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Charles Deemer

Oregon Literary Review

MFA, Playwriting, University of Oregon

Writing faculty, Portland State University (part-time)

Retired playwright and screenwriter.
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The Writing Life II

(Posts archived here are from 01/10/03 - 10/31/06)

Monday, July 04, 2005  
This play, which won the 1997 "Crossing Borders" International New Play Competition, is set on the 4th of July, 1976, the Bicentennial. I used this device so I could have some of the cast in Founding Fathers costumes (going to a costume party) and use this as a metaphor for a discussion of "traditional family values." To wit, it is the contention of one of the characters that the traditional family needs to be overthrown because of its abusive track record ... and this is presented as a one-man play (within the play) in which the Declaration of Independence is rewritten this way:

VINCENT: "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for a people to change the institutions which have nurtured them since birth, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the redefinition of such institutions to which the Laws of Nature entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of humankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to such changes."

VINCENT: (to audience) "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all children are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Shelter, Security, Education, and Nurturing. That to secure these rights, Families are instituted among men and women, deriving their definition and social acceptance from the consent of the people. That when any definition of Family becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to abolish or redefine it, and to institute a new kind of Family, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its authority in such form, as to them seem most likely to effect the Safety and Welfare of the children."

And later:

VINCENT: "Prudence, indeed, would dictate that a definition of Family long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that humankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms of Family to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of atrocities and dysfunctions, pursuing invariably the same result, evinces a pattern to expose the children to unbearable suffering and insecurity, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a definition of Family, and to provide new kinds of families for the well-being of the children."

The issue here is that a patriarch is having a hard time dealing with the fact that his son is gay ... and now learns that his son and lover will be rearing his only grandson, hence the issue of "traditional family values." The traditional family, in this view, has little to recommend it (in this juxtaposition of scenes, the one-man show and the suicide of the patriarch):

VINCENT (to audience): "The history of the present Family in the United States is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of absolute Disregard for the well-being and security of children. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world."

GEORGE: I wanted family support and didn't get it. You turned on me yourself.

EMILY: I apologize for that. Seeing what was in the bag made it seem more real to me than before. I panicked for a minute.

VINCENT (to audience): "Over half the marriages in the United States end in divorce; almost one in three divorced adults cite abuse as the reason for termination;"

EMILY: This isn't easy for any of us, Dad.

VINCENT (to audience): "one-quarter of the violent crimes in the U.S. is wife assault;"

GEORGE: Please don't cry, mother. I need you to be strong now.

MARTHA: I don't think I have any strength left.

(George moves to Martha.)

VINCENT (to audience): "A woman is physically abused in this country every nine seconds;"

GEORGE: Give me your hand.

(Martha does. George helps her to her feet.)

VINCENT (to audience): "Two-thirds of the attacks are by someone she knows, often a husband or boyfriend;"

GEORGE: I'm asking you to come upstairs with me.

MARTHA: Are you sure this is the only way?

GEORGE: Positive.

VINCENT (to audience): "Sixty percent of battered women are beaten while they are pregnant;"

MARTHA: Don't you want to wait and see if June changes her mind?

GEORGE: I wish I could wait for a lot of things. But I can't.

VINCENT (to audience): "Forty-two percent of murdered women are killed by their intimate male partners;"

GEORGE: There're no good choices here, mother. This is the best one we have.

VINCENT (to audience): "One in six female rape victims is under the age of 12; one-fifth of these have been raped by their fathers;"

GEORGE: Will you come upstairs with me?

MARTHA: Of course, I will.

(They start upstairs together, moving slowly.)

VINCENT (to audience): "By conservative estimates, one in three girls is sexually abused by age 18, one in four by age 14;"

EMILY: Can't I come?

VINCENT (to audience): "Approximately one in six boys is sexually abused by age 16;"

GEORGE: I thought you didn't approve.

EMILY: I was scared for a minute, Dad. Don't hold it against me.

GEORGE: Then come along if you like.

(They head slowly for the stairs, the pace determined by George, who is in clear physical pain.)

VINCENT (to audience): "The average age of entry into prostitution is 13; there are half a million adolescent prostitutes in the United States;"

MARTHA: Are you sure you can make it up the stairs? We can do it down here.

GEORGE: I think I'd like to be in my own bed. Unless you don't approve. I can see how you wouldn't.

MARTHA: I'd rather do it down here, George.

GEORGE: Then down here it is.

(They will move slowly back to the divan.)

VINCENT (to audience): "So destructive are these oppressions to the welfare of children, and so linked are they to the assumptions of traditional family values, that we must now declare a new and independent kind of Family for the raising and nurturing of our children;"

GEORGE: I've already crushed up the pills. I just have to mix them in the apple sauce. And pour the concentrate in the vodka. Maybe you could do that for me, Emily.

EMILY: Of course.

(She'll go to the divan, open the bag and begin the preparations.)

VINCENT (to audience): "In behalf of our children, we therefore and hereby publish and declare that we hold no further allegiance to traditional family values and replace them with more stable values stemming from a broader concept of Family, in which parents may be any two adults committed and pledged to the rearing of children;"

MARTHA: Here we are.

(She helps George onto the divan. Emily is preparing the food and drink.)

GEORGE: I should've done this yesterday.

MARTHA: I'm glad you waited.

EMILY: I wouldn't have seen you if you'd done that.

VINCENT (to audience): "That the biological mother need not be one of these nurturing parents;"

GEORGE: How's it coming?

EMILY: Almost ready.

GEORGE: The head bag should be in there. With a rubber band.

EMILY: I found it.

MARTHA: I hate seeing you in pain.

GEORGE: This is going to be a great relief, mother. Emily?

EMILY: Okay. What do you do first?

GEORGE: The apple sauce.

(Emily hands George the jar of applesauce into which she has mixed the crushed pills. She hands him a spoon. He eats the applesauce.)

VINCENT (to audience): "That these parents may include homosexual couples and lesbian couples, whether ritually married or not;"

MARTHA: A part of me wants to do this with you.

GEORGE: Don't be ridiculous. You'll live to be ninety.

(George finishes the apple sauce.)

GEORGE: Now the other.

(Emily gives him the bottle of vodka, into which the concentrate has been poured. George drinks it.)

VINCENT (to audience): "And that no criteria for parenthood is appropriate except commitment to the welfare of the children and to learning the skills necessary for securing same;"

GEORGE: The bag.

(Emily helps put the bag over George's head, securing it with a rubber band. Both women help him stretch out on the divan.)

MARTHA: I'm taking your hand, George. You give me a yank if something goes wrong and you want the bag removed. Do you understand me?

(George shakes his head and speaks through the bag, "I hear you!" Then he stretches out, getting comfortable.)

VINCENT (to audience): "Signed under oath, July 4, 1976."

One of the more powerful moments on stage that I've written.

Famililly, the full play.

7/04/2005 09:31:00 AM | 0 comments

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