Working for the Mouse

(and other plays) by Trevor Allen

 

Introduction

by

Paul Walsh

Professor of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism

Yale School of Drama

 

In his Speculations about theater and writing and thinking,

playwright Mac Wellman (that damnable scribbler), disparages what

he calls “Geezer Theater”—the theater of the Already Known—and

“the geezerly obsession with managing what is new, under the

auspices of the Already Known.” Instead, Wellman writes, it is the

Strange that keeps us in the theatrical present and Charm that draws

us in.

 

Trevor Allen is no fan of Geezer Theater (though he is a fan of

Mac Wellman). His stories are strange and have the power to charm.

They unravel in bursts, not lines, scattering across the space and

time of the stage in surprising and always charming configurations,

drawing attention to the act of telling as much as to what is told.

“What scatters, occupies.” Wellman writes. And elsewhere: “The

jumble may be jumbled but the story remains in some senses tellable

even if such a telling appeals not to the better class of theatre geezer.”

 

These are cubist tales of refracting perspectives; fragments

woven into arias and duets and fugues that capture the poetry

of speech and the metaphysics of the commonplace. They are

strange tales at times, but familiar; and they push us to ask our own

questions and question our own answers. They are tales of what

the Physicist in Chain Reactions calls “complementary realities” in

which words fail and also succeed as “the chaos dissolves into order.”

There is hope in Trevor’s interrogation of the chaos and obsessions

out of which we construct our lives for (as the creative writing

teacher Professor Keith says to his student in the same play) “what’s

ugly and dumb today…could be Picasso tomorrow.”

 

Trevor has a talent for fracturing what is known or remembered

vaguely (Mary Shelley’s tale of Frankenstein in The Creature,

Nabakov’s Lolita complex in Lolita Roadtrip, Disney’s Magic

Kingdom in Working for the Mouse, memories of banshees and

selkies and merrows in Tenders in the Fog, or Leó Szilárd convincing

Albert Einstein to sign a letter in 1939 that resulted in the

Manhattan Project in Chain Reactions) to reveal unsuspected truths.

 

His chosen form is the fugue, which is not only a musical form but

also a dissociative disorder resulting in a breakdown of identity and

flight from one’s usual environment. Contrapuntual movement, after

all, need not always be harmonic. Order, beauty, and even meaning

may reside elsewhere, as these tales suggest. Knowing this pushes

these plays out of the geezerly and into the 21st century.

 

Sometimes Trevor favors stories that speak to their audiences

directly (as the Shanachie does in Tenders in the Fog). Sometimes

he favors stories that speak to their audience obliquely as the

eight figures in Chain Reactions do, weaving a tale of disaster and

hope out of the fragments of mundane utterances. But always he

favors stories that speak. Words may fail, but they are the stuff of

discoveries and memories and moments of recognition, linking

teller to tale and maker to what he has made. Whether Einstein or

Frankenstein, the creator here is as inextricably linked to his creature

as the playwright is to his play: “bound together by chains,” as the

Creature says. There is an obsession in these plays with the act of

telling and it is this that demands these plays be performed. They

gain power when embodied by actors. They deserve an audience

of listeners. These tales long to be performed (and each has been

performed and deserves to be performed again), because, like the

Irish Shanachie, they bear witness to a wisdom that is ancient if

forgotten in the day-to-day cacophony of speech, and that can only

be made present in the telling.

 

To a certain extent each of these plays is a tale of compulsion

and obsession, as if the stories themselves (like Frankenstein’s

creature) proclaim: “I have pursued my creator to utter ruin—.”

Lolita Roadtrip is obsessed with the fading memory of youth in

the shape of an under-aged boy. Working for the Mouse is obsessed

with the promise of eternal youth in the figure of Peter Pan. Chain

Reaction is obsessed with ordering patterns in the face of apparent

chaos. Tenders in the Fog is obsessed with the fateful sea and the

curses carried on the tides. And The Creature is obsessed with the

need to tell one’s story and create life by harnessing the power of

words. “I made a discovery of great importance,” Frankenstein’s

Creature says in The Creature: “I found these creatures possessed a

method of communicating their experiences and feelings to each

other by articulate sounds. I saw that the…words…they spoke

sometimes produced laughter or sadness. This was a godlike art.”

Each of these plays tells a tale that unravels or unfolds as it proceeds,

making strange again what seemed once to have been known and

playing on our eyes and our ears with alluring charm.

 

“Cacophony is home to me,” Trevor once said in an interview. “I

have become accustomed to having a chorus of voices in my head.”

Here those voices coalesce into five strange tales to charm the stage.

 

-P.W.