Qualities of a "Fine" Play
Ryan Dickinson February 11, 2013 Dr - Qualities of a "Fine" Play introduction. Zielinski Introduction to Theatre Ed and Edgar Dodging traffic, picking up the dry cleaning, and applying for jobs are the hallmarks of a monotonously scheduled life. Daydreaming provides an appropriate escape for the dullness of routines. In David Ives’ play “Degas, C’est Moi” found in his Carpe Diem themed collection of one-act plays Time Flies the protagonist Ed daydreams out loud by pretending to be Edgar Degas for a full day.
From his spur of the moment decision in the morning to his epiphany at night Ed epitomizes the desires of the human spirit – including humanity’s desire for immortality and greatness. Due to the play’s universal themes this one-act can be characterized as a ‘fine’ play. Among other qualities this play is characterized by its well established credibility, intrigue, richness, gravity, pertinence, economy, intensity, and celebration. The credibility and intrigue of a play address the believability of the characters and events in the play and how well it involves its audience in the story.
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A strong and credible script should be, as Louis E. Catron states in his book The Elements of Playwriting, “plausible, probable, and playable. ” This means that the play’s plot should flow logically and it characters should be believable. A good a script also appeals to the inherently voyeuristic nature of readers or audience members. Readers and audience members should be invested in the characters and the action of a play. They should be eager to discover how the story will unfold and what will happen next. For example, “Degas, C’est Moi” chronicles a rather mundane day in Ed’s life.
He picks up the dry cleaning, goes to a museum, buys a donut, and has dinner with his wife. In order to cope with this humdrum day, and possibly humdrum life, Ed occupies himself by taking on the role of Edgar Degas. And even though he wonders “is it Edgar, or Edouard” and admits that he does not know much about him he still acts like he thinks a “dead French, impressionist painter” would in the 21st century (pg 21). Ed, despite his quirks, maintains his credibility as a character. Instead of doing something completely unbelievable, he simple acts out his daily fantasy – something a lot of people wish they could do.
His escape from reality adds intrigue to the play. Readers and audience members are curious to see how Ed will handle normal, daily situations as Degas and how the people he encounters will react to him. Throughout the play there is also the lingering question of whether Ed will continue to be Degas or whether he will break character and be brought back to reality of some point. By spicing up his own life, Ed creates a scenario that both entertains and provokes the play’s audience. “Degas, C’est Moi” contains a richness that provokes thought and adds to the intrigue of the play.
A play’s richness addresses the depth to which a play develops its characters, its plot, its dialogue, and its action. A play that is characterized by its richness will have characters that help readers and audience members identify with the story, dialogue that provides clues of events to come, and language that offers insight and provokes thought. One of the most valuable effects of the richness in Ives’ “Degas, C’est Moi” is the insight it provides readers and audience members into the mind of Ed. Readers and audience members glean that despite acting out his daydream Ed is not crazy.
By noting “and okay granted, I’m not French, dead or a painter of any kind” Ed proves that he is not having a mental break and that he knows he is not Degas (pg 21). Furthermore, Ed’s exchanges with his wife Doris reveal that he may reenact his fantasy fairly regularly and not just as a onetime thing. When he tells her he has been Degas all day she responds by saying “the toilets erupted again. The women’s room was like Vesuvius” (pg 30). Not only is she entirely unsurprised by his whims, but she does not even acknowledge it.
It is entirely possible that Doris watches Ed embody noteworthy figures regularly. The uncertainty of the couple’s life outside of the scope of the play’s one day time frame leaves readers and audience members to imagine how Ed regularly lives his life. By leaving a few minor loose ends Ives lets readers construct their own back-story for the characters. This uncertainty heightens the play’s richness because it makes the play unique and individualized to each different reader and audience member. Ed’s motivations relate to both the richness of the play and the play’s gravity and pertinence.
The gravity of the play refers to the importance of a play’s theme, while a play’s pertinence refers to the story’s concern with the human predicament. One of the reasons Ed morphs into Degas is to combat his own feelings of anonymity and his lack of purpose. Being someone great, being someone ‘immortal’ brings a sense of freshness to his entire life. When he wakes up in the morning he is mesmerized by his surroundings. “This is wonderful! In the bathroom, everything seems transformed yet nothing has changed” he observantly remarks (pg 22).
To him, even the “very porcelain pullulates with possibilities” (pg 22). Yet as the day comes to end his Degas persona slips away from him. Ed laments that though he always has a voice in his head “now, tonight, no one is listening” (pg 31). He notes: “That presence that always listened in at the back of my mind is no longer there. Nor is there a presence behind there listening in. Nor a presence behind that, nor behind that, nor behind that. All the way back to the back of my mind, no one is listening in. The story of my life is going unwatched. Unheard. I am alone. ” (pg 31).
His sentiments capture one of the most fundamental aspects of human nature. Every individual wants to have a life worth watching, a meaningful life. Individuals will always strive for more than the mundane, more than routine. Feeling trapped in his life, Ed escapes by being someone else. Yet despite all his fantasies Ed loves Doris and he appreciates his life. He realizes that even though he dreams about being someone else, he would not trade his life for the world. “Degas” he says before he goes to bed “who needs him” (pg 32). The gravity of the play or the play’s theme becomes apparent in this last scene.
Ed learns to value the life he has and not the life he pretended to have. Ives seems to be telling readers to ‘seize the day’ and ‘value the life they have. ’Yet in addition to qualities like credibility, intrigue, richness, and gravity a fine play is also defined by its technical aspects. Technical aspects of a fine play include its economy and intensity. A play’s economy refers to the number of its characters and sets. Ideally in a ‘fine play’ the playwright will compress the number of sets and characters required for the play’s action in order to realistically transition a script into a production.
“Degas, C’est Moi” could easily have been an impossible play to stage because Ed is constantly traveling from one destination to another. Ives, however, strategically created the script in a way that it could be staged using just one set. It is possible for “Degas, C’est Moi” to be staged using moving props. Similarly, though Ives’ may have written a script with more speaking characters than a typical one-act play he still designed it with staging in mind. During the play Ed never interacts with more than one character at a time and none of the superfluous characters have interactions with anyone besides Ed.
This keeps the audience from becoming confused by and overwhelmed with the actions on the stage. The economy of fine plays like “Degas, C’est Moi” directly influences the play’s intensity. Playwrights and directors use the economy of a play to control the intensity of that play. They can add or eliminate superfluous elements of a play in order to change the tone of the production. The intensity of a play can range from harsh, abrasive, and explosive to calm and tranquil. For instance, at one point in the story Ed is overwhelmed by his anonymity in such a crowded city.
In order to illustrate his anxiousness and overwhelmed state Ives creates a scene where swarms of extras surround Ed and added sounds are projected onto the stage. As people enter and pass him he observes: “To all these people I could be anyone! And if I’m anyone – who are all these people? (More people pass him. ) And yet… And yet maybe the other Degas walked this invisibly through Paris. (We hear a French accordion). Maybe he too was rudely bumped into by the bourgeoisie on the upper Left Bank… (A Pedestrian bumps into him as a Worker enters carrying a crate loaded with cabbages).
Shouted at by workers at the Key Food de Montparnasse… (pg 103). Ed’s anonymity is emphasized by the chaos of this scene. The added distractions make the intensity of the play heightened and more abrasive. Celebration is the last and arguably most important quality of a fine play. It occurs when a play’s theme affirms the value of life even if the tone of the play is not necessarily uplifting. In the end of “Degas, C’est Moi” Ed recognizes the value of his own, seemingly insignificant life. In “Degas, C’est Moi” the quality of celebration ties directly into its qualities gravity and pertinence.
Celebrate life. Carpe diem. Ed escapes the monotony of his boring life by pretending to by Edgar Degas for a day. Frustrated with the anonymity of his own life he seeks to achieve some sort of immortality and greatness. In the end, however, he recognizes the value of his own boring life. Due to its universal themes David Ives’ “Degas, C’est Moi” qualifies as a fine play. It contains all of the traditional qualities of a fine play including credibility, intrigue, richness, gravity, pertinence, economy, intensity, and celebration.