Jefe's House

Medicine, Man Now on Kindle, Too

by on Oct.20, 2010, under Theatre

“Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away.”
~Clarence Darrow

As with Tesla’s Letters, I’m happy to report that Medicine, Man is now available on Kindle and that a free excerpt is also available via the new Kindle web browser app which lets you buy and read Kindle books without needing to own a real Kindle.  Great idea from amazon.  An excerpt of the play was also published in the ep;phany literary journal in 2003, which you can also read for free.

A word to the wise  — do not buy a hard copy of this script on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com from the scammers trying to resell it for tens or hundreds of dollars.  Be sure you’re buying a hard copy directly from barnesandnoble.com for $6.75, or the Kindle version for $7.13, or a hard copy directly from amazon.com for $7.50,  or the amazon.co.uk Kindle version for a similar amount in Euros.

In case you’re not familiar with the play, after the success of the Mill Mountain Theatre’s regional premiere of Tesla’s Letters in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia in 2001 (after its world premiere Off Broadway in 1999), artistic director Jere Lee Hodgin asked me what I was working on next.  I shared with him a two-page synopsis I had written for a play I planned to write someday centering around my family and the other denizens of southwestern Virginia, and exploring my feelings surrounding the death of my grandmother.  Jere and the powers-that-be at the theatre commissioned me to write the play, the first time Mill Mountain had ever commissioned a play, and paid for it using grants from the Norfolk-Southern Foundation and Oncology & Hematology Associates of Southwest Virginia, both of which were regular donors to the theatre.

Billboard atop the Mill Mountain Theatre's atelier where my office was located and where the cast stayed.

Two years later the finished play was cast in New York City and featured Tesla’s Letters alum Janelle Schremmer along with Sean Hayden, Bev Appleton, Sarah Yorra, Sarah Dandridge and George C. Hosmer.  Jere directed the world premiere mainstage production in 2003. Thanks to their hard work the play was a big success and I was really happy with the production.  My being directly involved in the rehearsal process helped ensure that everyone involved got my wry intentions, including audiences. The play got rave reviews.

In 2005 the play went on to a regional premiere at Theatre Three Dallas with a new cast and director.  The reviews there were positive to mixed to godawful, but such is showbiz. One must take reviews with a grain of salt, but still one can’t help but wonder what people are saying about one’s work and grab a newspaper every day to see what the critics are telling people about your baby.    I wasn’t directly involved with the Dallas production but I had the pleasure of being flown down for the opening weekend. Although the production was sincere and the cast and director terrific, talented, and earnest, I secretly feared that most of the subtext and themes had been overlooked in this production but it was too late, so I grinned and bore it. I was just happy the play was being produced again, and besides, I told myself, at least the text itself is good for a few laughs.

"A fresh new comedy" at Theatre 3 Dallas; March, 2005.

Seemingly my fears weren’t unfounded. I’m not sure the cast and director fully got it, and hence neither did some of the critics.  This was a faux metaphysical dark comedy with absurdist overtones about medical ethics and NASCAR for crying out loud, and chock full of farcical stock characters (the dumb hillbilly; the career-driven Yankee; the obnoxious New Yorker; the Bible-quoting minister; the romanticized, hyper-spiritualized Indian chief).  How on earth could anyone perceive it as a family drama and think the play’s point was to offer serious spiritual messages or enlightenment about the afterlife?  If I possessed such secrets I’d be a ghost whisperer writing self-help books and working the daytime talk show circuit.  The play depicts the netherworld as a veritable carnival of cross-dressing, gender-hopping ghosts, and borrows from a number of faiths ranging from Christianity to Hinduism to Buddhism to the Cherokees and probably a number of other religions by accident.

You might think it shallow or misguided to care what critics think, but until you’ve had the experience of being publicly excoriated before thousands and thousands of readers I urge you to withhold judgment.  In New York a bad review in the Times can make a play close within a week.  It’s a play, and by definition it’s written for the masses.  Reviews are also written for the masses, and can make or break a show.

My grandmother was a wisecracking, chain-smoking smartass who told us dirty jokes and once claimed we were part American Indian.  She was a fan of Hee-Haw and the Grand Ol’ Opry.  She was out picking tobacco at the age of 4, had an 8th grade education, and yet still raised two lovely daughters.  She had once been quite the fisherwoman and once, I’m told, quite the drinker.  She was not the saccharine, pie-making Aunt Bea type, and I wanted the play’s humor to reflect that.  I was wracked with guilt at not having made it from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to her Virginia bedside to be with her and the rest of my family on the day she died in a Roanoke hospital, and that led me to write about it.  No play about her would be honest if it not laced with bawdy humor, obscenities, irony, anger, guilt, an abortive search for religion, and sarcasm.  It contains desperate moments of clinging to spiritualism one minute and casting it aside the next.  It plays on America’s stereotypes of Southerners, Northerners, preachers, Native Americans, doctors, twins, and then turns the tables on those stereotypes.  But I turned with the most jaundiced eye towards elements of myself throughout the play — most specifically in Dr. Sue Morrison and the hapless Calvin Barker’s formidable sister Tracy.

Critics aside, there was also the handful of jackasses from the audiences in both Virginia and Texas who wanted to compare the play to Tesla’s Letters, which is  like comparing pencils to cottonballs.  This bold minority had the audacity to corner me in the lobby after seeing Medicine, Man with long faces to tell me how disappointed they were that my newest play wasn’t a political drama, and that they just didn’t get it, didn’t understand why I’d written “fluff.”  I’d usually respond by telling them how I was likewise disappointed in their personalities, or that I wasn’t surprised they didn’t get it because Tesla’s Letters was a problematic,  on-the-nose,  didactic broadside whereas Medicine, Man was written for intelligent people. That usually stumped them long enough that I could make a quick getaway.

Fortunately lots of people across the country did “get it.”  Over the next several years I got requests for the script from law professors, medical ethics professors and physicians who wanted to use it in their classrooms. I got requests from actors and actresses wanting to memorize monologues from it for their auditions, and I would gratefully print out hard copies and  drop them in the mail at my own expense, or email them pdfs,  to fulfill these requests.  You see, unless a play gets produced in New York or Chicago and receives decent notices in the major media, playscript publishers like Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service generally won’t touch it.  I finally went wildcat and self-published it through Amazon’s CreateSpace imprint in 2008.  I’m surprised to say that its sales have surpassed those of Tesla’s Letters; something I never imagined possible.  I was also thrilled when the Inspira Theatre Co. in Philadelphia presented it as a public reading in 2009 to a packed house.

I hope I haven’t sounded too defensive here about my second child.  Thanks for listening, and enjoy the script.

 

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