Thursday, May 5, 2011

Opening Monologues: Iphigenia at Trinity

I've been going through my files recently, and I've noticed that I tend to start plays with monologues.  And when I say "tend," I mean "almost without exception."  We'll leave the psychological explanation for that to future therapy sessions. 

THERAPIST:  Monologues mean that, even when you're writing about different people, Matthew, it's always "Me!" 
"Me!"  "Me!"

MATTHEW:  But plays are nothing but competing monologues, Doctor!
THERAPIST:  Which is why you describe yourself as a playwright, and not a writer. 
MATTHEW:  Son of a.

I'll post a bunch of examples over the next few days, so you can see how many different Me's I have in me.  The example below is from a play that my then-agent said had too much science in it and not enough people stuff.  When I handed her another play that was more character-based, she said it didn't have enough science in it.  I tell you--there's just no pleasing people who don't know what the fuck they're doing.  Which is actually one of the themes of Iphigenia at Trinity:

Scene 1

[1939. A classroom in the Institute for Physical Chemistry in Gottingen. JOHN HENRY WISE, 39, lectures the audience as if it his class of students.]

WISE:  What do killing a man in battle and teaching physics have in common? You might say nothing. And on the surface of things, you would be correct. But all equations are built upon solid facts, as a house is built on a foundation. Here are some facts. My father was Austrian. My mother is Jewish. Under the laws of Germany, this makes me Jewish as well. Therefore, under the laws which went into effect in 1933, I should by rights no longer be allowed to teach physics. But because of my distinguished service during the Great War, I was exempted from this distinction. So you see -– because I ran away to play soldier at an age not much older than your own -- and then killed several men, for which I was awarded a medal, and received a bullet wound, for which I was awarded an honorable discharge -- I was lucky enough to be permitted to remain on here in Gottingen as a professor of physics. My father died in the war, you know. So many millions, dead on both sides, and to me the only death that matters is my father’s. So. Another equation. What do physics and Greek have in common? You will say, aha, this is an easy one, because Herr Professor Weiss is not only our physics teacher, he is also a teacher of the classics. True enough. What do physics and ancient Greek have in common? Me. This is one answer. They also have something else in common. The Greeks constantly argued amongst themselves about the meaning of life. These days, physicists like myself, we find ourselves arguing about the meaning behind what we have discovered about life. Are they the same thing? I think they are. So we have yet another answer to our second equation. And since all things of any consequence travel in threes, let me propose one final equation for your consideration. I often ask myself, what ethical standards should a scientist apply to his work? As I see it, a scientist has three responsibilities. There’s that number again. The first is to employ the scientific method to answer questions, to create new things, and to raise humanity even higher above the animals. The second is to promote a greater understanding of the laws which govern the universe by explaining what science has discovered in terms and language which can be understood by anyone. And the third responsibility, the greatest of these, is to raise my voice and speak my mind as loud as possible when men with no scientific knowledge are deciding how to use those devices which science has created. So. The terms of my third equation are this. A scientist is a man with a voice. He has a responsibility to speak. It is part of the equation. He must speak out. In the long troubled history of the world, the story of science is the story of men who are compelled to speak out, even when the rest of the ignorant world demands that they must be silenced.

Copyright 2003 Matthew J Wells

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