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Straight Faced Lies
by Mark Jason Williams

Production photo

The original cast of Straight Faced Lies

Author: Mark Jason Williams

Description: At the Ryans' Thanksgiving celebration, there's nothing to fear but family itself.

Year Written/Copyrighted: 2013
Date Added: 5/24/2013
Content Advisory: Strong language, sexual situations
Keywords: Characters are Mostly Married/With Families · Comedy · Coming of Age · Crime · Death and the Afterlife · Drama · Dysfunctional Families · Families · Gay and Lesbian · Grief and Mourning · Naturalism/Realism · Philosophy · Romance · Sex · Social Issues
1 Act, 85 Minutes
3 Females, 3 Males

NOTE: Straight Faced Lies 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 markjasonwilliams@gmail.com.

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From the Author:

Families fascinate me. I think it's pretty incredible that, despite fundamental differences, families can share the same cast of characters: the "good" child, the black sheep, a mother who feels abandoned, a father who isn't around as much as he should be...

The family dynamic always makes for great theater. Put a bunch of people with distinct personalties in a room together, and watch the blood boil. And, is there any greater conversation than what we talk about at the dinner table?

But the trick, I think, is to not lose sight of the individuals who comprise a family. Drawing on inspiration from Death of a Salesman, Other Desert Cities and August: Osage County, Straight Faced Lies is about six people who are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. Add the pressure of Thanksgiving to the mix, and you have a show that explores what we do for ourselves vs. what we force ourselves to do for others.

I wrote Straight Faced Lies because I wanted to create an authentic, hilarious, and powerful drama about the impact our loved ones have on us, and the way we interact with others because of it. It's really a play for everyone. Especially if you've ever had a bad Thanksgiving, or wished you were adopted.

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Original Production Information

Straight Faced Lies will make its world premiere as part of the 2013 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, playing the Robert Moss Theater from June 2 to the 22, with the following cast and crew:

Cathy: Linda Blackstock
James: Dan Hilt
Melissa: Hannah Logan Wolfe
Marie: Ann Farthing
Kip: Josh Krebs
Joe: Thom Christensen

Director: Melissa Skirboll
Stage Manager: Sunjo Hendricks

Review by Martin Denton

Straight Faced Lies, Mark Jason Williams' new play premiering at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity 2013, is about a family Thanksgiving dinner. The word dysfunctional needs to be in that last sentence: it can go in front of "family," "Thanksgiving," or "dinner." Just don't put it in front of "play"—because this work is extremely well written: one of those vivid, larger-than-life, happy-sad tragicomedies where our emotions turn on a dime as the characters battle each other and, more fundamentally, themselves.

It begins in a flower shop on the night before Thanksgiving. James has come in a few minutes before closing to buy flowers for his mom's dinner table. We discover quickly that Kip, the salesman, knows James well. Very well. He wants to see James tonight. James needs to tend to his family. Kip wants to get invited to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. James denies that there's anything going on between them.

It's a great scene (you can read it over at Indie Theater Now) and it hooked me immediately. Even though, as we'll discover, it only hints at the drama and trauma and humor that lay ahead, it's the prefect entry into the world of Williams' play.

I don't really want to tell you a whole lot more. This is definitely a piece you'll want to check out for yourself, at the Festivity (through June 22) or online at Indie Theater Now, especially if you're interested in tracing the great American Family Drama from the days of another Williams (Tennessee) through the works of Inge and Albee right up to the more contemporary incarnations of Tracy Letts and Richard Greenberg. This Williams (Mark Jason) spins his tale of archetypal mother, son, daughter, sister, and long-lost father with equal parts compassion, wit, and danger. It's a play where a gun makes a sudden appearance, as do the cops; where booze flows along with vitriol and barely repressed anger and regret; where everybody has a secret or two.

Melissa Skirboll has directed Straight Faced Lies with economy and verve. Her fine cast inhabit their roles intelligently, with perhaps the most purely enjoyable performance coming from Ann Farthing as the widowed aunt Marie and the most purely likable one delivered by Thom Christensen as Joe, boyfriend to daughter Melissa and least embroiled in the complicated bitter politics of this family. As the core family members, Linda Blackstock (Cathy, the mother), Danny Hilt (James, the son), and Hannah Logan Wolfe (Melissa, the daughter) exhibit remarkable chemistry and are able to make each of these folks an individual we can utterly empathize and sympathize with, notwithstanding the stuff we learn about them. As Kip, the man who just wants James to love him, Josh Krebs paints a rich, faceted portrait of possibly deliberately unrequited love.

This will definitely emerge as a highlight of this year's Festivity, and I wish it continued life beyond.

reviewed at the 2013 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity

Excerpt from Straight Faced Lies

Scene One

Upstate New York. A flower shop. The present.

JAMES, a customer in his early twenties, browses with uncertainty. Kip, an employee in his late twenties, watches on.

KIP

Something you needed?

JAMES

I’m good.

KIP

I wasn’t questioning your character.

JAMES

What?

KIP

Whatever it is you’re looking for--

JAMES

I’m just looking. Give me a second.

KIP

We’re closing in five minutes.

JAMES

One second!

KIP

Four minutes.

JAMES

(thinking about it) So...

KIP

Yeah?

JAMES

My mother didn’t like the roses you sold her.

KIP

What’s wrong with them?

JAMES

She said the stems broke too easily. (beat) Do you have anything stronger?

KIP

Like, what? A cactus?

JAMES

How about....

James circles the store, Kip goes to him.

JAMES

These.

James reaches for the a bouquet, Kip swipes his hand.

KIP

Those...will be dead by the morning.

Kip holds on to James’ hand. Rubs it. An awkward beat. James breaks away.

JAMES

Kip, stop! Someone might see.

KIP

Relax. It’s just us.

Kip leans in for a kiss. James backs away.

JAMES

Quit it.

KIP

Let’s go in the back.

JAMES

My mom’s waiting for me.

KIP

Pussy.

JAMES

Can you please just give some flowers?

KIP

How about you kiss me on my tulips?

JAMES

Kip!

KIP

Fine. (handing him a bouquet) Take these. On the house.

JAMES

Thank you.

James moves to exit.

KIP

Wait! There’s a condition.

JAMES

What?

KIP

Meet me later?

JAMES

I can’t.

KIP

Can’t? Or don’t want to?

JAMES

I want to...

KIP

So?

JAMES

It’s Thanksgiving.

KIP

Not until tomorrow.

JAMES

I promised my mother--

KIP

Fine, then I’ll come to your house.

JAMES

No way.

KIP

What time’s dinner? I’ll bring a nice Chardonnay.

JAMES

Kip, no.

KIP

Would you prefer a Merlot?

JAMES

You’re not coming over!

KIP

Why not?

JAMES

Because I have enough going on as it is without any more fucking complications.

KIP

Is that what I am to you: a complication?

JAMES

I didn’t mean it like that.

KIP

Because the way I see it, things could be real simple if you would just fucking tell her--

JAMES

I wasn’t talking about you!

KIP

Oh. (beat) Some other guy, then?

JAMES

Yeah.

KIP

I wasn’t being serious, James. (beat) You slut.

JAMES

I was talking about my father, ass-hole.

KIP

What does he have to do with--

JAMES

He’s coming home.

KIP

Really?

JAMES

Who knows?

KIP

When?

JAMES

Tomorrow.

KIP

Wow. That was a fast four years.

JAMES

Not really.

KIP

So, he’s actually--

JAMES

That what she says. I’ll believe it when I see it.

KIP

You seem stressed.

JAMES

I’m okay.

KIP

Why don’t you let me help you blow off some steam?

JAMES

Would you stop fucking talk to me like we’re in a porn? I’m fine.

KIP

You keep too much bottled in.

JAMES

Whatever.

KIP

You’re obviously bothered by your dad coming home.

JAMES

Am not.

KIP

And you never want to talk about us.

JAMES

Because there’s nothing to talk about.

KIP

Then why can’t I come to dinner?

JAMES

Because...my mom’s a fucking wreck, and you really shouldn’t have to be around that right now.

KIP

So, you’re protecting me?

JAMES

Yes.

KIP

You’re adorable when you’re lying.

JAMES

I’m not--

KIP

The only one you’re “protecting” is you.

JAMES

There’s no point in you being there, ,when all we’re doing

is--well, you know.

KIP

Actually, I have no idea what we’re doing.

JAMES

I just don’t understand why we have to make such a big deal out of it.

KIP

It’s called being true to yourself, James. Look, I know you’re scared--

JAMES

I’m not fucking scared.

KIP

But, trust me, coming out made me feel 1,000 times better about life.

JAMES

Well, I’m not you. And so we hook up sometimes. Big deal. That doesn’t make me--

KIP

The fuck it doesn’t!

JAMES

Do I tell my mother about every time I fuck a girl? No. So, why should I make an issue out of you and me?

KIP

Because...one day...you might...

JAMES

Not gonna happen. This is what it is, so...

KIP

So, I’ll see you later?

JAMES

I said I can’t.

KIP

10ish? Our usual spot?

JAMES

No.

KIP

You’ll find a way.

JAMES

And what makes you so sure?

KIP

Because. Beneath every flower is the dirty soil it feeds on.

James snatches the bouquet of flowers and exits. Lights fade.