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What Are You Afraid Of?

November 21, 2017

 

What Are You Afraid Of?

A Car Play

Richard Dresser

Published by Samuel French in Ten-Minute Plays: Volume 5, 2000

Ten-Minute Comedy, 5 pages

 

"Well, I could take you... anywhere." - Man

 

Richard Dresser is an American playwright and screenwriter whose work has been performed internationally. Below the Belt, a piece about three managers in a rural manufacturing plant, was performed off-Broadway in 1995, and he also wrote the book for Broadway's short-lived musical Good Vibrations. However What Are You Afraid Of? is not your normal play.

 

What Are You Afraid Of? takes place in a car. The actors are in the front seat, and the audience sits in the back. The script notes that the car never leaves the curb, but there was at least one production in Germany where the actors drove through the streets with their audience. 

 

The play is essentially made up of a series of short vignettes, and one of the most interesting aspects of this piece is that the audience, which can be no more than two or three individuals at a time, is "cast" in different roles. In the first vignette, a man picks up a hitchhiker. The audience is not referenced. Then the music on the radio changes, and the man and woman become young lovers on a date. Here, the audience is actively ignored and turned into voyeurs as the woman stresses, "C'mon, it's just the two of us. There isn't another soul for miles. No one ever needs to know." When the music changes again, the man and woman are married, and the man is yelling at the "kids" in the back seat to shut up. Finally the music shifts back to the original song, and the audience is back to being ignored as we're back with the original hitchhiker and driver. What seemed like snippets of a life-long love story is nothing more than the man's fantasy of what could have been, a fantasy on which he was too afraid to act.

 

While the woman gets into the car and leaves it during the course of the play, the man starts and finishes the piece in the car, "driving" alone. If I was directing the piece, I'd probably have him get in and out as well otherwise this would likely lead to odd interactions with the audience members in a rather confined venue.

 

The text stresses that permission to perform the play does not indicate permission to use the songs mentioned in the text and that separate permission must be obtained by the owners of the songs. For the first two songs, this doesn't really seems to matter. "Sweet Hitchhiker" by Creedence Clearwater Revival and "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys could likely be switched out with similarly-themed pieces if permission was refused. However the third song, referred to as "the homicide-inducing 'Barney' song: 'I love you, you love me, we're a happy family...'" is ultimately referred to in the text when the man says, "I want to kill myself. Then I want to kill Barney." The necessity of getting the rights to this song or, if that proves impossible, having to get permission to alter the text, complicates matters. I think that if I was ever citing specific music in a play, I'd want to use it like the first two songs, essentially suggestions to match the mood, and avoid the specific dialogue reference, as that is just another hurdle for a producer to jump over.

 

What Are You Afraid Of? challenges preconceived notions of what a play is and where it can take place. This very site-specific work isn't an easy piece to produce and it would likely prove expensive as the audience size is severely limited, but it pushes us to widen our concept of theatre. It's honestly a piece I'd be interested in experiencing.

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Writing for film, television, and the stage is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult - and most rewarding - art forms. The language needs to be visual and evocative as each script must achieve two important tasks...
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