Notes on a Trailer Park Elegy

In Michael Pressley Bobbitt’s new play Trailer Park Elegy, I play a character based on me called Sham Sham. There is another character in the play called Lipsig, and the role is played by Chuck Lipsig. Neither of the characters is really like me or Chuck, but in a play if somebody says you’re the king and they call you king, that makes you the king. In this case, the characters based on me and Chuck are archetypes in a personal mythology of Bobbitt’s. The three of us have known and worked with each other in one way or another, as writers, actors, artists, and each other’s audience, for a decade or more, to the point where we fashion works of art out of our common experience and sensory perceptions of the world, creating what Freud might call a dream work, in which we might appear in each other’s dreams. However, everyone in the dream is really the dreamer. All the characters in your dream are really you. Trailer Park Elegy is Bobbitt’s dream.

Bobbitt calls his mythical Gainesville Paynesville. Chuck calls his Hogtown. I call mine Hadesville. This Sham Sham that I play calls himself a “broke-down ole hobo,” whereas I am a half-ass property-owner. He is single man, and I am married. He has a goat, I have a dog. Sham Sham is a sham of me, an image of me as seen in a funhouse mirror.

Artists have always done this kind of thing. The distinction between fiction and nonfiction is a relatively recent one, but the line between the conscious and unconscious mind has always been blurred. It starts with putting real people in real time and space,  and then introducing imaginary circumstances, so that they say things that they wouldn’t say and do things they normally wouldn’t do.

Michael Glover plays the protagonist, with the biblical name of Elijah, and he is a man with a dark past. He has done something terrible. He has used violence beyond what is necessary.

Violence may sometimes be the answer, depending on the question, but excessive violence is wrong and leaves a mark. The violence does not occur on stage, which was the rule in Greek drama, which also required that the effects of all violence be fully laid bare.

It’s a play about forgiveness, but that also makes it a play that asks for forgiveness, so it is a play that asks whether or not some things are unforgiveable.

Nothing is unforgiveable – if you are truly sorry.

If you are truly sorry, you should be forgiven.

No matter what.

But you can’t be truly sorry unless you fully understand what you’ve done and why it was wrong.

Bad.

Evil.

Evil is inside each of us.

That’s why we must forgive.

Evil is a choice.

If you do the right thing, and things go wrong, that’s tragic.

If you do the wrong thing, and cause things to go wrong, to hurt people, that’s evil.

If you do the wrong thing, and things go right, then you get away with it.

Except that no one ever gets away with anything.

 

I have delivered my acting skillset over to the hands of two playwrights who are friends of mine – Tom Miller and Michael Pressley Bobbitt. I am the servant of their plays.

Of course, in a new play, where nobody in the audience knows the script, you’re off the hook, as an actor, in that if you fuck anything up, nobody’s going to know.

 

We Go on the Radio

Glen Richards pointed out to me that the residents of trailer parks consider themselves to be home-owners too.

He’s right.

When Marvin the Marxist first started teaching me, I told him I was a class traitor to the bourgeoisie and he laughed at me and said, “You’re working class, schmuck, just like everybody who gets a paycheck.”

People who live in trailer parks may well consider themselves home-owners, but they probably do not consider themselves class traitors to the bourgeoisie.

 

At the preview, I came off stage after my first scene and told Chick Lipsig: “Well, I just dropped the N-word, and I’m still standing.”

“Two things,” Chuck said. “One, you were quoting someone. Two, your reaction was in approbation.”

That’s Chuck for you.

Woody Blue liked the play a lot. Enough to hang around afterward and drink a glass of wine. She said the play was not only timely, but becoming more so by the minute, with Richard Spencer, a leading white supremacist, about to come to town for a rally.

Woody hoped it could be prevented and said a precedent had been set when the Nazis were effectively banned from speaking at Berkeley because public safety trumped free speech. So, if the Crying Nazi is coming to your town, loaded down with nine guns and a knife, the threat of bodily harm seems genuine enough.

Trailer Park Elegy is all about the Klan and racism and the South, and there is rape and gun violence, and there are jabs at being “sissy liberal” and a shot at “our fancy gay mayor”, offered in the spirit of bonhomie, smiling, as the questions are spread out on the stage: Where exactly do guns fit into rape prevention? Is it at the point where prevention gives way to rage?

It is at this point in the play, the violence having taken place offstage, as was the rule in Greek theatre, with the effects of violence fully realized, that it might not seem like a good idea to resort to drugs and alcohol, but thank God (Bobbitt) because Elijah does just that, and the stuff acts on him like a truth serum. All the different acting teams have come together center stage, gathered by none other than the fancy gay mayor in a purple suit, along with all of Paynesville (the audience) to hear Elijah commemorate a racist old bitch who’s been dead for 20 years, and to do so drunkenly, honestly, confessing, in effect, begging for forgiveness, for everyone, which is laughable, so the scene appropriately ends with the ashes scattered, given back to the trailer park, blown all to the shit, with the mayor caught between the dust to dust.

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Michael Glover and Marival Parish play their scenes together as Elijah and his betrothed Sarah with the domestic ferocity of a Bergman movie, full of intense close-ups. We see into the heart of their relationship, where surely they would wish no one to intrude. Combined with the monologue Sham Sham delivers to Mabel the Goat and the eulogy Elijah delivers at the memorial, the effect is of a communal soul-baring. Elijah’s revelation is that the darkness is inside us, all of us. And by us, he means white people. He doesn’t mean Chen or the little black kids with cane poles over their shoulders, or the chickens who are tearing apart civil rights’ leaders. He’s talking about the darkness that overtook Christine Ellison, that particular darkness that wears bedsheets and is coming to your town.

Elijah gathers the trailer park community and unites it with the greater world, not to forgive a racist and three rapists, but to recognize their humanity. It’s called pity and fear. What the four of them have done in life is abhorrent, so evil it is awesome, overwhelming, soul-devouring, and so, finally, we must pity them.

So, what happens at the end of the play is a post pity party, where the trailer park tenants gather at Elijah’s home, beyond the Prairie View trailer park, in residential Paynesville.

It’s a new play, an original work, by a living playwright, who is also a member of the company, like Shakespeare, who happens to be directing the play, and you are originating a role, embodying that character, and the character is you, even if he’s your Bizarro – how can you go wrong?

Old theater adage: As long as you stay in character, it will all work out.

Three Moments with Mandy

Mandy Fugate is Kate, the park receptionist, but more than that, she is it’s take-charge  get-things-done go-to sergeant, and Many is wonderful at it all, a pro, with timing, awareness, presence, funny, real, sharp as a tack onstage and off.

The Scooter: When Sham Sham suggests that Elijah, who has injured his ankle, can transport himself on the scooter, and, oh yeah, Kate can push him, Kate shoots Sham Sham a look that kills.

Cracking Open the Beer: When Kate, imploring Elijah to open his door, says, “We’re really worried about you!” Sham Sham cracks open his beer, and Kate shoots him a look that kills.

The Memorial: When the ashes are about to be scattered, Kate places her hand, comfortingly, on Sham Sham’s shoulder, and he places his hand on hers.

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One Neat Trick we pulled was when Scot Gross as Mario and I walked offstage and continued our conversation was we walked behind the audience and then re-entered on the other side, continuing the scene.

 

 

Daniel Day Lewis says that one of the reasons he is retiring from acting is that it is just too emotionally painful when a project ends. I know what he means. Your connection is visceral, multilayered, mentally and physically challenging. You have to learn your lines, which means you have to think about them, word by word, and fit them into the flow of dialogue and unfolding plot, which means other people, and they’re trying to do the same thing, and you’re all going out there where you can embarrass yourself in front of people, or you can tell them the truth, so that as players you recognize in each other the kinds of powers each of you has to make things happen. When the lights go down for good, it all turns into memory.

 

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Taming the Rectangle of Swampburbia

 

The title is hyperbole. One does not ever tame the swamp. As Francis Bacon pointed out, “We cannot command nature except by obeying her.”

Tending to the Rectangle of Swampburbia, with neither the aid of electricity nor gasoline, requires both brute force and strategic planning. As Eisenhower put it, “Plans never work, but planning is essential.”  To begin with, mowing the entire rectangle at once is out of the question, therefore it has been divided into sections:

A – Uncle Albert is the side yard, which includes the swing set, and runs from the car port fence to the border of Chickenland.

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B – Backyard Betty fronts Chickenland and includes the pool.

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C – Caligula is a perverse emperor, clogged with fallen Spanish moss, anathema to the Quiet-Cut.

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D – Diablo is the devil of a front yard with its trees and hedges.

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E – Ezra is a Pound of Trouble, high grass weeds sprouting around our cars in the grass carport that should be concrete, were this to be a proper burbia.

 

 

 

F – Fenwick’s Fighting Friars front the basketball court (marked with three-point line and free throw), presenting the house and our curbside appeal.

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Chickenland is a separate country.

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Health & Fitness

Easy-Cut

It’s the best exercise apparatus I’ve ever used, the Quiet Cut push-mower. With it I mowed our entire rectangle of swampburbia from the Fourth of July, when our power mower quit, till Labor Day! It’s a combination of running and push-ups, a total-body workout, performed under the most grueling of conditions, beneath the swampland summer sun. It’s like pushing a blocking sled. When I played freshman football at Fenwick I lined up at running back. Now I’m prepping for offensive line!DSC03199.JPG

                                  

Never Seen Anything Like It!

Climate change deniers will now use their denial as an excuse for not being prepared for Hurricane Harvey. It has already begun.

They will tell us: We were not prepared because no one could have prepared for something like this, because no one has ever seen anything like this before. The proof that no one could be prepared for something like this is that no one was ever prepared for something like this.

The denial of climate change allows you the luxury (and profit) to be unprepared for climate change and excepts you therefore from any responsibility for counteracting its effects.

 

See? There’s nothing we could have done, out of the ordinary, because we were convinced, from all previous experience, that nothing out of the ordinary would ever happen.

Don’t worry. Nothing out of the ordinary will ever happen.

If you think something out of the ordinary is going to happen, it’s only because you’re imagining it.

 

And then this happens.

Too late to do anything about it now. People’s homes are destroyed. People are dead. Whole towns have been lost.

Make America great again?

Might want to try just making America again, only this time, think about it.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Hall-Fools-Shamrock-McShane/dp/1542928419

 

ARTSPEAKS: Everywhere is Nowhere

 

The story begins in the spring, heats up in the summer, cools off in the fall, and freezes dead in the winter, only to come back to life again in the spring. The end is what comes before the beginning.

 

The way the Spanish moss collected and hung on the trees and attached itself like drapery to every limb that it chanced to encounter and waved with every breath of wind made the background of every scene seem alive with shrouds, like living in the land of the dead.

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It was mid-December now and the temperature sank into the 40s one night, but a day later it was over 80, and winter fought for a say in the matter by pitching a fog all across the savanna and the wetlands and Finnegans Lake and the interstate, a thick milky fog that wrapped around the roads and bounced the headlight beams of cars back into the eyes of their drivers.

 

 

The evening sky swept by I-75 in a panorama that ran from red that bled into fire near the setting sun along the tree line etched in black and bloomed into pink and yellow and white where the light still shone and above it was charcoal gray that spread in gathering darkness from west to east, ever darker and encroaching till it was all swallowed in black but for the ribbon of lighted highway and the traffic flowed underneath it brighter than hell.

 

 

The flatlands and the wetlands and the creeks gave way to the red clay and rolling hills of Georgia and kept stretching higher northward as the hills grew gradually into mountains with jagged brown walled cliffs and the green of it all was only punctuated at first with dots of yellow and orange, but soon whole paragraphs of fire red until it shrank away in withered brown and gray and it was cold.

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Maybe our majestic manifest destiny was revealed in the change of topography you could see from the interstate and wherever you might stop to get gas and food off I-75 into Georgia, red clay and Quick-Stops and strip malls and outlet houses, and when you hit Chattanooga and into Tennessee there were those Walking Dead wasted factories, huge gray and rusted monsters where some massive labor-employing enterprise must have taken place, existed, and was no more, only more all that is solid melting into air, and everywhere is nowhere, but then, as it had been for quite some time, there were the hills no one had flattened yet and developed, and then there were the mountains that didn’t need to be made great again. The mountains stood for something.

https://www.amazon.com/Hall-Fools-Shamrock-McShane/dp/1542928419

 

 

Barn Burner

Lacy sat primly before the principal, her straight brown hair holding its artificial curl in his air-conditioned office, while outside the woods themselves seemed to be sweltering in the fierce summer heat of north central Florida. Lacy could see the heat shimmering through the tinted window behind the principal’s desk, where he was leaning far back in his chair now, unabashedly exhibiting the sweat stains around his armpits, hands behind his head.

Dr. Delmar Linet’s hair was ink black, although he must have been over sixty, and his face was tan and leathery. His Ph,D was in Agriculture. He’d spent some time behind a plow, and he was in the habit of tossing off his sports coat and un-cinching his tie the second he hit the friendly confines of his own office. He was the kind of man who chewed tobacco. He was the kind of man who would conduct a job interview around a toothpick, which he tongued now from the right side of his mouth to the left. This was a down-home interview.

“Imone tell you straight out I like you,” Dr. Delmar Linet drawled. “I like your . . . demeanor. Way you conduct yourself.”

Of course Lacy had dressed sensibly for an interview, if not the heat, her blouse buttoned up full to her throat in contrast to his half-mast tie. Lacy was a model of etiquette, and she had been forthright in stating her objective: she wanted to teach high school math, and she didn’t care where. Actually she did care, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

“Thank you, sir,” Lacy said smartly.

“I like your experience too. Working in a bank, working as an insurance adjuster, working with numbers, ‘ats good.”

“I know my math.”

“I bet you do, missy.”

Lacy didn’t bat an eye and neither did Dr. Delamr Linet. He was in no hurry. It was after lunch in the middle of summer and the school was dead and empty except for the secretaries and administrators in the front office.

“I may not have a lot of teaching experience,” Lacy volunteered. In fact, she had none. “But my mother was a teacher for over thirty years and . . .”

“This is the dog days, aint it?”

“Beg your pardon.”

“Was over ninety when I got up this morning. And that was at five a.m.” Dr. Delmar Linet  swiveled his chair toward the window and looked out. “Sky started out blank. Few clouds bubbled up around mid-mornin. And they’ll prob’ly bust sometime this afternoon. It’ll wash out the sky, but you’ll see, it’s just clearing the way for more clouds. And then the rain will pour down.”

“If you’re worried about my lack of experience then . . .”

“You know anything about basketball?”

“Basketball.”

Dr. Delmar Linet kept his chair angled toward the window, and told Lacy out of the side of his mouth, around his toothpick, “We were the state champs not too long ago, didn’t you know that?”

Suddenly he was the Principal, and Lacy hadn’t done her homework.

“Sir?”

“How’d you come here? You come through Canterside, didn’t you?”

“I . . .”

“You didn’t stay on the highway. You didn’t see the sign, honey.”

“Sign?”

“Sign says HOME OF THE STATE CHAMPIONS.”

“Basketball.”

“’At’s right.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Cuz you gone be the coach.”

“I beg your pardon.”

Dr. Linet pitched his toothpick into the trashcan and leaned toward Lacy. “This a small school, missy. Everybody’s got to pitch in and hep out. Aint nobody does just one thing. You understand?”

“Sir.”

“I wanchoo teach math. But I wanchoo coach them girls too.”

“I don’t know. . .”

“You think I was talking ‘bout the boys?” He laughed long and hard. “Don’t worry ‘bout that. Daddy Combs coaches the boys. Daddy Combs won the state championship. I’m just asking you to coach them sorry girls. Don’t believe they’ve won a game in a while, and that’s . . . ok. If there’s a problem . . .”

“It’s just that . . .”

“You don’t know anything about basketball.”

“Not really.”

“That’s a point in your favor.”

“I’m not sure I . . .” Lacy met his stare finally.  “Just what are the issues here?”

Dr. Delmar Linet smiled. Talking turkey here. “Imone be frank and you gone be earnest. The issues are these. Race. It’s gone be ‘bout race, cuz you’re white and they’re black. It’s gone be ‘bout sex. As in teen pregnancy. It’s gone be ‘bout a lot of things. But it aint so much about basketball.”

“I see.”

“And of course they’re dirt poor. Which breeds crime and violence. But we don’t need to do some sociological study here. I just want you to coach the team. In addition to your duties as a Math teacher.”

“Seventh grade math and pre-algebra in the high school. Is that right?”

Dr. Delmar Linet glanced at the schedule on his desk. “At’s right.”

“Is anybody going to help me coach this team?”

“If you can get anybody to hep you, at’s fine by me.”

“Is they’re anyone you’d recommend?”

Dr. Delmar Linet turned back toward the window. “There’s them clouds I was talken about.”

https://www.amazon.com/Hall-Fools-Shamrock-McShane/dp/1542928419

 

Frank Notes

Frank Notes

 

You Are Not Frank Sinatra

Gainesville Florida

June 2007

 

Day

1                    In the Wee Small Hours

 

Bob is in the woods and on the run. He is being hunted. He has come a long way. He goes from the woods to a road.

 

Sham drives his car. His mind is elsewhere. And there on the side of the road is his best friend, whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years. What’s it all about?

 

Sham and Bob in the car. Bob explains. Somebody or something is after him. It’s hard to say who or what.

 

Sham and Bob at the Clock. Bob and Sham eat breakfast. Bob hasn’t eaten in a long time.

 

Sham’s got to go to work. He’s an English Professor at the University of Florida.

Bob disappears into the crowd of students at Turlington Plaza.

 

At Maude’s Café, Scot is talking to Tom on the phone. Tom is in the hospital.

 

In the Theater of Bob’s Mind, Bob reflects, alone on the anguish of lost love.

 

 

2                    Night and Day

 

 

Sham is telling the story of Bob and his strange arrival in Gainesville to Scot and Tom at Maude’s Cafe.

 

Scot in the country. The man of nature. Sham continues telling Bob’s story to Scot.

 

The story goes on at Burrito Brothers, where the idea of Don Quixote presents itself. Bob’s particular insanity elevates him and those around him into a higher form of life, the world of song and the nightmare world of crime.

 

On the Stage, we enter the world of crime. Gregg is a police detective and he leads an interrogation of Bob that points to horrific crimes.

 

In the Blackbox, Tom poses a question that goes beyond the physical world into metaphysics: Are you Frank Sinatra?

 

In the Blackbox, Bob sweet-talks Robyn with the words of deSade.

 

 

3                    When Your Lover Has Gone

 

At Maude’s, the fellas – Sham, Scot, and Tom, continue unraveling Bob’s tangled history and fantasy, but now add Gregg Jones to the mix. Gregg is a real-life police detective and his interest is not whimsical, but professional.

 

On the Golf Course, Bob continues to play the swinger. He is a scratch golfer. Sham and Scot play along, trying to deduce the source of Bob’s insanity.

 

In the Museum of Natural History, Sham has a heart to heart with Bob. It’s all about physical and natural causes. It’s about alcoholism.

 

At Maude’s, Sham and Tom arrive at a metaphysical theory that remains to be proved.

 

At the Top, at night, Bob speaks sanely, logically, profoundly, but he is Someone Else.

 

 

4                    No One Ever Tells You

 

 

Now, as the interrogation scene has shifted to Maude’s Cafe, casually, it is discovered that real crimes have been committed, such as the murder and dismemberment of Melinda.

 

Outside the Thomas Center, Bob entices Robyn into the Dream reality with him.

 

At the Shamrock, Bob arrives during the Tom Miller Show, which he disrupts by one-upping Tom in a Sinatra-Off. A fight develops, after which Bob is consoled by the bartender, as Tom, Scot, and Sham assess the damage.

 

In the Morning in a Bedroom, Robyn lives Another Life with Bob.

 

5                    I’ve Got You Under My Skin

 

At night at the Atlantic, Bob is in full Sinatra-Other mode. He has transmogrified Gainesville into a place called Poisonville, where crimes have been committed. Then he gathers together his rat pack, and they hit Nighttown.

 

 

6                    Oh Look At Me Now

 

Another night at the Shamrock, Bob is confiding to Sham about the time he did in prison. And now Bob is turning the tables, playing Detective with a girl named Ashley. They are playing Cops and Robbers.

 

At the Side Bar, the Sinatra-Off continues, between Tom and Bob, dueling on the downtown streets in a Midnight Masque.

 

7                    Until the Real Thing Comes Along

 

In the kitchen, in the morning, Bob and Ashely, his new girl, try to find a stolen Ferris wheel. It’s a matter of simple deduction.

 

At night, in the living room, life turns tragic. Maybe Bob kills Ashley.

 

At night, at the Shamrock, is Bob feeling remorse? Is it for killing Ashley, or is it for a past full of misdeeds, a misspent life? Is that where the depth of the emotion in his singing lies? Sham tries to figure it out with Tom and Scot’s help.

 

Later at the Shamrock, over last call, Bob and Sham try to unravel the silken thread that is twisted into the Gordian knot.

 

 

8                    Angel Eyes

 

In the Theatre of Bob’s Mind, we are now full-scale fucking with time and space.

 

At the Shamrock, at night, the punchline to Melinda’s dismemberment is shared among Bob, Sham, Scot, and Tom, the rat pack.

 

On the streets of Gainesville, at night, this is the city that sleeps.

 

 

9                    After You’ve Gone

 

 

Bob remembers emerging from the woods on to the Drake Farm.

 

On the farm, Sham, Scot, Tom, and Gregg, talk obliquely about what to do with Bob.

 

At the Shamrock, at night, Sinatra sings I Get a Kick Out of You.

 

 

10                I Get a Kick Out of You

 

In the Country, Sham takes Bob for a ride.  They are on a road that leads nowhere. There is a gunshot.

 

Bob starts to sing One for My Baby to the Bartender in the Shamrock.

 

The song takes Bob on to University Avenue.

 

11        They Can’t Take That Away from Me

 

Here is Bob in his prime at the Shamrock, regaling the crowd, shuttling between two universes, one inside, one out.

 

12        One For My Baby

 

At night in the Shamrock, the rat pack mourns the loss of its leader – who then walks in. It is like the Apostles the night Jesus came back.

 

 

Locations

 

Woods

Road

Drake Farm

Clock Restaurant

Turlington Plaza

Maude’s

Burrito Brothers

Blackbox

The Top

Thomas Center

Bedroom

Shamrock

Atlantic

 

 

Songs

  1. In the Wee Small Hours
  2. Night and Day
  3. When Your Lover Has Gone
  4. No One Ever Tells You
  5. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  6. Oh Look At Me Now
  7. Until the Real Thing Comes Along
  8. Angel Eyes
  9. After You’ve Gone
  10. I Get a Kick Out of You
  11. They Can’t Take That Away from Me
  12. One For My Baby

 

 

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