World Premiere For Cygnet And Local Playwright
Cygnet Theatre's first world premiere was written by local playwright and screenwriter Stephen Metcalfe. The Tragedy of Commons is about a 60-something blogger who fights to preserve his home's ocean view. We'll talk with Metcalfe and Francis Gercke about developing and staging the play set in San Diego.
Stephen Metcalfe is a playwright and screenwriter. He wrote the screenplays for "Jacknife" and "Pretty Woman." His latest play, "The Tragedy of the Commons" is getting a world premiere at Cygnet Theatre.
Francis Gerke is a resident artist at Cygnet Theater and performs in this production of "The Tragedy of the Commons."
"The Tragedy of the Commons" is currently running at Cygnet Theater in Old Town. Cygnet is also partnering with the Playwrights Project to provide free forums on the art of playwriting. The two remaining forums are February 9th and 16th at Cygnet Theatre.
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The combination of over use and over population are two of the major factors in the environmental concept known as The Tragedy of the Commons. Watching that concept play out in the specific circumstances of one La Jolla resident's life is the subject of the play, tragedy of the commons, which is in its world premiere now at Cygnet theatre. This is the first world premiere presented at Cygnet. It's the work of celebrated playwright and screen writer, Stephen Metcalfe. It's a pleasure to welcome Stephen Metcalfe to These Days. Good morning, Stephen.
METCALFE: Good morning, thank you for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I'd like to welcome Francis Gerke he is a resident artist at Cygnet theater and performs in this production of tragedy of the commons. Francis, good morning.
GERKE: Good morning, thanks for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Steven how is it that you decided to have this play pivot off this idea of a homeowner trying to save his ocean view?
METCALFE: Well, this was initially a story that I heard about 4 or 5 years ago about several homeowners down in La Jolla shores area that had these old, old, beautiful houses that had been there for decades. And all of a sudden someone came in and bought a property and proceeded to build side ways and up filling the lot, and pretty much wiping out the views that have been part of these homes for years and years and years and years. And I just remembered thinking at the time it seemed very, very much unfair to me, and they didn't have anything they could do about it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Because the funny thing is that there isn't any legal recourse for someone whose neighbors decide to build and block the view is there?
METCALFE: No, there is not. The Supreme Court made the decision, I think it was back in the 60s, and may made it in regards to what was happening back in Miami beach.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know what I'd like to do? I'd like to let listeners hear a scene from The Tragedy of the Commons to get a sense of the dialogue. [check] lawyer son Allen and their new neighbor Diane. Diane is the one who's planning to build up on the neighboring property which would block the view of Dacon and Macy. Dacon invites Diane over to the house for a meeting to negotiate and here it is.
DIANE: "Hello, neighbor.
DACON: Thank you very much for coming.
DIANE: A formal invitation how could I refuse?
DACON: This is our son, Allen.
DIANE: He has your eyes, Dacon.
ALLEN: Ms. Gerard.
DIANE: Please. Diane. I take it you've had a moment to examine the plans for the house.
DACON: We have. To say we're disappointed is to put it mildly.
DIANE: I was knowing of putting up a strand of trees so you wouldn't have to look down into the lap pool.
DACON: That's not what we're talking about, and you know it.
ALLEN: May we cut to the chase, Diane?
DACON: And the architectural consistency of the neighborhood.
DIANE: Oh, please, there is none. This neighborhood has no building restrictions or consistency, any number of houses can contest to that.
DACON: Oh, for God's --
ALLEN: Dad, shut up. We don't agree. My father and I are taking these plans to the neighborhood planning committee.
DIANE: There isn't one of those either.
ALLEN: We are in the process of starting one.
DACON: The response has been very gratifying.
DIANE: I'm sure it has. Especially if you offered refreshments. Getting people together is one thing, and getting them to step to the plate is another. Especially when it will cost them be. And it will cost, Dacon. More than you know.
ALLEN: I am [check].
DIANE: Who will quickly wash their hands of this.
ALLEN: In which case, court appearances and appeals we can and will delay your construction, Ms. Gerard for year fist we have to.
DIANE: And all you'll do is delay the inevitable. I have deeper pockets than yours. I'm patient. And have pushed, have no doubt, I will pull the race card.
DACON: The race card and what exactly is that?
ALLEN: I am a single woman of color attempting to move into a white neighborhood, I am being harassed and am the victim of blatant prejudice. And attempting to fight, I have been put to great financial expense, not to mention emotional distress. I will see your ass off, you, Dacon, not anyone else, not your neighbors. You. I will take your savings, I will take your house, I will take you down. Now, let's cut to the chase. I have a proposal. No complaints, no lawyers, and I'll eliminate 2000 square feet from these sight plans issue the house will be in proportion to the size of the lot.
DACON: And the second story?
DIANE: That is nonnegotiable.
DACON: That is unacceptable.
DIANE: Then we'll see you in court. I've heard nice things about you Allen. Macy?"
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is it a scene from The Tragedy of the Commons by playwright Stephen Metcalfe. And let me tell you who you heard in that clip. Dacon was played by Jim Winker and Macy -- I'm sorry, Diane is played by Monique gaff no, Allen by many Fernandez. And little in its world premiere, sorry, at Cygnet theatre right now, I want everyone to know. And I'm wondering Steven, did you ever worry that the central dilemma of preserving a [check].
METCALFE: Well, it's very, very interesting if you really examine the play, it is never mentioned as La Jolla. It could be literally any community, you know, up and down the California coast. So that's one thing. And I think the fact that people assume that might be the fact that I live here, and indeed that it is very much a local community. The other element of it is that the view is representative of much greater things. It is representative of resources, wilderness, of the environment, well, as Dacon says at one point, of beauty. And the loss of the view to me represents the loss of things like this.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that refers back to the title. Tell us what tragedy of the commons means.
METCALFE: Tragedy of the commons is an essay written by a sociobiologist Gerald Harden, and it was written in the 1960s issue the idea being is that a man brings his cows to a commons, you know a common land.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sure.
METCALFE: And they begin to graze, and then other people do and other people do, and other people do, because it belongs to all, and then the commons is then ruined for everyone.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And indeed, the view is ruined for poor Dacon. And this is a very complex play though. We've been talking so much about this view that I really do want people to understand, there are a lot of elements and element of ideas going on in this play, Steven. Did you ever think you were taking on too much.
METCALFE: Yes. Occasionally. I really set out to write an ambitious play. You know, and I wanted to write about something. I've always considered myself a -- I guess a story teller, as much as anything else. And this time it was like I wanted to write a compelling story, but I really also wanted to write about something.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Stephen Metcalfe about his new play, The Tragedy of the Commons, which is getting a world premiere at Cygnet theatre. I'd like to also welcome my second guest is Francis Gerke, he is president artist at Cygnet theatre. He performs in this production of The Tragedy of the Commons of Francis, you were familiar with this play from the beginning. How did you discover it?
GERKE: Actually, a friend of Steven's and another resident artist at Cygnet, by the name of Georgier, he sent me a copy of the play, and I read it. I guess it was about a year, year and a half ago, Steven, correct me if I'm wrong, please.
METCALFE: Actually it was Tim west.
GERKE: Oh, it was Tim West, thank you so much. Sorry for the error. And then -- it was a page Turner for me. And normally that's a good sign. Obviously it's a good sign. If it's a page Turner. And from there, we just sort of talked about workshopping the play at Cygnet theatre and playing to develop it along the lines that Steven wanted to.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think that's fascinating for a lot of people, the idea of getting a play that is interesting enough to fascinate you and turn the page. And yet still have to workshop and develop it in that process. Tell us a little bit about what happens to a script when it's in that process of having to workshop a script.
GERKE: I'm laughing because I think the playwright's perspective on worshopping versus the [check] I think it's a matter of when you read through something, you may be willing to forgive certain -- I don't want to call them holes in the story, 'cause I didn't perceive that, but there are things that an audience will pick up on. So one of the things -- last night, there's actually a program at Cygnet that continues through the run of tragedy of the commons, it's called beyond the page. And it is done with the playwright's project as well as Cygnet theatre, and it allows people to interact [check] check audience does for a play, is it allows the writer to hear where the audience is maybe tuning out to a play or they're getting confused. And I think that's what Steven needed is that he knew that he had a good play. He had read it with friends but he needed to hear what the public thought of it before it was ever fully mounted. Steven, please jump in here and let me know if that's basically --
METCALFE: I think that's very, very true. I had -- as I say, I had read it with friends and I was at a point now where I wanted to get a sense of what an audience felt about it. I think writers and actors and directors in the theatre know that, you know, the audience is a huge component part. You're writing for the audience. Of and I wanted to get a sense of how they listened to the play. As Francis said, whether they got confused, whether they became disinterested, then I wanted to get feedback on the play from them, we had a talk back on the play. Then I took that information and I wouldn't say I went back to the drawing board, but I certainly went back and addressed things that had come up for me. And it became an ongoing progress. I think many, many playwrights work like this, I think for example, Tony kirber in with angels in America, he took it through 3 or 4 or 5 different Venn views before he brought it into New York. And then there may be some writers like Edward Albi, [check] who.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Hearing people say, you know, I didn't like the ending of the first act. ?
METCALFE: You know something? No, it's not. Because I sort of have my own questions, and if they touch on those questions, that's what I'm looking for. I wouldn't say any comment is irrelevant. But if comments are not about the things that I'm looking for, I have a tendency to -- I wouldn't say dismiss them, but I don't take them all that seriously.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. I'm speaking with Stephen Metcalfe, and Francis Gerke, we're talking about the new play, tragedy of the commons, which is running through at Cygnet theatre. Steven, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about your main character, Dacon. He is a former school teacher, he is now a blogger, and he is the one who I would imagine is primarily concerned about losing this cherished ocean view of his, what is he like?
METCALFE: Well, as a teacher, he is obviously a very educated man in some respects, he might be over educated. He's someone who really loves knowledge. He loves words. He is a man who has suffered a huge loss. And that has happened to his family. And I would rather not go into the details of that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sure.
METCALFE: Because it is part of the play, and I don't want to ruin it for everyone who thinks they might want to see it. But that loss has sort of shifted his focus, changed him, and he has not yet been able to get over it, and so the loss of something else that is precious to him becomes almost too much for him to bear. I think he's very -- I hope he's very witty. I think he's compelling, I think -- I think he's a very compassionate character.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's hear a little bit more of the play. And of the protagonist, Dacon, this is is I scene between bacon and his wife, Macy. And then we can talk a little bit more about their relationship of here they're having dinner on the patio, and Dacon is played by Jim winker, and Macy by [check].
METCALFE: Don't get up.
GERKE: I hadn't planned to.
METCALFE: I'm perfectly capable of doing everything myself.
GERKE: You always are. But if you'd like to some help.
METCALFE: Too late. Come and sit.
GERKE: Well, this looks unusual.
METCALFE: No, it looks delicious.
GERKE: Exactly what I meant. Is there ketchup.
METCALFE: You do not eat this with ketchup.
GERKE: I would suggest that ketchup is a personal culinary choice.
METCALFE: It is the cook's choice.
GERKE: Just asking. Is there hot sauce in.
METCALFE: Of course there is. Small I make you a raw Hamburger to go with it?
GERKE: I want to eat what you eat.
METCALFE: Then eat it.
GERKE: This isn't to few is it?
METCALFE: Oh, for Christ's sake, Dacon. Why do you insist.
GERKE: I insist because food is to be shared. [check].
METCALFE: You are not a vegetarian.
GERKE: So why did you decide to be one.
METCALFE: Dacon, I appreciate you trying to eat what I eat, I appreciate the attempt. And I'm more than happy to make you anything you like. But I just can't stomach the idea of eating a living thing anymore, Dacon. I can't.
GERKE: Please, let's just sit and enjoy our dinner. It really is delicious. I'll shut up. Now I've been thinking about what you said actually, [check].
METCALFE: What is it that I said?
GERKE: That whoever buys the Mendel son house -- [check] sterile, without character.
METCALFE: Huh. Thankfully without your character, and a piece of crap doesn't go for $2 million.
GERKE: What? 92 that's what Harriet says they're asking.
METCALFE: That's absurd.
METCALFE: They feel the property is worth at least that.
GERKE: I had no idea. Well, it's a GIVEN now.
METCALFE: What is?
GERKE: Who in their right mind is gonna pay that much per a property and not do anything with it.
METCALFE: You don't know that.
GERKE: How can you doubt if.
METCALFE: Dacon, you're over reacting.
GERKE: And I think you're under reacting.
METCALFE: Oh, how lovely [check].
GERKE: We practically live on this terrace, I work here --
METCALFE: Yes. I could. I'd miss it, but I'd get used to it.
GERKE: Well, I cooperate. And won't.
METCALFE: Well, if it does happen, I'm in the sure if there's anything we can do about it, and I don't care to worry about it until it does.
GERKE: Am I take take it we're finished.
METCALFE: I thought I'd walk the dog.
GERKE: See if they'll eat vegetarian.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a scene from tragedy of the commons by playwright Stephen Metcalfe, and it's in its world premiere now at Cygnet theatre. Of and it's been noted Steven that Dacon is perhaps not the easiest man in the world.
METCALFE: Just a lot bit of an [check] quality about him. I think that comes from the fact that he has to some extent retreated from the world. And for any number of reasons. But I think he's also aware of his own irascibility, and he's always trying to compensate for it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think we heard from that scene too that there's a lot of humor in this play.
METCALFE: Yes? Hello?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, hi I'm saying that we heard from this scene that there is a lot of humor in this play.
METCALFE: Oh, I certainly hope so. I mean, I think there's a lot of humor in life in general. So I -- I don't know if I could write anything that does not have some humor in it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, I want to you can that a little bit more about this playwright's project and the beyond -- specifically the playwright's project because Beyond the page that we were talking about earlier is more for feedback from the audience to the playwright. But Cygnet is partnering with playwrights project to hold some forums per people interested in play writing. What can you tell us, Francis, about this partnership?
GERKE: Well, for instance last night, the event was conducted after the perform apse of tragedy of the commons, and it was Steven and then -- and Steven please help me with this, Shirley fish man from the La Jolla Playhouse.
GERKE: Ask yeah, and then Allen Davis from UCSD, and then deb from playwright's project who founded playwright's project. And it was a way for people interested in play writing, whether it be the process of play writing, whether they were actual playwrights who wanted to produced, who wanted to improve their own process, where they get to deal directly with professionals who are working every day in that environment to mount projects, whether it be at Cygnet or La Jolla Playhouse or in any other venue. And I know that next week, they're gonna be talking to producers, and saying, if you want your work done, this is the way to go about it, this is how to submit. And I think it's not only an insight into the artistic avenue of play writing but also into the very commercial business side. So it's a well rounded, practical seminar series to help flourishing playwrights, established playwrights get their work done.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It sounds like it want Steven, what do you think are some of the mistakes or the wrong assumptions that people make when they are learning to write plays?
METCALFE: Boy, that's a hard question. Well, Allen Havis said last night, they were asking -- what constitute ace good play? And Allen said three characters, one set. And what he meant by that is is that -- what he meant by that is that so many theatres, you know, throughout the United States are in an economic place.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah.
METCALFE: Where that is what they can afford. Especially if they're working on any kind of an equity contract. If you want to write something with 12 characters, you should assume it's only gonna be done in universities. So I would suggest that sometimes beginning playwrights have a tendency to populate their stage with too many people. Which is sort of a shame, you know, one would think that you objection -- you wouldn't let something like that influence your work.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sure. You would think that you could be able to make the creative process fly with any of those crass considerations about whether or not the play is actually gonna be produced. Of.
METCALFE: Exactly that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What's the best piece of advice on writing that you got, Steven?
METCALFE: I feel that a writer has got to write. That a writer learns by writing. I think you can have all the talent in the world, but you need to develop your own voice and your own technique, and you really only do that by writing and writing and writing. I'm sure Fran would say the same thing about acting. No, not really, I think you did just take it easy, sit back, and wait for people to come to you. No, I think one of the things about the beyond the page series, one of the things that impressed me so much last night, about the four guests who were giving their advice and commentary, they were really professionals of they were so succinct and so eloquent with what they were saying that you couldn't help but take away just some great feedback. I think the other thing that came up in the conversation that nobody stated directly, but there was a sort of implied comment or advice that the restrictions that are placed upon you, whether they be commercial restrictions or the type of theatre that you're writing for, whether it be a black box or [check] on stage or a large theatre, is that those restrictions are like the rules of the game. And they push you to excel, to think outside the box and force you to imagine things that you might not otherwise do. So that rather than looking at these obstacles as impediments, look at them as creative opportunities.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's really valuable advice for someone who really wants to be able to do something with quality and get it scene.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Steven, do you think the tragedy of the common system now completed or is this still a work in progress?
METCALFE: Well, that's funny you should ask because I've been sitting at my desk this morning doing revisions.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ah, ha.
METCALFE: Which we will not put into this production. I think I've driven my actors crazy enough. But I hope that we'll see another production of this play. I think we will. And indeed we'll address some of the changes then.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I know Francis, this is a pretty big deal for Cygnet. This is the first world premiere production at Cygnet. Can you give us a hint of what's next though?
GERKE: Yes. What is immediately following tragedy of the commons is cabaret, that's gonna be followed in the summer by our town, and then the new season at Cygnet begins. And that is -- it's a wonderful lineup of productions, the first will be little shop of horrors, and that begins July 28th. That's followed by Richard the third, which will go up in October, and then they're remounting -- the holiday classic, it's a wonderful life, the live radio play. Then in January, 2012, they'll put up Martin McDonagh's a Behanding in Spokane, and then Parade, which is a really, really great musical, then that's followed by street car named desire. And all this, of coursing you can get information about it at signet.com, or you can call the box office at [check].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm glad you got that in there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Francis Gerke, thank you so much.
GERKE: My pleasure.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Steven Metcalf, thank you for speaking with us. [check].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: [check] and the sixteenth at Cygnet theatre. If you would like to comment, please do. KPBS.org/These Days. Coming next, it's the weekend preview here on KPBS.