Two Artists Walk into a Play: Developing a New Work

 Randall Rodriguez, John Cencio Burgos. Photo by Al Foote III.

Randall Rodriguez, John Cencio Burgos. Photo by Al Foote III.

Max Berry

When it comes to the phrase “write what you know” playwright, Monica Bauer had a lot to work with. A former political science professor as well as a veteran of the National Guard, she sought to write a play that reflected her unique life experiences. Bauer says “The real truth about politics is found, I believe, in the contradictions in human beings. The problem of politics is flawed human beings trying to make sense of movements in history beyond their control. So I wanted to work with the twin national tragedies of the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, both wars of choice, both wars where a lot of young people died or came back wounded.”

Taking place in a dive bar in Texas in the middle of the Iraq War, Two Men Walk Into a Bar tells the story of brothers Franklin and Bill McNally as they argue over who is the rightful owner of the bar that their mother owned before her passing. This is only made harder by the death of Bills wife and his dubious claim that she fell down the stairs.

Ms. Bauer is no stranger to the “page to stage” process. She has had several plays grace the stage including Chosen Child (Boston Playwrights Theater), Vivian's Music, 1969; (Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Making its Off-Broadway debut starting Nov 15 at 59E59 Theaters), and the one person play Made For Each Other. This is where Ms. Bauer’s partnership with director John FitzGibbon began. They took Made For Each Other to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012 and received excellent reviews. FitzGibbon was then invited to direct a one-act play to appear alongside Made For Each Other. That play was the original version of Two Men Walk Into a Bar. When the one-act became a full-length production set to appear in the Dream Up Festival at Theatre For a New City, Baur and FitzGibbon set off to work again.

One of the most exciting things for everyone involved in the premiere of new work is that many times the script is never what one would think of as “complete.” Playwrights are always making discoveries, little things that actors do can get worked into a script, and directors give the playwrights ideas for later drafts. This show was no exception. Bauer says “There are always questions and revisions in any new work's development, and I was able to deal with these by email. And when I finally got back to New York, just a few days before the show opened, I was able to cut the first scene entirely and reshape the ending. This is such a great cast; I knew they would be able to deal with changes. And in fact, I'm still changing the play. We tweaked the ending after the first show in the run!”

One of the most important things to anyone creating a new work of theatre is how the audience will feel when stepping out of that theatre. For Bauer she says “Right now there is a great divide between sections of this country, and empathy is in short supply. I'd like people to experience these real human beings for 90 minutes and have their stereotypes shaken up a bit. I'd like people to debate in the lobby afterward the guilt or innocence of my protagonist, who, like Ulysses, is home from a war that was fought for all the wrong reasons.”

Whereas FitzGibbon says “They say the first step in dealing with your problems, your addictions, is to recognize them. Hopefully, people seeing this play can understand the extent of these tendencies, and find ways of creating structures in our government and in our families to counteract the causes of these aberrations.

Even though the curtain closes on this particular run of Two Men Walk Into a Bar on September 16th, Bauer is intent on continuing to improve the play. “The process on this piece is yet to come, with Monica intent on revising it. I look forward to seeing what changes she may come up with for the play. I think I provided her with a good rendition of what is currently on the page. She can now go from there.” FitzGibbon says when asked about the process of the piece. So even if you miss this particular run, keep your eyes open, there’s still life left to be lived in this show.