So I had just finished directing Muse of Fire, my second full length play, for hope theatre, inc. as part of the 2003 New York International Fringe Festival, and feeling really good about all things theatre.   The play had gotten a rave review from Martin Denton, sold out most its performances, and everyone involved in the show had kicked ass.  On top of that, I had just gotten cast as Boxer the Horse in a puppet version of Animal Farm being produced by Synapse Productions and directed by David Travis- and it was a really shaping up to be a cool, cutting edge, brilliant show.  And on top of that awesomeness, Tim Errickson, old friend and the Artistic Director of Boomerang Theatre Company, asked me if I wanted to write a play for the Boomerangs.

I said yes before he had finished his sentence.

So, now I had to find a play.  At this point in my writing, I wanted to set all my plays in California.  I'm not sure if it was a sense of loyalty of where I came from, a severe belief in the dictum "write what you know", or just something that struck my fancy.  In any event, the new play would be set in California.  So I started thinking about the Golden State, and what would make a good play.   And I came across an article in the SF Gate, the online version of the old newspaper The Chronicle, about Burning Man.  It was a brief history of the festival- how it had started on a Baker Beach in San Francisco one summer solstice night in 1986, and had grown into this huge festival held every summer in the desert outside of Reno, Nevada that culminated with a bonfire where a huge figure would be burnt in effigy.  According to the article, people are supposed to bring things to the festival that want to be rid of- bad feelings, old wounds, etc.- and symbolically toss them in the fire and move on with their lives.

This sounded like a good thing to have in a play.  And Reno is very close to the California border- in fact, I spent a fair amount of time near there when I was a kid, as my Uncle Donald had a ranch near there.  So cool, Burning Man would be part of the story.  And I thought, what is someone was trying to get to Burning Man to toss some past wound into the fire, but got stuck on the way?  That would be a good obstacle for someone to try and overcome.  And while trying to get there, lots of juicy stuff could come out.

Now, my father had recently died- and it really sucked ass.  And I had been thinking a lot about how when people die, you are left with a lot of unresolved issues- unspoken grievances, unanswered questions, un-cried tears.  So I would have someone trying to get over a death.  No- why not have two people?  Brothers, who are opposite in almost every way, bound together by blood, constantly at each other's throats?  Yeah, that sounded good to me.  I often have two opposites stuck together in my plays- yins and yangs, order and chaos...and Bobby and Marty.  That would be their names- and they would sort of represent two aspects of me.  The slacker and the worrier.   Of course, once I started writing, they took a life of their own, and did what they wanted.  Which is how it usually goes with me- I'll come up with some idea for a story, and start writing, and all of a sudden the characters take on a life of their own, and do and say what they want, and I just write down whatever it is I see and hear then doing.  Which might make me a little crazy, but I think it was Zorba who said a man needs a little craziness in his life.

Now, I would be lying to say that there is not a lot of me in this show, a lot of my issues with death, and my father, as well as my mom and my step-dad.  I grew up in a rather dramatic household- a world of fathers who had left long ago, alcoholism, and denial.  And a lot of that is in Burning the Old Man.  But I'd also be lying if I said this is an autobiographical play.  It is a story, told by me, about people who are sort of crazy.

Anyhow.  I let all these ideas run around in my head for a day or two, and then sat down, and started writing...and it came out in a torrent.  I mean the whole thing.  I couldn't type fast enough.  I'd write until two or three in the morning, fall asleep, then wake up an hour later with a new bit of dialogue that demanded attention.  It was pretty freaky, and liberating, and exciting.

The play starts with Marty and Bobby on their way to Burning Man.   They are taking their late father's ashes, with the intent of throwing them on the fire at the end of the festival.  This is per their late father's dying wishes.  To up the stakes, I make it the day before the bonfire.  They're running late.  And then, their car explodes.  Well, first it catches fire, they pull into a run down motel in the middle of nowhere, and then it blows up.  And there's no cell phone reception.  And the explosion has taken down the phone line.  And the only person at the motel is Jo, a sort of Stepford Wife wannabe who has no car and whose husband works far away and won't be home until very late.   And figuring all that out took about as long as it did to type this paragraph.

It just poured out, pre-formed and beautiful.  I named the motel The Delphi, after the famous oracle of Greek mythology who people went to for wisdom and guidance.  In the opening scene, Jo is at the counter in the lobby, singing show tunes to herself, when Bobby runs in, screaming at his brother "Eat a bag of dicks, fuckhole!", a phrase I had once heard Brett Christensen say.  In my mind, Brett was Bobby, and indeed ended up playing him in the first production, so I figured what the hell?

I wrote the first draft in less than a month, and Boomerang did a reading of it as part of their First Flight series, directed by Tim Errickson.  The cast included Tim McCracken as Marty, Brett Christensen as Bobby, Siobhan Mahoney as Candy, Philip Emeott as Earth, Mac Brydon as Eddy, and Sara Thigpen as Jo.

And with that reading, we were off to the races.

To Be Continued...

Burning the Old Man is currently available in the anthology "Plays and Playwrights 2006", available here:

It also won the 2005 NYIT Award for Outstanding Full Length Script.   For more info, go here:

It also went on to a long run at Divadlo na Zabradli of Prauge.  For more info, go here:

And next month, it opens at another there in the Czech Republic, Divadlo Exil.  For more info, go here:


Songwright said…
Wasn't it a Robin Williams street person character show said you have to have a little bit of madness?

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