go there.”

“Oh, please–Mr. ‘The theater, bringing impersonal masks to life, is only for those who are virile enough to create new life: either as a conflict of passions subtler than those we already know, or as a complete new character’?  You’re going to go wobbly on me now?”

“Don’t sling that Thatcherite slop at me!”

“What’s the matter with a little bestiality among friends?”

“It’s . . . not commercial.”

“You . . . coward,” I fairly spit out in disgust.  “You care whether something’s commercial?”

“Sure I do.  As Yogi Berra said, ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.’”

“I don’t think Yogi said that.”

“Well who then?” he says.

“Maybe Bill Veeck.”


“The guy who sent a midget to bat for the St. Louis Browns to draw a walk?  What a nut!”

“Anyway–why isn’t bestiality a good idea?”

“Because,” he says, with a withering look that expresses his contempt for my naivete,  “animals don’t buy tickets to community theatre.”

All italicized quotes guaranteed verbatim Jarry.  Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Dead Writers Make More Money.”