Evolution from Monologue to Full-Length Play
by Audrey Cefaly
My play MAYTAG VIRGIN first appeared on the stage at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s annual Intersections Festival back in 2012, in the form of 10 minute monologue. Gwydion Suilebhan had asked me to join a group of playwrights to collectively answer a prompt for pieces “exploring a collision of people of different ages, races, cultures, classes, or sexual identities.”
I resisted the idea at first because I tend to shy away from writing about identity politics. It’s not that I don’t want to be part of the conversation, but my approach is perhaps more indirect, as I believe I lack the vocabulary for those kinds of discussions. So I took a step back and realized I could approach it in a way that felt familiar to me. I chose to write a story about a Southern protestant woman and her new Catholic neighbor and the resulting tension from their close proximity and religious differences. And while the finished piece wasn’t exactly a firestarter, I felt good about it because it was well-received and it seemed like the genesis of something much bigger. So when the Women’s Voices Theater Festival opportunity came along, I realized that MAYTAG VIRGIN would be my project.
Labor of Love
Expanding MAYTAG has been a true joy. I’ve collaborated with some extraordinary people who believe in my work and help to make it better. I’m really, really lucky to have that level of support. Keeping it set in the south was important to me. I am an Alabama native and much of my writing is taken from experiences and stories from my time living there.
I knew I wanted MAYTAG to be similar, atmospherically, to my other Southern pieces (THE GULF, FIN & EUBA, COTTONWOOD, MILL TOWN GIRLS). I experimented with character count and narrative styles. My decision to write the piece as a two-hander, a specialty of mine, was one I made right off the bat. As both director and writer, it allows me to dig deep into human connections and explore the ideas of inertia and enlightenment, themes I keep returning to in all of my work. The more I write, the more audacious I get. I love taking risks. I’m experimenting once again with original music. It adds something very special to the finished product, an element of danger and aliveness that nothing else gets at. Having direct access to my actors as well as the text gives me the freedom to go places I couldn’t ordinarily go. It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s incredibly rewarding.
So Maytag Virgin is the story of two school teachers trying to overcome tremendous loss. They enter each other’s world at the very moment it has been ripped apart. My playwright pal Richard Byrne (Nero/Pseudo) gave me the idea to position their houses next door to each other (vs. across the street), an idea which has proven to be the single best piece of advice I’ve gotten for the play. The proximity of Jack and Lizzy’s neighboring houses serves as an organic source of conflict and tension.
There was a point in the writing, where I put it down for almost 6 weeks because I had reached a wall with the narration and was having trouble one of Lizzy’s monologues. The content of it felt right, but I knew intuitively that something about the framing was off. My dramaturg Ann-Marie Dittman urged me to stay away from direct address and return to my original style. I figured out a way to transform Lizzy’s big moment into more of a soliloquy during the approaching thunder storm at the end at Act I. This created a powerful lead-in to intermission.
Toward the end of the restructuring process, I wrote a connector piece to bridge the final two scenes. This has become my favorite scene in the whole play. There’s a stillness to it, a simple, intimate, healing moment between Jack and Lizzy that serves to illustrate how far their relationship has evolved. The critical scene has become a focal point in the narrative, because we see that the moment would not be possible if not for the foundational layers of trust that have built up over the course of the year since their first meeting.
My incredible actors (Gillian Shelly, Will Hardy) have played a HUGE role in the fine-tuning of the play. They’ve been with me since the beginning and throughout our many private and public readings. We’re in our 3rd week of rehearsals now and we’ve been making the necessary text adjustments that can only be known and discovered once the actors are up on their feet. This is my favorite part of the development process and the thing I believe makes it the most distinct from other types of writing, because a play is not merely a script. It cannot be fully developed in a vacuum or coffee shop. It needs animation. It needs the magic of collaboration to see it through to its final rendering.
Watching the evolution of this play has been the most rewarding experience of my writing career. Over the past year, we’ve had 5 table reads and 3 public readings (the 4th one and final read took place September 5th at Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival).
Recently, after I’d written the first draft of this article, my husband died after a long battle with kidney failure. We had been estranged for a few years, but I still cared about him, deeply. This has been a difficult week for me and my son Thomas. We’ve been muddling through it somehow. But it hasn’t escaped me that I’m trying to birth a play about death at the very moment death decided to descend upon my home. Though, strangely enough, this does not feel like death. It feels… it feels like life. A life where now free of pain and suffering. Where healing begins.
We have moved rehearsals to my home in Bowie so that I can be here with my son. The actors come in and it’s a house full of crazy. We gather and embrace. We strike a line, we move, we remove, we let the silence speak. We push and pull and weave and polish, we play a song and it feels like flying. MAYTAG VIRGIN is the song of love. And everything it touches turns to love. And the love it creates returns and folds back in, like warm pulled taffy. It feels as if every song I’ve ever sung is wrapped into this thing. And it’s not stopping. And it’s gorgeous. And I’m terrified. And I can’t wait.
Maytag Virgin Events
$10 Preview Night – October 1 • Writer’s Center • Bethesda | Info
World Premiere – October 2 • Writer’s Center • Bethesda | Info