The Mail Order Bride
by Charles L. Mee
Published on his Website - No Date Given, but had a reading in 2004
Comedy, 103 pages
"This is the post imperial post modern late capitalist interdependent ergonomic organic global world!" - Argan
Chuck Mee's plays are in your face. He refers to them as visual collages featuring contrasting scenes around a central theme. In The Mail Order Bride, as in in many of his works, that theme is love. Like all of his work, he borrows from and is influenced by earlier texts, this time citing the works of Moliere and Aristophanes as well as Wycherley's The Modern Wife.
It is hard to describe his work to those who have not experienced it. The closest I can come to a written definition is a series of vignettes in which the facts keep changing (and the characters react with "yes, and") filled with larger than life personalities and passionate monologues underlined by movement. For example, June, the bride who is referred in the title, uses nun-chucks and martial arts to break a series of boards while exploring her feelings.
As Mee's work is so visual, I was particularly interested in seeing how it appears on the page.
Mee does not write straight across the page. He doesn't always use capitals or complete sentences. Instead he breaks lines where he sees fit, seemingly along with the characters' thoughts. As Argan laments:
"Too old to be married to a young woman
isn't that what you really mean?
And how can you say such a thing?
I think you would criticize me if I were a sexist
if I were a racist
if I were a jingoist
if I were a polemicist
but you think it's OK for you to be an agist?
I don't think so. I don't accept that."
Stage directions are also written in a unique style. Like with his dialogue, Mee inserts breaks where he sees fit:
a whirlwind energy, motion, and fast talk,
a look pressure monitor attached to his arm."
Each line gives one important detail. It may not be traditional, but it makes sense. In addition to description, I noted three distinct types of stage directions. First, the usual type, which we can call things that are:
"he is dancing"
Then suggestions of what we might see:
"is he doing arm and shoulder stretches?"
And finally tonal notes of things that are similar but are not:
"The four women now all break into a loud, tough,
black urban ghetto
female girl group rap song -
this is just a placeholder -
but maybe something like Mos Def's"
That last direction is followed by the complete lyrics to "Put It in the Air" even though Mee says the specific song won't be used.
One other interesting element that I noted is that, while there are no hard stops to the action or distinct scenes, the play is broken into sequences on the page. Each of these is given a title that tells states what is coming next, such as "Vladimir decides to sell the bride again" and "Lesbian makeover." I found that, even thought I thought I knew what to expect because of the title, the ridiculous twists and turns still kept me guessing. I think that the separations these titles provide would be especially useful for a director as they, in a sense, indicate what needs to come to the forefront and where the action can take a breath.
Mee's plays are unique to him, but even on the page they manage to bring forth feelings and create a full experience. And, as he believes all plays should be free resources to spur new work, they are available to read directly on his website.