KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Commentary: 496 words

Playful Conversations

by Jack Cooper

Two strangers sit next to each other in a bar. Start of a joke, right? If not an episode of “Cheers.” How about two strangers ride stationary cycles side by side in a fitness center? A set up for a “bit,” perhaps, the conceit that actors use to warm up or show off their extemporaneous chops?

In my case, these two scenarios set the stage for “Pardon Me” and “Heartbreak Kid,” respectively, two of three conversations I recently had with the daughters of Zeus. A third conversation, “The Loudest Talk,” circles around a file cabinet and break table, a situation that might be better compared to 60 seconds of the TV comedy, “Office.”

They all belong to a sub-genre variously called “playlets,” “micro-plays,” “flash plays,” “mini-plays,” “short shorts,” and “one-minute plays” that often find themselves stumbling out of the bar (or gym or office), so to speak, under the umbrella of microfiction.

However they’re labeled, they provide a forum for characters who seem to enter from the wings like the lost performers in Pirandello’s famous “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” In that groundbreaking work from the 1920s, just as the rehearsal for another of the great playwright’s works is about to commence, a group of actors suddenly walks on stage and interrupts. At first, the director thinks they’re crazy, but as they argue among themselves and divulge details of their story he begins to pay attention.

That situation comes closest to the manner in which these little plays evolve for me. In other words, I’m going about my left-brained business of driving or taking a shower, when one or more characters steps across my mental stage and says something outrageous, to which one or more other characters is compelled to respond. I apply the literary patina very lightly. Whether the storylines are a partial transcription of something overheard, like a found story, or a mash-up of memory and fantasy, similar to dreams, the outcome is always a surprise to me.

In keeping with the brevity of the material, I choose a minimalist approach to descriptions and directions beyond a brief “who” and “where” in the beginning. I also feel that staging, blocking, entrances and exits, or other dramaturgic conventions interfere with the ebb and flow of dialogue and imagination. In fact, I want even gestures and pauses to be up for grabs and supplied by the reader, or, if staged, introduced by the actors in whatever way comes natural to them.

The publisher Jeffrey Levine once said, “Every time we write a poem we announce to the world what, for us, a poem is.”* I’d like to think his statement is true for all art, and certainly for the stage play in each of its evolving forms. I am grateful to KYSO Flash for reserving a space in this issue to be shared by a few characters who walked into my shower in search of an audience.

[*Note: The quotation by Jeffrey Levine, publisher of Tupelo Press, is from “On Making the Poetry Manuscript—New and Improved, Part III” (29 September 2014), and is republished here by his permission.]

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