Jesse Presler and Jonathan Harford in a scene from Awkward Levity
Description: Three short dark comedies that look at inappropriate humor from three viewpoints.
Year Written/Copyrighted: 2012
Date Added: 6/1/2012
Content Advisory: Strong language, Adult themes (Rape, Suicide)
Characters are Mostly Young Adults ·
Death and the Afterlife ·
Grief and Mourning ·
Large Cast Size ·
Literature and Writing ·
1 Act, 75 Minutes
5 Females, 6 Males, 1 Gender Neutral
Awkward Levity is fully protected by copyright law and is subject to royalty. All inquiries concerning production, publication, reprinting or use of this play in any form should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Author:
These three plays deal with dark themes but in production we played the lightness and humor and let the darkness come from the situations.
Five Foot Shelf sprang from two things that had been eating at me: a desire for a legacy and a sinking feeling that it’s too late to become all the things I wanted to be when I was younger. I looked at my book shelf and realized that it was representative of so many things that I had not accomplished but wanted to project that I had. It is basically a scene built around an ending monologue where everything is revealed and then things can finally start to change.
A Sharp Point started as a scene about mob mentality but later turned into this tale of retribution gone wrong. It is based on my long walk home from midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn during the NYC blackout of 2003. I had a strange feeling walking in the huge crowd—a feeling that things could suddenly turn very bad if only a handful of jerks started acting out. Thankfully they didn’t and I made it home safely but that’s when I noticed another thing—since the power was out everyone was hanging out on the streets and sidewalks talking and grilling and drinking. Folks who would not normally get together were forced to talk to each other instead of just passing by on their way to their apartments. I put these two odd couples together and let them crash into each other.
Back Hand Grief is based on a true life experience. I was 20 years old and I had just dropped out of college where I was studying acting because I figured if I was going to be an actor I should just go out and do it. I started working at this little theater and I soon became very attached to all the folks there, only to turn around and find that the leader of us all had just hung him in the dressing room in the middle of a run. We were all devastated but we tried to go on. At the time I found that there were some of us making jokes about his death that were perhaps coming too soon. Twenty years later I’m still long distance friends with all of these folks and we separately celebrated the anniversary of his death but I still couldn’t forget some of those rash comments. Perhaps it was their way of dealing with grief or perhaps we were all very young and thought death couldn’t touch us. But it had. In this production we played up the farcical side of grief in the hope that the audience might laugh in spite of themselves.
Taken together these plays can be hard for an audience to hear but we found that by giving them permission to laugh it created the atmosphere levity and honesty that made this production a success.
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Original Production Information
Awkward Levity was first produced at Under St. Marks, New York City, in January 2012, with the following cast and credits.
Jonathan Harford: Manny, Kurt, Trip
Lindsay MacNaughton: Carmen, Marjory, Dani
Becca Nerz: Lori, Ruby
Jesse Presler: Vivian, Shep, Sam
Jason Griffith: "Five Foot Shelf"
Sheila Garson: "A Sharp Point"
Richard Hinojosa: "Back Hand Grief"
Awkward Levity, a trio of one-act plays by Richard Hinojosa, offers just what its title promises. Each of these three pieces, in very distinct and surprising ways, finds what's darkly humorous about discomfiting situations, reminding us that existence is called "the human comedy" for a good reason.
The central item on the bill, "A Sharp Point," directed by Sheila Garson, speaks most directly to this idea. It's about two couples caught together in one of their apartments during an NYC blackout. As the play begins, they've been stuck there for a while already, and at least one of the young men, Shep, has had too many beers. When Shep tells a joke that's in very questionable taste—and the other young man, Kurt, laughs at it—the mood turns tense and then angry.
The evening's opener, "Five Foot Shelf" (directed by Jason Griffith), is about two men with a history who find themselves alone together in the early moments of a party: Manny is the host, and Vivian ("V") is an unwanted guest, invited by Manny's wife Carmen. V's every move seems to provoke Manny, though we don't know why. But a discussion of the contents of Manny's bookshelf, and what they truly signify, ensues—and it not only brings about a kind of rapprochement between the two men but may prove pivotal in Manny's personal growth. I liked this piece the best among the three, not least because of how grounded in reality Hinojosa's writing is here: self-realizations really do get triggered by the oddest things at the oddest times, and situations rarely resolve themselves neatly, and all of that is reflected in this smart, brief play.
The show ends with its most darkly comic piece, "Back Hand Grief," which is directed by Hinojosa himself. We're backstage at a small theater in a city that's not New York. In the bathroom, the leading man of the current production (Arthur Miller's The Crucible) has hanged himself. Hinojosa mines the cliches of farce and the human heart as he explores how four of the surviving company members will deal with this crisis. It feels like Hinojosa's intent here is it make the audience laugh in spite of itself, something that wasn't completely accomplished at the opening night performance I attended.
The writing throughout is sharp and intelligent, and even though there's a familiarity to all of the situations, Hinojosa surprises us in every case with an ending we aren't expecting or prepared for. (None of the plays remotely overstays its welcome, which is great.) Four actors—Jesse Presler, Rebecca Nerz, Jonathan Harford, and Lindsay MacNaughton—show off their range as the various characters, with particularly effective turns delivered by Presler as the jerk Shep and Nerz and MacNaughton as the two offended women in "A Sharp Point," and Harford as introspective Manny in "Five Foot Shelf."
Hinojosa, who also writes reviews regularly for nytheatre.com, is a fine playwright whose work I unfailingly admire and I was happy to see this hour-long collection at Under St. Marks.
review of the original production in 2012
What’s wrong darlin’? Why you upset? What happened? (To TRIP) What happened?
You didn’t notice the dead body in the bathroom?
I did notice Trip, thank you very much. It looks great. Nice job.
Sam, it’s Lee. It’s Lee! It’s not a fucking prop!
What? You guys are fuckin’ with me right?
(He goes and looks again.)
(He comes back out)
Did you see that shit? That’s fucked up. Holy shit. Fucking Lee man. What the fuck! Seriously! What an asshole! Fuck! (He goes back and looks again) Ah shit that is gross! Did you see his face?
(TRIP shows SAM the picture)
What the fuck man. Why are you showing me that?
(SAM sees DANI staring at him)
(He goes to her and puts his arm around her)
What an asshole huh? Asshole! You hear me! You’re a selfish prick! Fuck this is fucked up.
(He looks at DANI. They embrace)
It’s gunna be okay sweetie. Let’s get outta here. Trip can take care of this. You got this Trip?
Hold on, we’re still doing the show.
Are you fucking crazy! The lead is dead in the bathroom.
He would have wanted the show to go on.
No he wouldn’t’ve.
Oh yes he would have. You have to know that. We have lots of reservations tonight. Lee would not lose this money.
Money? Who cares about the fucking money!
(Raising his hand) Ah I do! Come on Dani. We only have to do half the show and then we can announce Lee’s death. No one is gunna ask for their money back after we tell them Lee’s dead.
You’re fucking twisted man.
We can mourn later…after the show.