• By A.J.

Banana Bread Can be a Metaphor for Anything

That’s right. For the first time in my 31 years of living, I managed to make banana bread all by myself. I view this as a two-fold sign: I am obviously well cared for, thus negating my need to learn how to cook, and I am woefully behind on my cooking game. I thank my wife for the first and blame myself for the second.

Now to the point of the post.

Of course during the making of what will surely be magnificent banana bread, I started thinking about playwriting and how cooking skills translate into creating/writing plays, or really, anything.

We all know the basic tenants of a play. There’s a stage, usually, and actors and a director and words, written by a playwright, that are committed to memory and then imagined in front of an audience. There’s a set and possibly lights. In terms of the play, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Someone will change during the process, probably our intrepid (or bold?) protagonist. There will likely, and hopefully, be laughs. And someone might die or sing a few songs. (Bonus points if you do both at the same time.) And that’s it in a basic sense. That’s the whole blueprint. Just like my banana bread has the same humble origins as the banana bread made at the Waldorf Astoria.

What separates the two are the details. Yes, apparently the devil is in there. Or heaven. Or just a heck of a lot of work.

Whatever the case, details divide the pretenders from the contenders. And yes, details also take time and work and repetition. I surmise that’s why recipes are handed down from generation to generation – it took someone that darned long to figure out the exact proportion of ingredients to hit the sweet spot of the people around their dinner table. Failure probably abounded early in the process, likely on a night when no one was around but trusted friends or family, and certainly not on a night when critical cousin Karl would be there (I mean, who invites that guy, anyway?) Mostly, though, I figure recipes take creativity to add elements, sometimes unexpectedly; resiliency to try half-a-cup of walnuts on this batch and a third-of-a-cup on the next; and thick skin to withstand the criticism of those eating and conjecturing, who probably don’t know a lick about making food, but feel as though they need to offer an opinion anyway (I’m looking at you, Karl.) That’s just for banana bread. Goodness knows how professional chefs manage a thousand different dishes and recipes.

Playwrights certainly face the same level of frustration. Every play has a new blueprint, a new plan, a new voice, a new goal, and a new audience whose sweet spot needs hit (and which is unique to each individual, but, counterintuitively, also seems to reside inside all of us.)

I wish I knew what the trick was to writing a successful play. I’ve written plays that languished through eight drafts and still had major flaws, and I’ve written plays where the third draft felt polished. Even more frustrating, I’ve written plays where the play felt polished, had a reading, and then promptly fell to pieces. The recipe is hard to tweak.

And it’s a lot of pain sometimes. Actually, a lot of times. But what I have to tell myself, is that after all that turmoil, the greatest joy lies in the creation, in the completing a task that always seems impossible, in seeing that creation grow and evolve into its own story about the world, and ultimately watching that play stand on its own and fulfill others. That’s the best part.

Except for eating it… I mean…

Anyway, here’s what I have coming up:

May 12-14th: First production of The People at the Edge of Town at the Marlington Opera House, Marlington, WV. Directed by my friend and talented playwright, Eric Fritzius.

May 14th: First reading of The Redemption of Rube Moats, held at M.T. Pockets in Morgantown, WV, as part of the Dramatists Guild of Pittsburgh’s “In Their Voices” series.

June 24th: Second reading of The Redemption of Rube Moats, at Theatre on the Lake (TOTL), as part of our Old Red Barn Reading Series.

August 6th: Reading of The People at the Edge of Town at Our Town Theatre in Oakland, MD, as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations.

November: Possible workshop production of The Redemption of Rube Moats… But more on that later.

I hope there’ll be more, but rejection/acceptance season doesn’t officially kick in until late February, so this is all I know for right now.

I’m also cooking up something new, a play called Uplifted, but it’s so fresh, I don’t think I could write a synopsis yet. I’ll say this, though: It’s tasty.

… And my banana bread, like my cooking metaphor, is now done. Nice.

- A.J.

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