Thank you Chopped. Yes, I mean the Food Network show hosted by the adorable Ted Allen. That TV show inspired Mel Nieves (2013 Voices Inside/Out Resident Playwright, pictured below) to create a writing exercise for the circle. Instead of just giving a prompt and letting the men in the circle write about whatever they wanted, Mel gave the men the ingredients for a scene: a setting (an abandoned hotel), characters (a ballerina, a clown, a fisherman and a goldfish in a bowl), props (bottle of soda, four plastic chairs, a three legged table, broken fishing rod, cup) and lines that had to be used in the scene (“Frosty day in Florida”, “How you like them bananas?”, “The chocolate tomato pie was undercooked”). We had no idea what the men would dream up for their scenes. And, we were kept in suspense a little longer due to a fire drill at the prison that prevented our on-time arrival.
As soon as we walked through the gates and toward the visitor’s center, the men were already outside waiting on us. We headed in, set up the circle and quickly got to work. And we needed every minute of the session to get through the amazing scenes.
Derek’s wild piece kicked off the evening. It was fast, furious and funny and while watching the goldfish — played by Pioneer Playhouse actor Eric – in a bowl (that was really an upside down green plastic table) spew hilarious Walter Matthau-like barbs, everyone in the circle cracked up. What a way to start the night.
And the hits kept coming. Steven’s piece was titled “Worst Horror Movie Ever: Even Though It’s a Play – That’s How Bad It Is – Couldn’t Even Get the Title Right” and was a great send up of the Saw movie series where the goldfish controlled the action, and the fisherman, ballerina and clown died when they each spoke one of the required lines of dialogue. Watching Voices Inside/Out co-founder Synge Maher play a really bad actress/ballerina was beyond hilarious.
Eric (inmate, not Pioneer Playhouse actor)’s piece, “The Dance”, was an astute espionage play where the ballerina was a spy from Georgia (the country, not the state), and the clown and fisherman were covers for two agents caught in an Albanian conflict. They got their orders from a very monotone goldfish. Hilarious! And you, can see his handwritten work below.
Rob and James wrote really solid pieces. And Voices Inside/Out co-founder Lanie Zipoy acted (a first for her in the circle!) out the ballerina role in James’ piece alongside playwright-in-residence Mel. She even got one of the best lines of the night, spoken to her fisherman husband, “You ain’t catchin’ nothin’ with that broken rod of yours and I ain’t telling you where your pills are.” (Takes a drink of soda).
Andrew’s piece titled “Alligators” felt like a mash-up of True Romance and the bizarro world of David Lynch’s Wild At Heart, two films he’d never seen. What a very specific world he created. Jordan’s “Last Chance Losers” found Dr. Drew (Pinsky) trying to hold a counseling session with the lost inhabitants of the abandoned hotel. He did not succeed (Dr. Drew, that is). Jordan succeeded in every way. And how about the “cover art” for their pieces?
Cal hit a grand slam with his piece “Ghosts and Soda”. We’re ready to put this play on stage in New York. It is a whacked out comedy with shades of Sartre’s No Exit. There’s a moment when the play turns surprisingly tender and dramatic that gutted everyone in the room. But, being Cal, the play had to end on a poop joke, a funny one at that. So proud of his work.
We gathered the circle one last time, collectively shouted the word “goldfish” and then said good night. The great week was over. Another successful playwriting residency at Northpoint came to an end. Mel did the program and the previous playwrights-in-residence (Mac Rogers & Holly Hepp-Galván) proud. Voices Inside/Out is 3 for 3. How you like them bananas?