Thieving Crows & Upstart Magpies
The Very Official Website of the Plays of Ben Collum
INTRODUCING THE NEW 2019 PLAY
DANCE BRIGHT GODS
I'll be happy to send you printed copies of the script—please email me.
What to do? —when you've just met your one True Love, and he tells you he’s dying? And worse: that the moment his illness impresses the slightest burden, he will leave to die alone—and never see you again?
Well….if you’re the exquisitely-witty Beatta Mathias, you decline consent to this ridiculousness, and proceed to spin out the most baroquely-plotted comedy—extempore—to ensnare him in, and give you time and space to elaborately change his stubborn mind.
And what a comedy it is, that Beatta drops her beloved Eli Passerin into: She, Chief Antiquities Curator at a renowned museum in present-day Los Angeles, brings to life an ancient tablet’s multifaceted story-world, and gives Eli the role of a God, so that he might remember his true nature as a Man.
And all goes to plan, until Eli's illness comes upon him, and he—not unschooled in Beatta's game—rescripts her play, to leave. And for a deliciously excruciating moment, the formidable Beatta is at loss, till she sees the lesson laid out for her to learn, and at last win Eli for the rest of his days.
This is Big Theatre, on the Mammoth Blank Stage
Dance Bright Gods sprawls out of doors with thirty-seven scenes: a quick-cut, blank-stage, no-blackout love-comedy. Beatta's intricate conception requires a large cast; the play uses eleven actors to play twenty-three characters, each with its own character arc, so—
A Multitude of grand, witty, block-headed, and silly people seek—and sometimes find—what they look for:
Eli's and Beatta's enemy brothers meet on battle's eve and fall in love
A young god yearns bring to life one of countless sandmen he's drawn
A new-made man searches the world for his unmade 'other'
Fading old men imagined-up from ancient stories seek their lost gods
Drunken pressmen stumble about to save their newspaper
A horse-crazy schoolgirl schemes to get her beloved foal
A god's death gives a young woman the choice for a new life, and
An ancient fig tree uses its last strength to save the day
Handfuls of Meanings and Themes (aside from grinding no theological axes), this play tests what Grandeur our mortal natures might bestow on us; what ability to love may spring from our impermanence; and what foresight a lover may have of her beloved—surely greater than the beloved himself.
The Blank Stage attempts an entire world—and gloriously becomes statuary garden, rotunda, snow-gauzed mountaintop, raging sea-storm, waterless Earth, LA skyscraper, pastoral park, turreted mansion, ranch surrounded by wildfire, and new continent rising from the Western seas.
Quickness and Gusto abound in this fun, day-at-the-fair play—with physical humor, sight-gags, wit, games, improv, songs, verse, and role-playing. There’s a big dance number over dunes; a one-man-band accompanies the action; a tree (puppet) and a sandman come to life; a god stands atop the Earth as if a pebble; and warring comrades sing round a campfire.
Language Overbrims Itself in this play about dead languages revived, and old stories are whimsically dramatized in this play about old stories—including the story of a tree and its trouble-making fruit.
Built to be Comic (in the way of a Wit vanquishing a naïve lamb); Sexy (in a PG sort of way, with farcical, elaborate seductions); and Fun (with the imagining-up of outrageous story-figments).
No gods or fates are lowered to the stage to solve everything at the end of this Modern Romance—it’s Beatta, through force of wit, who's scripted her own regenerative comedy. She makes everything come out right in a beautiful, final-scene pageant where everyone (almost) gets a happy end, even including herself: succeeding at last to hear Eli say he will stay beside her, for the rest of his days.
And rehearse me an old, old comedy—
how Woman catch her wayward Man.
Verse tragedy in five acts
Ultra-romantic play of crossed affections between the Founders, with an open-hearted Hamilton, ghostly Washington, and jealous Jefferson—along with a cast of 42(!), set during the 1800 Presidential Election, an electoral college tie that was thrown into the House of Representatives. Yes, our hero dies heroically at the end. A first play, much like a first waffle.
An American Romance
Now in process—a family tragedy-turned-Romance, set across the unmapped peaks, deep places, and badlands of the American West, where a trickster-hero finds himself suddenly a king, who must track down the gods he's made sport with—and beg, bribe, cajole, or force them bring back from Death his lost Beloved. A wonder-play set on the unbounded blank stage.
playwright in a china shop
Résumé PDF here.
I was lucky to take one of the easier paths to writing plays: choosing a thirty-three-character German Romance as my first directing job; founding a professional small-Equity-house theatre and starting out there with Sophocles, followed by Ibsen; and then taking-on verse tragedy (in the full five acts) to write my first play.
But it's Dance Bright Gods that's been the eye-opening master-class—starting out as a riff on As You Like It, with a Rosalind turning the tables to impose disguises on others, the play grew much larger with the addition of Harold Bloom's fanciful guess that
the original writer of the Genesis stories was Bathsheba—and me wondering how to tell these fantastical stories in our present, plugging-in to our own hopes and fears.
It became clear I'm imprinted like a duckling on this particular, peculiar form of drama (call it Romance? Fable? Tragicomic Tale?): deep, personal revelation juxtaposed with the ultra-expansive open stage. And while Romance is largely disliked for being thought un-modern and untruthful, I love it for its magnificence and wonder, and would bring it up to our day, wow an audience, and tell the truth.
"Pick through the nests of Corvus brachyrhynchos (common crow) or Pica hudsonia (magpie) and a lost treasure is yours — a trove of shiny, rich, discarded things."