Sunday, March 4, 2012

An excerpt from Outrageous Fortune by Rebecca Salomonsson

HAMLET:  Soft you now, the fair Ophelia.—Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remembered.

Hamlet’s Fatal Flaw steps out of the shadows and stops him.

HFF:  Hold on there, cowboy.  Where do you think you’re going?

HAMLET:  What—who the devil are you and what do you mean by interrupting this pivotal scene in the play?

HFF:  I’m your Fatal Flaw, and I just think you should pause a moment and consider what you’re about to do.

HAMLET:  What exactly is my Fatal Flaw?

HFF:  Heck if I know.

HAMLET:  You don’t know what you are?

HFF:  Not really.  Some scholars say that your Fatal Flaw is your indecisiveness, your inability to act.  If you would just murder Claudius when you have the chance, you might save yourself from your own death, what with the poison and the treachery and all that unpleasant business.  But I don’t really think that’s your problem.

HAMLET:  You don’t, huh?  And what do you think is my problem?

HFF:  What isn’t your problem, really?

HAMLET:  You’ve got some nerve, you know?  What say you get out of my way and let me deal with Ophelia?

HFF:  See, there’s one problem right there.  You and Ophelia.  She’s such a sweet girl, and you know you love her, and yet I, your Fatal Flaw, drive you to curse her and abuse her.

HAMLET:  She betrays me.

HFF:  She doesn’t betray you.  Her father and Claudius put her up to it, and whether or not she even knows about it entirely depends on the director’s choice.

HAMLET:  She rejects me. 

HFF:  Me, me, me – it’s all about you, isn’t it? Maybe I am Ego.  That could be your Fatal Flaw.  All you care about is yourself. 

HAMLET:  And avenging my father’s death.  Now if you’ll excuse me…

HFF:  Maybe I’m Existentialism.  That’s what that whole “To be or not to be” speech is about, right? What’s life really mean? Why don’t we just end it all?  You over think everything. (Hamlet walks toward Ophelia.)  Wait!  I’m having an identity crisis here! I need you to help me figure out what exactly causes your undoing.  The other Fatal Flaws are making fun of me!

HAMLET:  Good luck with that.

He turns to Ophelia and Hamlet’s Fatal Flaw stays to watch the scene. Ophelia looks up from her book and stands to meet Hamlet.

OPHELIA:  Good my lord, How does your Honor for this many a day?

HAMLET:  I humbly thank you, well.

OPHELIA:  My lord, I have remembrances of yours that I have long├ęd long to redeliver.  I pray you now, receive them.

HAMLET:  No, not I.  I never gave you aught.

OPHELIA:  My honored lord, you know right well you did, and with them words of so sweet breath composed as made the things more rich.  Their perfume lost, take these again, for to the noble mind rich gifts wax poor when lovers prove unkind.  There, my lord.

HAMLET:  Haha, are you honest?

OPHELIA:  My lord?

HAMLET:  Are you fair?

OPHELIA:  What means your lordship?

HAMLET:  That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.

OPHELIA:  Wait a minute, we need to stop for a minute.

HAMLET:  Stop?  You can’t just stop in the middle of our scene. What is it with all these interruptions today?  You’re messing with my chi.

OPHELIA:  Your chi?

HAMLET:  That’s right, my chi.  My life force, my balance.

OPHELIA:  Wow.  Okay, well, sorry about that, but we have to have a talk.  I can’t do this anymore.  I can’t let you treat me this way.

HAMLET:  What are you talking about?

OPHELIA:  I’m talking about the way you treat me.  You rant and rave at me, you physically and verbally abuse me.  It’s wrong.  Did you know I’m in therapy because of you?

HAMLET:  It’s not my fault.  It’s his fault. (Points to HFF)

OPHELIA:  Who is that?

HAMLET:  My Fatal Flaw.

OPHELIA:  What is your Fatal Flaw, anyway?

HAMLET:  We can’t put a finger on it.

OPHELIA:  Whatever.  Don’t use him as a scape goat.  You’re responsible for your own actions.

HAMLET:  No, I’m really not.  In the first place, I’m written this way.  I can’t change my etymological make-up.  And yes, I’m completely at the mercy of my Fatal Flaw.

OPHELIA:  You can’t even identify your Fatal Flaw, so how can you be at the mercy of it?

HAMLET:  Ask him.

HFF:  It’s true.  I have him completely in my power.

OPHELIA:  Shut up.  This is a private conversation.

HFF:  No, actually it’s not.  Claudius and Polonius are overhearing every word.


Claudius and Polonius come out of hiding.

CLAUDIUS:  It’s true.  Hamlet’s physical and emotional response to you are excellent indications of his madness.

HAMLET:  I am but mad north-north-west.  When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.

POLONIUS:  You might as well know it, Ophelia, Claudius and I set this whole meeting between you and Hamlet up in order to determine whether or not he is mad. 

OPHELIA:  Yes, I already know.  You use me.  Your own daughter.  You use me like a mouse to catch a cat.

POLONIUS:  Well, in a manner of speaking, yes.  But it is for the good of all parties involved.  You included.

OPHELIA:  Really?  Do you know that in trying so hard to figure out if Hamlet is mad, you drive me mad in the process?

POLONIUS:  I know some repercussions are to be expected.

OPHELIA:  Do you know that I die?  I drown, for your information. 

POLONIUS:  Oh, my darling girl.  And I’m not there to save you because I die first.

OPHELIA:  Precisely.  Are you all aware that we are all on the same downward spiral to destruction?  Not one of us gets out of here alive.  Don’t you think that’s obscene?

HAMLET:  Yeah, bummer.

OPHELIA:  You all set yourselves on a path of deceitfulness, destruction, and death, and you’re so caught up in it that you don’t care who you take with you.  I am the only innocent one here.  Look, Hamlet.  I’ve done a lot of internal work to accept my fate.  All I’m asking for is some explanation.  What happened between us?

HAMLET:  I did love you once.

OPHELIA:  Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

HAMLET:  You should not have believed me.  I loved you not.

OPHELIA:  I don’t want to do the scene now, Hamlet.  I’m trying to talk to you on an honest level here.  I’m asking you to open up to me like you used to and tell me your true feelings.

HAMLET:  Can’t do it.


HAMLET:  Because then we’d be Romeo and Juliet.

OPHELIA:  Tell me how you really feel about me or I’m walking.

HAMLET:  What?  You can’t go rogue!

CLAUDIUS:  Ophelia, don’t be a foolish girl.  There’s a harsh penalty for characters who go rogue, you know that.  Polonius, talk some sense into your daughter.

POLONIUS:  Daughter, this is ridiculous.  You wouldn’t put all of us in danger of non-existence, would you?

OPHELIA:  I’m thinking about it.  All I want is for you all to own up to what you do to me. 

CLAUDIUS:  You really are to blame, Polonius.  She’s your daughter, after all.  You should stand up for her.

POLONIUS:  Excuse me, but you’re my king.  I pretty much have to go along with anything you say. 

CLAUDIUS:  That isn’t entirely true.  You have a mind of your own, right? I’ve always respected you for your good council.  There’s a possibility I would listen to it if you went against my plan here.

POLONIUS:  Yeah, right!  You’re so focused on not getting caught for the murder of the previous king that you’ll use anyone to get Hamlet out of the way.

CLAUDIUS:  Oh, I didn’t know you knew about that.

POLONIUS:  Of course I know about it!  I may be old, but I’m not stupid or blind!

OPHELIA:  Father, Claudius, please.  This is about me.  Focus on me for a minute.  Hamlet?  What do you have to say to me?

HAMLET:  Fine.  Ophelia, this whole scene we do here is poppycock.  I’m madly in love with you the whole time, okay?

OPHELIA:  Okay.  Thank you.

HAMLET:  I mean, I’m only cruel to you because I know the king and your father are watching, and I want them to think I’m mad.  But this scene kills me.  The whole time I’m cursing you and throwing you to the floor and stuff, I’m thinking “I love you!  Marry me!”  But of course I can’t say that.

OPHELIA:  Okay, I understand now.

HAMLET:  And when you die, I about die with you.  Seriously, I want to jump in that grave and be buried with you.  I hate that my last words to you are “To a nunnery, go.”  I hate that I can never tell you how I truly feel about you.

OPHELIA:  Okay, Hamlet, point taken.  You love me.  That’s all I wanted to know.

HAMLET:  You complete me.

OPHELIA:  We can go back to the scene now.

POLONIUS:  (Throwing himself at her feet) Daughter, forgive me!  If I had known how all this would have turned out, I would have taken you away from this place.

OPHELIA:  Good.  As long as you know you’re wrong.

POLONIUS:  I would do anything if only I could right it.

OPHELIA:  Great.  I forgive you.  Now back to your hiding place.  (he goes) Claudius, have you anything to say?

CLAUDIUS:  No.  I have no regrets.

OPHELIA:  Really?  Okay, well two apologies out of three is not bad.  I’m ready to move on.

Claudius returns to hiding place.

OPHELIA:  (cont.) Now where were we?

HAMLET:  Let’s take it from, “I loved you not.”  You should not have believed me.  I loved you not.

OPHELIA:  I was the more deceived.

HAMLET:  Get thee to a nunnery.  Why woulds’t thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me:  (lights start to fade) I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in…

Slow fade to blackout.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Glooming Peace and the Aftermath of Tragedy

I love the idea of exploring what happens to the surviving characters of Shakespeare's tragedies. I wrote this short story last summer while I was studying "Romeo and Juliet" in preparation for directing it.  I welcome your thoughts.

A Glooming Peace
By Rebecca Salomonsson

I thought I heard her call to me the night she died the first time.  I had only just left her chamber and a faint call of, “Nurse!” reached my ears.  But then all was silent, and I did not return to her.  If I had, all might have been saved.  All might have been forgiven. 

Forgiveness.  It is not something I have yet found.  For myself or for them.  The horror plays itself out again and again, never granting me a moment’s peace.  I wake in the night, having wept through my sleep, only to weep through my day.  My lady is dead, and I to blame. 

Though the Prince exonerated me and my Lord allows me to stay, I know in my heart that all could have been prevented had I told him instead of allowing it to continue – nay, enabling it to continue.  I know he knows that too, for sometimes I catch him staring at me while I pour his tea or serve his dinner.  I cannot look in his eyes, for the torment I see there is too great and I know I am the cause. 

She died twice.  The first time it was I who found her.

“And what did you do when you found her, seeming dead?” asked the prince at my trial.

“Grief-stricken, sir, I screamed and brought the household running to her chamber.”

“And what did you think at that moment?”

“I thought he had killed her.”
“Her father?”

“Yes.  Not that he had strangled her in her bed, but that she had died of grief because of his cruelty.”

“His cruelty in forcing her to marry?”

“Yes, your highness.  He said terrible, cruel things to her – that he would rather see her dead in the street than not married to his friend – and the like.  I hated him for that.”

“But then you thought she had consented?”

“Yes, your highness.  I counseled her to consent, saying this second match was better than her first, that she would be joyful in her new marriage.  She seemed to change heart then.  She said she would be ready to marry on Thursday, and she went to the friar to seek forgiveness for displeasing her father.”

“Or so you thought.”

“So I thought.”

The friar is allowed visitors now, and I go to see him from time to time.  He is the only one among us who has been imprisoned, so I take him small comforts – extra food and blankets – believing that I deserve to be in that dank cell alongside him.  His mind is healing now and we are able to talk of all that transpired.

“I cannot sleep,” I say.

“Nor I,” he says.

“Has God forgiven us, do you think?”

“I cannot tell.  It seems He has abandoned me, for I do not hear Him nor feel Him here.”

“Nor I.  Perhaps we are not listening,” I offer.  “I cannot hear anything save the tearing of my own heart.”

“I cannot forgive myself, how can I expect God to forgive me?  I killed two of His children.”

“You did not kill them.  You did not poison one and stab the other.  It was them that did that themselves.  You cannot say you killed them.”

“No, but I married them in secret, I gave her the sleeping potion, it was my letter that went astray and never made it to Romeo’s hands.  One misstep led to another, leading to their deaths.”  He takes the blanket I have brought him and turns to the wall of his cell, curling himself inward and away from me. 

“You thought all for the best.  You thought to end the feud, you wanted his happiness, just as I wanted hers.”  But he does not hear me.  He has descended into his grief this time, just as he has done on other visits.  I will come again next week.

The second time she died, I heard of it from Peter.

“Madam, there is news from town,” he said.

“Be gone, boy.  I care not for your news.”  I sat in Juliet’s chamber, looking out the window I had sat in front of a thousand times before, nursing her from my own breast, singing her to sleep.  My Juliet was dead.  My second daughter, beloved as much as the other I lost.  Susan from my flesh, Juliet of another’s, but loved both the same by me.  I sat at the window, wishing I could tear Capulet’s eyes out with my fingers for his cruelty to her, wanting to stab him in his sleep, poison him in his tea.  But I would do none of those things, for the fault was mine as well. 

“I have just come from the tomb, where the Lord and Lady Capulet are grieving anew, and with them the Lord Montague.  Romeo is dead in that same tomb where Juliet lies.  Romeo is poisoned and Juliet stabbed.”

I turned from the window to look at Peter, whose eyes were red from weeping.

“What fresh hell is this to torment me?  Romeo dead too?  Juliet stabbed?” 

He told me what he knew, what Friar Lawrence had confessed to the prince and the nobles.  The potion that Juliet drank to make her look dead, the letter, never delivered,  that was supposed to tell Romeo – banished to Mantua – that he was to meet her in the tomb where she would wake. 

“Friar Lawrence is under arrest for his hand in it.  And there is word they will come for you as well.”  Peter ran to me then and laid his head on my lap, and we sat together until nightfall, when the soldiers came for me.

 “Did you, for a moment, consider the consequences of enabling Juliet to marry Romeo in secret?” asked the Prince. 

“I did not, sir,” I answered.  I felt no need to lie, to try to save myself from imprisonment.  I cared not what would become of me. 

“Why did you fail to consider your actions?”

A question I had asked myself thousands of times, for which I had only one answer: I wanted Juliet’s happiness and nothing else.

“She was my child from another’s flesh, my lord.  I would have done anything she asked of me.”

I wish he’d imprisoned me, tortured me, burned me at the stake, for my body is not capable of feeling pain akin to that in my soul, and torture of the flesh might come as welcome relief from the torture in my heart.  But he released me, and I have remained with the Capulets – and now, just the master himself, for the mistress died some months ago.  My comfort is Peter, always trying to cheer me.  He will not blame anyone for the death of my Juliet, but points to the feud and lack of forgiveness from generations of Capulets and Montagues.  There is peace in the streets now – if one blessing could come of this, it is that.  Peter urges me to forgive the master and move forward.  And I almost have.  I almost have.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Outrageous Fortune

Sadly, it's been a year since my last post.  It's difficult for me to keep on top of this for a number of reasons, namely time and commitment issues.  But now that I have been blessed with a regular playwriting schedule (thanks to my mother for watching my youngest child two days a week!), I can no longer use time as an excuse, until I get down to the final days of freedom before summer camp starts, and I'm in a crunch to finish the play.  My commitment issues - well, there's a seperate beast all together.

This year's play is entitled "Outrageous Fortune."  The tragic characters from several plays are in group therapy together and vow revenge on those who wrong them.  I'm about a quarter of a way in, and I must say, this is probably the easiest writing I've done.  This play is writing itself.  I'm being a little ambitious with the language, including entire scenes from the original plays.  But over the last five years that I've been doing this (writing a Shakespeare-based play and directing it at the Arvada Center) my students have proven to me time and time again that they are entirely capable of handling Shakespeare's original language with style, ease, and acting ability.  So I'm not worried.  In fact, I'm greatly looking forward to delving into this stuff with the younger set (8-13 year olds for this camp) and seeing what they come up with.

I will also be directing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with the 13-18 year olds.  Our maiden voyage of a full original Shakespeare production last year was a beautiful success.  Producing "Romeo and Juliet" was not only a long lived dream of mine, it was a very valuable learning experience.  I'm not sure I could put my finger on, if asked, how it changed me, but it changed me.  It made me a better director, a better writer, and a better person.  It helped me see teenagers in a fresh new light - not only from working with the characters in the play, but from working with my students as individuals.  I've always been empathetic to them (I remember the pain, the sadness, the delight, the joy, the anticipation, the frustration, and the excitement of being a teen clearer than any of my students can imagine) but my experience with "Romeo and Juliet" deepened my understanding of young people further than even I thought possible.  Of course, I'm still expecting to hear "You don't understand me!" from my own daughters when they come of age.  I wonder if I'll ever be able to convince them that yes, in fact, I do understand them.

And so I look forward to "Midsummer" with great anticipation, and every Tuesday and Thursday until then, I will be seated here, at my computer, looking out the window as winter changes to spring, and writing "Outrageous Fortune."  I'll be updating this blog on a more regular basis, too - you know, in case anyone is actually reading it.