Working for the Mouse

(and other plays) by Trevor Allen

 

Preface 

by

Rob Melrose

Founding Artistic Director, The Cutting Ball Theater, San Francisco

 

"Acting and Trevor Allen"

 

Last year I was at the Golden Mask Festival in Russia and was on the

metro next to the wonderful theater scholar Maria Shevtova talking

with her about the art of acting. She said to me, “Rob, the older I get,

the more I think that to be a great actor, you first need to be a great

listener.” I would add a caveat to this rule: “To be a great actor in one

of Trevor Allen’s plays, you need to be a phenomenal listener!”

 

I directed the premieres of The Creature and Chain Reactions

and have had the pleasure of seeing the other plays in this volume

in performance. Trevor has a remarkable ear and a tremendous

sense of music in his writing. In a conventional play, an actor

needs to listen to his or her partner and respond in a way as if

hearing the line for the very first time. In a Trevor Allen “fugue”

the actor needs to listen to ALL the other actors while speaking

simultaneously about things that may or may not have anything to

do with what he or she is saying. I’ve seen actors start the process

thinking, “Well, I’m just going to focus on my track and not worry

about what the other actors are saying. Since my character doesn’t

hear these other characters then I as actor don’t need to listen to the

other actors.” Guess what? That doesn’t work. Like good a cappella

singing or playing in an orchestra, the actor in a Trevor Allen play

must be completely committed to his or her part and at the same

time must be listening carefully to what everyone else is doing. I’ve

had an actor throw their script across the room saying, “This is

impossible!” It is very difficult, but not impossible, and when the

actors get it right, the results are extraordinary! Talk about dramatic

compression. The audience gets wave after wave of a variety of

experiences all at the same time and in a way that is musical and

beautiful. All of these plays make for a very rich experience in the

theater and I encourage all theater artists to give them a whirl and

bring their best selves to them.

 

The Creature

I think The Creature is Trevor’s masterpiece. It is simultaneously

the most faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the

most experimental. It is the most faithful because it uses much of

Shelley’s own words and captures all the best moments from the

novel and gets right to the most important themes in the novel: the

act of creation, man vs. god, loneliness, the impossibility of human

relationships, prejudice, jealously, the nightmares of parenthood,

the way humans learn and our relationship to literature. I think

when most people read Shelley’s novel they are surprised to

find how sophisticated and complex it is after seeing numerous

“monster movie” adaptations. Trevor’s play is the only adaptation

I know of that really privileges Shelley’s themes and words over a

kind of horror-film experience. Because of the way Trevor fugues

different sections of the novel, the audience gets the experience of

many characters at once and gets a highly compressed and refined

distillation of the novel. At the same time, the audience is clued into

numerous parallels and mirrorings that a reader only discovers in

the novel after multiple readings. It is a terrific play, and my hope

is that with this publication, it can become a Halloween staple at

theaters in the same way that Christmas Carol is for Christmas.

 

Chain Reactions

I had the great pleasure of developing Chain Reactions in

Cutting Ball’s Risk is This: Experimental New Plays Festival and then

directing it at C.A.F.E. in San Francisco. It combines the two things

I like best about Trevor: a willingness to tackle big ideas and a desire

to show the simple, intimate moments that make us human. What I

admire most about it, however, is how Trevor makes the form of his

play match the content. Since the play is about physics, the atomic

bomb, and how we are all connected— the structure of the play is

like a science experiment with isolated scenes and monologues first

studied in isolation and then allowed to interact with the others to

see what results. The results are very exciting and reveal yet another

layer to the work. As the scenes and monologues fugue with the

others, new sentences reveal themselves through the combinations.

So in the same way the characters are unaware of the tremendous

effect their actions have on each other, they are also unaware of the

meanings that are created when their lines are mixed with the other

characters’ lines onstage. It is a lovely play with a lot more going on

than meets the eye.

 

Working for the Mouse, Tenders in the Fog, and Lolita

Roadtrip...

While I did not work on these plays, I saw all of them in the

theater and am a big fan. I love the humor of Working for the Mouse,

the complexity of Lolita Roadtrip, and the mystery of Tenders in the

Fog. All five plays in this volume are tremendously different but they

all share Trevor’s innovations in structure, his willingness to tackle

big issues, and his wonderful sense of humanity. Trevor has been

prolific here in the Bay Area and I hope that this book helps his

good work spread far and wide.

 

-R.M.