Friday, May 16, 2014



When did she leave?  Yesterday.  Years ago.
   What are the chances she’ll come back?  Real slim.
You don’t think that she’ll ever miss you?  No.
   How do you miss her?  Like a phantom limb.
How do you feel?  Like old, warmed-over death.
   How do you live?  I take it day by day.
Is there still pain?  Only with every breath.
   What do you want? For it to go away.
What happened?  She left me for someone younger.
   I found out when she told me in a letter.
Sometimes a new dish calls up an old hunger.
   Next time, I hope I fall for someone better.
      You’ll give your heart again?  Of course; it’s just
      The last time I will ever give my trust.


Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

We were in love and love was not enough

We were in love and love was not enough.
   Sometimes it isn’t.  It’s the same old song:
I couldn’t see the thing for all the stuff,
   And now I only see all that went wrong.
The many opportunities I missed.
   The games we played to win instead of play.
The nights we argued when we should have kissed.
   Kind words unsaid, hard words I can’t unsay.
So many ways our love could have gone right
   And we managed to find the only trails
That led to loss and loneliness and spite,
   Like dowsing rods for anything that fails.
      We could have played the green; we chose the rough.
      We were in love but love was not enough.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The "Come Live With Me" Manhattan Sonnets

“Come live with me,” you said, “and I will make
   Your dreams come true so fast you’ll be amazed.”
So I moved down here thinking, “Piece of cake!”
   And here I am, unnoticed and unpraised.
I feel like I’ve been doing this forever:
   Wearily knocking on the same old door
Behind which those less gifted and less clever
   Are cheek to cheek with you on Fame’s dance floor.
And when I say, “That’s it, you punisher.
   I will not chase my dreams here one more day.
I don’t even remember what they were.”
   That’s when you pout and stroke my cheek and say:
      “Didn’t I tell you?  It’s not talent, dear—
      Luck and connections make you famous here.”

“Come live with me,” you said, “and you will be
   Finally recognized for who you are.”
And so I did, and now you think of me
   As That Old Guy Who Scribbles In Some Bar.
The path you said was open is a wall.
   The field I thought I owned is occupied.
The courage that I felt was alcohol.
   And every seed I planted here has died.
My life has been a mirror-world King Lear:
   Nothing has come of everything.  The gods?
They haven’t even sported with me here.
   They simply laughed—like children laugh at frauds—
      Pointed to my unfortunate condition,
      And smiled at me with total recognition. 
“Come live with me,” you said, “and I’ll devise
   An endless roundelay of revelry
For you alone, and whisper all the lies
   You’ll need to hear to help you live with me:
That great success is calling out your name;
   That merit always gets you the reward;
That hard work and persistence win you fame;
   That life here has a price you can afford.
I know it won’t be easy on your pride
   To bang your head against unopened doors,
But think of that great treasure trove inside!
   Come live with me and that, that will be yours.
      What do you say?” you ask, and I just sigh.
      What can I say?  I’m living here, aren’t I?

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells

Friday, May 9, 2014

"What kind of plays do you write?"

Whenever I introduce myself as a playwright, there is one question that I will always be asked, whether it’s by a theatre person or a mundane.  That question is: “So what kind of plays do you write?” 

In the beginning, this question used to annoy me.  “Plays are plays,” I wanted to say.  “Serious plays can have laughs; comedies can be dramatic.  Why this urge to pigeonhole?  Is it because writers are supposed to only be able to write about themselves, so if I say ‘Comedy,’ you’re going to think I’m amusing, and if I say ‘Issue plays,’ you’re going to think I’m political?  Plays are like people—they can be more than one thing, y’know.”

I never did say anything like that, though I did think it a lot.  Instead, I tried to answer the question cleverly and accurately.    Mostly because my original answer, “I write all kinds of plays,” usually prompted either a follow-up question or a glazing over of the eyeballs, like I just tried to sell somebody what he didn’t want to buy.


So then.  I have just introduced myself to you by saying: “Hi, I’m Matthew Wells.  I’m a playwright.”   You immediately refer to me as Matt (which is a whole other thing I have a theory about) and you say, “Nice to meet you, Matt.  So what kind of plays do you write?”

In reply, I will give you one of the following answers.
“The kind of plays that my friends say are brilliant but the world ignores.”  This is completely passive-aggressive, as well as totally true.  I tend to say this whenever I’ve just come out of therapy, and when I haven’t been to therapy in ages.
“Idea plays.”  100% accurate.  Also the kiss of death.  In a world where plays more and more resemble Saturday Night Live skits, sitcom episodes, and therapy masquerading as creativity, a play about subatomic physics which is both entertaining and educational is about as out of place as feminism in an internet troll.  And since most readers and producers equate “idea play” with “message play,” they wind up scratching their heads at what I write, which I always attempt to construct as a two-hour engine which asks hard questions rather than a two-hour circle jerk that repeats easy answers.
“Plays that ask questions instead of preaching answers.”  See above. 

“Plays that don’t flatter the right people.”   On one level, this is another facet of the questions-instead-of-answers theme.  On another level, it means that I have failed at Marketing 101 by creating plays that do not (a) appeal to the lowest common denominator, (b) tell those with the money what they want to hear, (c) uphold premises in the culture to which all successfully produced entertainment bends the knee, or (d) make producers and directors (and critics) feel smarter than me.  Guilty on all four counts.  And yes, there are exceptions to this, but like all truly threatening outsiders, these renegades are immediately embraced by the church they rebelled against and canonized as saints, thus making them reassuring and harmless.  Y’know; like Broadway.

“The kind of plays that make people stop and think.”  Please note: think; not feel.  Which leads directly into the next answer.

“Plays about hyper-intellectual men who have to be dragged kicking and screaming into an emotion.”  This is what I call the Cassandra Medley description of my work.  A couple of years ago I was talking with Cassandra at the Players, and in the course of the conversation I described a couple of modern playwrights with a single descriptive phrase that summed up each one’s entire body of work.  (I wish I’d written them down; all I remember now is that they were not only very clever but very accurate.)  Cassandra looked at me for a moment and said: “That’s very perceptive.  So what about your own work?  Can you be as perceptive about your own work?”  Which was an excellent question, and one for which I had no immediate answer except “Of course not!  I am so talented that I simply cannot be summed up in anything less than a book-length critique!  And even then!”  And of course, 24 hours later I came up with the clever-and-accurate answer above, which is exactly the summation she was looking for.  And when I use it, I always make to sure to add one further sentence:  “Which has absolutely no basis in autobiographical fact.”

“Smart plays which never make it past stupid literary assistants.”  This is what I say whenever there’s another playwright in the room.  When it doesn’t get cheers, it gets cries of “Amen, brother!”

“Plays that need actors to make them come alive.”  Sad but true.  Reading one of my scripts is not the same as hearing it read aloud, never mind seeing it acted out.  The reason I got an agent is because she came to see a staged reading of one of my plays; the reason I no longer have an agent is because she kept telling me that every new script I sent her wasn’t a play.  Well, that and the fact that she wanted me to be Arthur Miller.  (A direct quote, by the way.)  Lesson learned on that front.  I mean, let’s face it—anybody who’s known me for more than five minutes knows that the only way I would ever try to be Arthur Miller is if it involved Marilyn Monroe.

“The kind of plays that will never get produced in my lifetime.”  In my optimistic moments, I like to tell people that my only goal as a writer is to be famous fifty years after I’m dead.  In my pessimistic moments, I’m totally certain that it will happen five minutes after I’m dead.

“I write plays the way Thomas Berger writes novels.”  This is the writer equivalent of inside baseball.  One of the things I try to do is suit the style to the piece, instead of producing each new play in a consistent house style.  Which is what Thomas Berger has been doing for years.  He doesn’t have a style; everything he’s written is in a voice appropriate to the story.  He never does the same thing twice (except maybe that sequel to Little Big Man) which is why he’s not as famous as writers who talk in the same voice over and over again.  But boy, is he good.
“The kind of plays that, if I’d been born in 1552 instead of 1952, you would have studied in a college English course.”  To which I always add the words “No brag; just fact,” like I’m the playwright version of Will Sonnett.  It may be highly egotistical of me, but it’s an accurate expression of my inner conviction that I would have made a great Elizabethan playwright.  The reality is that I probably wouldn’t have made it past 1593, like most of Shakespeare’s rivals, so forget the past 20 years of my creative life, which have (so far) been the most productive.
“Plays that are as heartfelt as Shaw and as intellectual as Neil Simon.”  This is when you know I’m fucking with you.

“The kind of plays that only I can write.”  This is probably the truest answer of all.  It’s what I tell myself, over and over again, whenever I ask myself what I should be working on.   It immediately narrows down my ever-growing list of ideas into the things I care about most.  The Christopher Marlowe Play.  (Now.) Jackson’s Island, the Twain Melville mashup. (Next.) Not For Hire, the women in the workplace play.  (Soon.)  The King Of Snow, about Shakespeare and the Essex Rebellion.  (Later.) The Aaron Burr plays, My Dinner with Massah Tom and Weehawken. (Soon, I promise.)  (Yeah, I know, this is all beginning to sound like the opening of Little Night Music.)  The verse adaptation of Sophocles’ Ajax; the mashup of Trojan Women, Hecuba, Andromache, and Helen; My Love Is Vengeance, the ultimate femme fatale play—you get the idea.  These are all things nobody else in the world would even think of writing.  Except me. 
“The kind of plays that are not quite bad enough to get produced.”  This is my current go-to answer, except when there’s another playwright in the room.  Unless that playwright is Annie Baker, in which case I repeat it as often and as loudly as possible.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Because This Is New York: Con

Manhattan by night: 1946

Because this is New York, I feel alone
   Even when I’m surrounded by a mob
Of people who race through this maze of stone
   To get to, or escape, their hated job.
I share the streets as part of this proud herd
   Of fellow souls, who all feel solitude;
I go for days and never say a word
   To anyone, except to order food.
So many strangers, hunting, just like me,
   For some warm human color in the gray
Of this ant’s nest—searching, only to see
   So many strangers, and they stay that way.
      My soul mate could be living down the street.
      Because this is New York?  We’ll never meet.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sanguinary Entanglement

You know you’re watching a Jim Jarmusch movie when the female lead is packing for a trip abroad, and instead of the usual Hollywood dress-porn montage of what she wants to wear, you get a book-porn montage of what she wants to read. (The fact that one of those books is Infinite Jest made me want to run screaming from the theatre. I’m glad I didn’t.)

Jarmusch uses genre not as a mimic, or even a participant, but as an observer.  It’s not so much “Here’s his western” as “Here’s his thoughts on a western.”  Or a road movie, or a samurai flick.  His films have low budget narrative and high budget mood and you either love that or you hate it.  Me, I love that (get me drunk some night and we’ll talk about Dead Man, okay?); and if you love that too, then you shouldn’t miss this film while it’s in a theatre.  Mostly because the Jarmusch style is a perfect fit for a movie about a couple of people who have been around for hundreds of years. 

So what’s it about? Bloodsicles. Subatomic physics. Clever passport names. Quantum entanglement. Spooky action at a distance. Detroit as a vampire city of lifeless buildings, abandoned history, and empty streets.

It’s about undead Adam living in Detroit, while his wife, undead Eve, lives in Tangiers, like a vampire version of Pépé le Moko, and pals around with undead Christopher Marlowe. And when Adam gets a little self-destructive, Eve comes to Detroit to bring him back to un-life.

Who ever drank blood that drank not at first sight?

It’s about zombies (and they’re not what you think). Making a style out of despair. Vintage guitars. Listening to Charlie Feathers sing “Can’t Hardly Stand It.” Dancing to Denise LaSalle singing “Trapped by This Thing Called Love.” Watching Yasmine Hamdan, in a Tangiers bar, singing “Han.” And believing Eve when she predicts: “She will be famous.”
It’s about being so self-centered you could care less, and being so observant that you call the local flora and fauna by their Latin names. Being touched and being blasé. Having a sense of wonder and having seen it all. (The parallel to Adam and Eve as imagined by Mark Twain couldn’t be clearer.) And it’s about how vampires from LA are batshit crazy.

So yes, it's a hipster vampire flick, with a clever running gag about how Adam gets his blood supply, and a number of traditional vampire moments, involving fangs, nearby blood, superhuman speed and strength, and permission to cross thresholds. There is also the fact that these vampires are visible via Skype and smartphone. (Must be a special app.)

But it's also about how Tilda Swinton is a goddess, and Tom Hiddleston can do no wrong. (Seriously—-has he made a single misstep since he hit it big?) It’s about humanity seen in a warped mirror, like all vampire movies. It's about all the things Jim Jarmusch loves, which makes it one of his most personal films.

And it's about an Adam who’s eternally jaded, and an Eve who’s eternally innocent, and carries the Garden with her. To paraphrase Twain: “Wherever this Eve is, there is Eden.”

I could have sworn these guys were at Rockwood last night . . .