Inciting Incident – Stopgap
This play started as a joke. It’s jarring to look at that sentence and then see where the play is today. But it’s something that I have to face. Because it’s the truth.
I started toying around with May and Robert as characters in July of 2010. I had just finished working as a stage manager on a new musical about Leonardo da Vinci – a musical that, for reasons that cannot be explained, was more focused on the Pazzi plots and the Medici murders than the world renowned painter. I thought that it would be funny to write a play about a man and a woman who were obsessed with the Medici murders. I thought it would be funny for one of the characters to accuse the other of being a Pazzi. I thought it would be funny. I was wrong.
Here’s the thing: obscure history jabs are never funny, name calling in plays is petty, and if you name a character Guiliano your audience is going to accidentally call him Guiliani. And then things get confusing. Okay, they already were confusing.
In the Fall of 2010, I workshopped a terrible one act in my playwriting class. The play was an offshoot of my forced and not funny ten minute play Nearly May. May and Guiliano (later Robert) were the Director of Communications and a beat reporter, respectively, in a Southern California suburban town on the eve of Proposition 8. I told the story backwards, starting with the “cigarette break” — which was, at the time, the climax of the play — and ending with a slew of homophobic phone messages that had been written down and read aloud. It was called Personal Convictions, or That Makes Sense. It didn’t. No matter what I tried, I could not get May and Robert (or Woman and Man, or May and Guiliano) to fit into a play. In any other case, I would have scrapped the characters and started over but this time I couldn’t. I had fallen in love.
On November 22, 2010, I took out my notebook and across the top of the page I wrote Unteachable. (As titles go, I tried everything from Unteachable to Quiet Game to Plaza 04433 to The Ordinaries before finally settling on Stopgap — a title that simply fits). I jotted down a few phrases — most notably “Scrap most of the existing script (currently titled “Personal Convictions…)” — and started free writing about what I thought this play was about. I wrote that it needed to be a play about gay parents adopting and single women pursuing artificial insemination. (Later I discovered that this isn’t a play so much about those issues. These are simply things that happen over the course of the play). I wrote out a series of questions: Why don’t Robert and David move back to Massachusetts where their marriage is acknowledged and legal? What happened to same-sex marriages in California after Proposition 8 was passed? What are the artificial insemination laws in California, especially as they pertain to single women with a predetermined sperm donor?
At the end of this brainstorming session — amidst the unanswered questions and the doubt — I wrote two simple sentences: “This play takes place in Chino Hills, California. It has to.” That conviction was enough to get me started.
“Inciting Incident” is an excerpt from Danielle Mohlman’s Master’s thesis, Stopgap. Published by Emerson College, April 2011.