I recently mentioned that I was planning to fly down to New Orleans to see a performance of the Buffy play I wrote, Summers’ Fall. Well, the big night was this past Saturday, and now I’m back.
It was amazing.
To be honest, I was nervous. When I wrote the play, I never imagined it being performed, so a lot of the lines worked better on the page than the stage (or so I feared). And the TV episode it’s based on is the season 5 finale, “The Gift,” which draws heavily on the complicated plot of everything that’s come before. What’s more, it’s kind of explain-y near the beginning. Between all that, plus the difficulty of understanding Shakespeare-style language anyway, plus the likelihood that a lot of the audience would be brand-new to Buffy, I was really afraid people’s eyes would glaze over in confusion and boredom.
But nothing of the sort.
Good actors (and directors) have a way of rendering tricky dialogue understandable with tone, gestures, timing, facial expressions, and so on. I remember, years ago, reading one of Shakespeare’s comedies (I forget which) and thinking it was dull, but then laughing my ass off when I saw it performed. With good theater, you don’t need to understand every word or every little plot point to appreciate the story.
All the actors were great. I don’t remember anyone’s names (sorry! a lot of new people to meet all at once) but they captured the TV characters’ mannerisms beautifully. Anya and Xander’s banter, dumb jokes, and low-key romance felt exactly right. Spike was goofy and heroic, intimidating and tragic, just as he should be. Buffy, Dawn, Willow, and Glory were all very good. Tara, who was insane for most of the story, projected real (and pitiable) insanity, which is no small feat. And Giles was perfectly Giles, just absolutely spot-on.
Some parts were different than I had imagined, usually for the better. For instance, at one point Giles says:
Such hard, bright, violent trade should be abhorr’d,
But on this night, a scholar wields a sword.
I envisioned this as a serious, dramatic line, and in fact the “hard, bright, violent” bit is a subtle reference to a very sad moment in early season 6. But in the performance, they used the lines for comedy, showing Giles out of breath and struggling to keep up with Spike. And it worked perfectly.
The group (called NonProphet Theatre) did two other “Shakespeare Teevee” shows: an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia before Buffy, and an episode of Friends after. Both of those were great too.
And I got to meet Rob Mitchell, the director of all three plays (and the writer of the other two) — he’s the guy who emailed me originally asking if they could use my script — and I met a number of the actors, too, which was really cool.
Beyond all that, there’s something incredibly gratifying about sitting in an audience, watching a performance, listening to the lines, and thinking I wrote that. Normally writing is a solitary thing, both for the writer and the reader. Seeing the words come alive that way, with so many people involved, was something else. Of course, Joss Whedon wrote the original episode, so I can’t claim credit for the story, but still. Quite an experience.
Maybe I should get into this whole playwright thing. Y’know, after I finish Crane Girl.