Thursday, September 29, 2011


So my latest opus is going to have a staged reading this November as part of Boomerang Theatre Company's First Flight series, and I thought I'd tell you a little about it.  It's called Riddle Lost.  The reading is going to be directed by Philip Emeott- who originated the role of Earth in Burning the Old Man.

About ten years ago, I read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.  It's basically a history of what happened to all the native people here in North America after the Europeans arrived and said "Hey, this is our land, provided by God, and you all have to go away".  It's brilliant, depressing, and should be required reading for every citizen.  Let's face it, we stole this country from other people- and were pretty nasty about it.  I have always been fascinated, saddened and inspired by native American culture- not that I am by any stretch of the imagination a specialist on it.   I just think they were and are a group of people who got the short end of a very large, dangerous stick.  And that's putting it nicely.

Anyway, one of the chapters in Bury My Heart is about the Modoc War of 1872, which took place in Northern California.  The central figure in that war was a man called Captain Jack by the settlers, Kintpuash by his own people.  And the story is amazing- Shakespearean in scope, full of characters and situations that don't seem quite real but which, according to the history books, were.  Aside from being history, it's a story of one person sticking to what they believe to be right, when everyone around them, on all sides, do bad things.  Like really bad, killing babies, betraying your people, murder under a flag a truce bad.

I started researching online.  Found a book, The Indian History of the Modoc War, written by a guy who was half Modoc, half Honkey.  The author had lived through the war.  He was a Riddle, and not just in the figurative way.  I mean his name was Jefferson C. Davis Riddle, which seems perfect.   Actually, when he was a boy his name was Charka.  But his parents, a Modoc woman named Winema and a white settler named Frank Riddle,  changed it after the war.

I thought I'd write a sort of historical play, an American Henry V or something.  But that's not what came out.  Often, when I write, I set out to do one thing, and something entirely different comes out.  I've learned to just go with it, not try to force my original vision on what comes out when I'm at the keyboard.  I think my subconscious is a better writer.  Either that, or I'm hearing voices, spirit guides who tell me what to write and I don't really have a say in my work.  In any event, when I finally found that first scene which let me into the world of the play, it was nothing like the historical tale I originally envisioned.  No, it was a metaphysical hodge-podge set somewhere in Limbo, and populated with characters like the Hel, Norse Goddess of Death;  the trickster Raven; an animated cigar store Indian named Ziggy;  and the decapitated head of Mimir, another figure from Norse mythology.  Basically, the play is populated with historical and mythological figures from both Europe and North American, all hanging out in a side show tent run by Hel.  Into the tent walks Riddle, who has just died, and the story begins.  It's big and weird and totally different from anything I've done, and exactly like everything I've done.  I used the Goddess Hel once before- but that was when she went by the name Hela- in a one act called Hela and Troy, available from Playscripts, inc.  I liked her in that show, and I think she wanted to stick around for awhile.

If you are in the New York City area in November, I really hope you come to the reading- I promise it won't suck.   And not only will you hear a new play, you might just learn the answer to the age old riddle, why is a Raven like a writing desk.

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