Working for the Mouse
(and other plays) by Trevor Allen
Director, Playwrights Horizons, New York
"Trevor Allen’s plays"
When I was a “wee” one studying music and beginning a singing
career which somehow morphed into a directing career, I was taught
a song which helped me define the nature of a fugue. It went like
this: “A fugue is an odd sort of form/it jumps it skips/it’s far from
the norm.” It’s a catchy little lyric written to a J.S.Bach tune which
perfectly describes the work of Trevor Allen.
Perhaps it’s that early training, but I have always been attracted
to writers whose work has an innate musicality to it. This is why
Trevor’s work has always been of particular interest to me. It’s not
just that he writes what he describes as “fugues,” but his plays can
really mostly be understood best as a kind of musical composition.
More seriously, Merriam Webster defines a fugue as “a musical
composition in which one or two themes are repeated or imitated
by successively entering voices and contrapuntally developed in a
continuous interweaving of the voice parts.” When we look at the
plays in this anthology, even the ones that don’t immediately strike
us as following this structure, we find that Trevor unfailingly gives us
a look at a multiplicity of voices repeating and imitating each other
until their themes begin to transform into one larger one.
In Tenders in the Fog, one of the pieces more directly attached
to the fugue form, Trevor tells the same story through the interior
monologues of four different characters, three generations of
fisherman and a Selkie found off the coast of Northern California.
And of course the Selkie transforms into a Shanachie, and serves as
a guide, telling the audience the story and delivering up a “moral”
for good measure. While our doomed fisherman complete repetitive
tasks, and relive their own failures and generational conflict over
and over, we get to listen to all three perspectives, drawing our own
conclusions and letting our sympathies slide between grandfather,
father, and son. Life is complex. And short. And unpredictable. And
we often can’t see ourselves clearly because the fog can get really
thick. By flowing through the current on this ever drifting boat, the
reward we receive is getting a chance to cut through the fog, literally,
and see the bigger picture of how our lives gain some meaning by
the addition of small details.
In The Creature, we get not so much a fugue as radio for the
stage. What’s remarkable about this piece is its point of view. Mary
Shelley wrote Frankenstein from Victor Frankenstein’s point of
view. But The Creature flips that script and uses Shelley’s own text
to reverse our sympathies and understand that maybe Frankenstein
was the monster, not the Creature who wanted nothing more than to
be human. The play never lets us forget Shelley’s original by keeping
Frankenstein as a sometimes narrator, but really allows the
Creature’s voice to be paramount. Again, by juxtaposing the two
voices side by side, contrapuntally, we see a bigger picture and
eventually have to ask if we aren’t our own worst enemies as well as
our own best friends when we can fully admit to our own humanity.
Even in a solo play such as Working for the Mouse, there’s a
multiplicity of voices ringing out. The Mad Hatter, Alice, Peter Pan,
Gary, Tammi, and of course the young Trevor himself. These voices
weave a tapestry of life off-stage at the “happiest place on earth.” The
story, as many of Trevor’s stories are, is non-linear, moving back and
forth through the major incidents of his time as an employee. And
while we laugh at the many indiscrete actions of the actors inside
the suits, we also get a story of a young man who doesn’t want to
grow up, but eventually learns that he must. It’s touching but not at
all sentimental, in part because we see the ramifications for those
who choose to stay behind and continue as perpetual adolescents.
Life backstage may be fun for a while, but it starts to become a little
seedy the longer you stay.
I’ve had the good fortune to work on all three of these plays
directly with Trevor. Building them together, watching and listening
as he carefully places each voice side by side, overlapping, and
orchestrating them for maximum impact. In each instance, the
visuals were left for me to work with, deciding how best to let these
stories be heard and helping to tell them by creating a visual world
to support that telling. A rotating ship, changing its perspective and
relationship to the audience as the story unfolds. A radio play. And
a bench in front of a brick wall. That’s how we chose to do this. But
the options are really endless. The text tells the tale, but Trevor is
interested in how others will choose to show it to us.
This isn’t kitchen sink drama after all. It’s a complex world, with
complex problems, and a multiplicity of personalities and characters
to fill it. These plays are interested in how these voices and disparate
personalities interact. So it’s only fitting that a world filled with
a multiplicity of performers and directors and designers and
producers should all get their crack at telling these stories. I hope
you have as much fun making them sing as I did.