Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Revenge is a dish best served —

Posted on: December 11, 2008


The day before yesterday I went to the theater for a costume fitting for the role of Darwin in my play, “The Debate.” I told the theater’s artistic director about the latest award for Shakespeare Incorporated. I then made a comment to her similar to the one I included at the end of yesterday’s post. I’m afraid I delivered it with a great deal of animosity and more than a few expletives.  “I hope those &^#$%$# @!#$*#s at the XXX playwright’s club that wouldn’t let me in last year are feeling really stupid!”

“You shouldn’t focus on revenge,” she responded. “You should be happy about what you’ve accomplished.”

It got me to thinking. She was right, of course. It can’t be healthy for me to work for six months on a play, and then spend a year or more marketing it, primarily for the purpose of exacting petty revenge on people who never cared about me to begin with, and have certainly long since forgotten the offense they gave me.

It can’t be healthy, but I’m afraid it’s a large part of what inspires me and why I write. (Along with it enabling me to be “Large and In Charge.”)

I’m one of those after-the-fact geniuses. Come on, admit it, you are too! After any sort of confrontation or unpleasant situation, I start “shoulding” all over myself as I think of all the clever things I should have said or done. (“Shoulding” is pronounced disconcertingly similarly to “shitting”.)

“I should have told him to [Clever Response 1].”

“No, I should  have [Clever Response 2].”

“What I really should have said was [Clever Response 4,873].”

It goes on for days or weeks. Or years. And the more I feel that someone has won a point on me, or even worse, given me a personal affront, the longer I’m going to obsess over it.

Given that I can’t help myself and am going to obsess about it anyway, being productive and creative to achieve revenge seems to be a more mature, socially acceptable alternative than, say, putting burning bags of feces on their porches and ringing their doorbells at 3 a.m.

I’ll give you an example.  The first short play that I wrote was presented in a single performance at a fringe festival in February, 2007. Note that when I write I spend hours working on every line of dialog to get them perfect.  But the actors in my play were either unwilling or incapable of learning the lines. At some point, I imagine they had probably read the script, but they seemed determined just to take the general idea and ad lib their way through the play. When they questioned a line at the end of the second scene that didn’t make sense, my response was often, “Of course it doesn’t make sense. It might have if you’d used even some of the lines that I wrote for the first scene!”

The lead male was the worst offender. In addition to being unable to remember the lines, he had a crippling case of stage fright.  It might have been helpful if he had told us about that before we cast him!

Then, 36 hours before the performance, he showed up to a rehearsal with a machete and threatened to start “cutting” people. The director immediately fired him and went out and bought a shotgun. I ended up having to play the part myself, which I couldn’t come near to perfecting on such short notice. In the performance, one of the other actors had a wardrobe malfunction and didn’t come out on time, so the rest of us stood around like idiots for what seemed like hours.  Overall, it was a nightmare.

On the airplane flying back to Denver the next morning, I was so angry and upset that I realized that I was either going to kill somebody or I was going to have to find some other way to exact revenge. So I came up with the concept for Red Herring, and the first outline was done before the plane landed. In Red Herring a frustrated playwright starts playing dirty tricks on the cast and crew of his latest production. But the tricks all go drastically wrong, and the victims are more seriously injured than the playwright had intended. The lead actor of the “play within the play” is the one who bears the brunt of the damage.

Red Herring is having its world premiere in June, 2009. Of course I’m excited about having a new play produced, but it will be particularly satisfying to see that lead actor take it on the chin again and again.

There is an old Afghani saying that has made it into Western culture in numerous books and movies.  “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” I say, serve it hot or serve it cold, but make them EAT IT!

2 Responses to "Revenge is a dish best served —"

OMG, can I relate to the “shoulda”s”!!!! I walk away from confrontations so I always think of great things I “shoulda” said WAY after the fact. My poor husband. *sigh*

Gawd Don, the thing is, that you aren’t a great “comeback” guy. Nor do you have the mean spirit. You are a ruminator. But if that is what lets your creative juices get boiling, and gives you the feeling of being large and in charge (I thought that is what Rhonda was for…lol) go for it!

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