“An agreeable Pirandellian doodle” — Nelson Pressley, Washington Post
David, a train conductor and sometime playwright, is trapped in a loveless marriage to Christine. He’d love nothing more than to seduce his wife’s best friend Lily, a mathematician, but her obnoxious husband Max humiliates him into inaction. It’s hopeless… or is it? David—who is, after all, a writer—decides to revise the script of the very play in which he is appearing. With the help of a cantankerous (and strangely omniscient) Stagehand, he goes after his girl, abruptly changing the story, confusing his fellow characters, and bringing an angry Playwright storming on stage to retaliate and win her back.
Every change they make, however, quickly leads to another: characters lose their names, their purposes, and their lines; old scenes are replayed in new ways, new actions embodied, new dialogue written on the fly. The engine of the narrative keeps heading down the tracks at top speed… but without a conductor. X—the character David has become—knows he has thrown the play completely out of whack. He also knows that the dreaded “bridge scene”—the scene in which X dies—is rapidly approaching. What he doesn’t know is how to “balance the equation” of the story. Does he carry the remainders? What formula should be use? Can Lily, the girl of his dreams and a whiz with a calculator, teach him the way? And what will he finally have to give up to avert a disaster?
Productions: Taffety Punk Theatre Company (DC, 2006); Nothing Special Productions (Chicago, 2011). Readings: The Intentional Theatre Group (NY, 2008); Artomatic Festival (DC, 2005). Developed in part with the support of a grant from Cultural DC.
I’m pleased to be able to share a small gallery of images taken from the Taffety Punk Theatre Company’s 2006 production. Those images are embedded below. A complete gallery of images from that production is available on Flickr as well.
About the Play
For many years as a young man, I was a bit of a math prodigy. I won’t go into many details, but I will say that, until I went away to college and started looking at my own life from afar, I was certain I was going to be an astrophysicist. (This despite the fact that I wrote somewhat obsessively from the age of 12.) Math was my best language; I loved its certainty (in some regards) and its mysteries (in others). I treasured its symbols. In math, I was certain, were all the answers I needed or would ever need forever.
Naturally, I was wrong. Math is immeasurably more complicated than I understood then, and of all the languages with which we can probe the nature of existence, math is the least useful, because it’s so specific. I still love it, however, without reservation. I simply love it as an adult loves another adult, with full awareness of its warts and limitations, rather than as a child idealizing its parent.
In some ways, LET X is my love letter to the small area of my brain in which math and storytelling overlap. Ultimately, though, math wasn’t enough of a symbol, really, to drive the play… and I use the word “drive” advisedly. The real engine of the story, I believe, is the train that passes through virtually every scene—sometimes driven by various characters, sometimes moving without a driver at all—because the question I’m trying ask with this play is whether we really do control the narratives of our lives at all. Do events happen to us, or do we make them happen, and where (if anywhere) is free will? It’s a question I don’t know the answer to… a question that, given what neurologists are saying about the mind in the last few decades, must be asked.