Guy: Just a sec. (He pulls a tube out of his shirt and blows, inflating his belly and love handles. He pulls tufts of hair out of his head and plugs them into his ears.)
Lucy: What are you doing?!
Guy: Letting myself go. Ahhh… Life’s short, Lucy.*
This cycle happens several times per year. I request plays from other libraries, receive them at the circulation desk, walk to a table 10 feet away, scan the play, find daunting production challenges (huge casts, multiple characters of color, graphic sexual content, cultural context too alien to my market, technical specs which exceed a small theatre budget, etc.) and then promptly return the play or plays to the same desk from which I received them. Please don’t think that I underestimate my market. I simply believe that if I’m going to take my time reading and considering the merits of a play for production, the main purpose for my reading in the last 3 years, I prefer not to waste time. I’ve seen brilliant Broadway productions of Fences and Two Trains Running, but until my community has fostered generations of theatrically curious African American men, I don’t have the bodies to fill the costumes.
I was attracted to Quake after reading some buzz about the Melanie Marnich play. I have already been familiar with Marnich’s These Shining Lives, a play and musical which chronicles the tragic story of women in my local communities whose lives were destroyed by corporate negligence . I was quickly enchanted by Marnich’s ability to parody the “expressionist theatre” genre into scenes stuffed with a sardonic and outright hilarious dialogue which expose the stereotypes, traps, and tropes of modern femininity. We follow Lucy, the play’s protagonist, from the regular Guy who lets himself go, to the bright Brian who cheats, to the Jock with whom she pretends to have similar interests, to harnessing the intoxicating power of beauty, to the shrink who confounds her, to nice guy who bores her, to the flirtation turned fantasy wedding, and finally to the nice guy in the park, all the while haunted by a mysterious woman killer on the lamb. However, after encountering the above stage directions* by page 4, the play keeps providing confounding production gems:
At this, Lucy collapses in the snow and tries to crawl out of the storm against the wind. It’s tough. Lucy looks back for a second. Hell with it. And keeps going. She crawls out of the blizzard of death and into the very cool urban coffee shop/café.
She stands in a line with all the other contestants – all mannequins who are dressed like her. She is being judged by Cooper Trooper, a rich southern guy. He sits at a table with all the other other judges – all mannequins are dressed like him.
Lucy starts a power drill and hesitatingly, wincingly drills a hole in her head. But wait! It doesn’t hurt! She drills another hole. And another. Feels kind of good, actually.
Not to mention this dialogue gem (graphic content warning):
Man: I’ll bounce you off the side of a pick up truck, and you’ll know I love you. I’ll fuck you up the ass till you spit out your teeth and you’ll know I’m crazy for you.
Sorry, I warned you.
I look forward to reading more Marnich, as she is obviously a talented playwright. Perhaps the next read will not be a surrealist work anticipating an an unlimited budget, with dialogue that will literally cause opening night strokes, and prompt angry city council meetings replete with pitchforks. I’d have an easier time producing Our Town in the nude.
Recommendation: Major cities only
Cast: 3w/3m in original production: (5-17 possible) all but Lucy play several roles, of non-specific age, approximately 30s
Running time: 80-90 minutes with no intermission
Royalties (professional): $80 per performance
Costumes: 17, contemporary, many quick changes, see above for special effects
Props: conventional, contemporary, several quick set changes, stationary bikes, a bed that someone can disappear into.
Controversial topics: sexual assault (language only), infidelity, strong language, same-sex attraction
Standard Edition ISBN: 978-1-62384-225-3
Original Production: Quake premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in February 2001, at the Actors Theatre of Louisville
Marnich has been a resident playwright at New Dramatists in New York City since 2005.
Marnich received the Carbonell Award (South Florida Theatre) for Best New Work of the Year play in 2007 for her play, Cradle of Man.
Complete Biography: http://newdramatists.org/melanie-marnich
featured image: Lisa Lee Schmidt in Quake, directed by Katherine Owens, Undermain Theatre, 2000.