A Wavelength

All writers have special moments in their plays or books. Often they’re the same as that of the audience–the big turnaround, the climax, the descriptive passage that nails a moment. But sometimes, they’re just something that resonates with us and which comes to us with no warning, simply out of the dark.

Lost Wavelengths, as you’ve probably heard me say, won the Oregon Book Award a week or so ago, an event which still kind of feels unreal. The OBA people asked me to send a sample that a presenter could read, in case I was lucky enough to be chosen, an I sent them kind of a funny passage of two characters starting to get to know each other. Then it turned out that only one person was reading–the marvelous Keith Scales–and he and the OBA people found probably the only monologue in the entire play.

It was grand, and people seemed to enjoy it (Keith did an outstanding performance), but it wasn’t my favorite moment in the piece. My favorite moment comes after two of the characters–Murray, a public radio DJ who travels around the country taping “outsider” musicians (musicians without any formal training or even musical knowledge but who are drawn to create…the musical equivalent of Grandma Moses or the Rev. Howard Finster), and Claudia, a radio reporter who’s doing a story on Murray–have spent an evening getting to know each other better than most subject/reporter relationships. They’re having a couple drinks, hanging out in a motel in Kansas, and the following, odd little exchange happens. I don’t know why I like it, but it was one of those moments when I was both inside the character, and the character went and surprised me. And, somehow, it seems to take on a ever slightly bigger meaning to me after the election.

MURRAY
Well, if they think of me at all back at the station, they’re not thinking this.

CLAUDIA
Not cutting an erotic swath through the Midwest?

MURRAY
Dorothy smoking a cigarette? (With post-coital languor) “Oh, Toto, Toto. It really is Kansas.”

CLAUDIA
It is.

MURRAY
Kansas is underrated.

CLAUDIA
It’s pretty much like everywhere else now. McJob, McHouse, McFamily. I ought to know: I’m from Nebraska. You either get absorbed or go crazy.

MURRAY
There! That’s why!

CLAUDIA
People flee, screaming, to New York?

MURRAY
No, no. That sameness. That Wal-mart, strip mall world. A bottomless cornucopia of market-researched tapioca. And still there’s people driven to make something new. Because they’re gifted or clueless or…possessed by Satan. Still there’s this voice under the surface, smothered but struggling. Gives me hope.

CLAUDIA
Of what?

MURRAY
They can’t own everything.

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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