Mr. Taken: Too Normal for Fringe?
I didn’t conceive Mr. Taken as a Capital Fringe show. It is a more traditional show, based on real human actions and not hyperrealism or extreme satire or inscrutable metaphors or about important social causes that are the usual Fringe fare. The show I did last year, Oral Histories, was a perfect Fringe show. It was a show with three monologues about oral sex. Now that was a Fringe show!
Another reason not to do the show at the Fringe is that Mr. Taken is a full-length show in the old fashion three-act format. Fringe shows don’t have an intermission. Each of these “acts” are each single scenes in one location, again, a very traditional play style. Act 1 takes place in the dining room of Jen’s townhouse. The second act takes place months later in the living room of Eric’s apartment. The last act is back at Jen’s townhouse. A normal production would have time to change the sets during act breaks. But watching The House of Yes at last year’s festival, I realized it was possible to make the necessary scene changes quickly. It just takes some creative staging.
I wrote the show with the idea of basic sex comedy, such as Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw or Foote and Marriott’s No Sex Please, We’re British. Or my personal favorite, Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests plays. In these shows, people are always coming in and out of doors and surprising people. And that’s yet another reason not to do the show at the Capital Fringe. No doors! Okay, we can assume doors in the black box staging. It is theater after all.
But it is this element of the show that as a playwright I am most excited about. There are 36 separate entrances in Mr. Taken and with each entrance there is a surprise. Sometimes the surprise is for the characters on the stage, sometimes the surprise is for the audience. Sometimes the person entering room is surprised by the action on the stage — such as finding people kissing who should not be kissing. There are two entrances in the show that don’t reach that standard because the entrances are needed and expected. In the first one, the surprise comes from a piece of new information about the person entering the room that surprises another character. The second instance, I just have the entering character say to the onstage character, “I’m surprised you’re still here.” It’s such a cheat, but it tickles me.
The other important element in a sex comedy is the sex. There is not actual sex, but there is innuendo and people in various stages of undress. Disrobing is an important part of the show. The conceptual start of the writing process for the show began with the idea that I wanted a show to open with a naked woman. It’s a great opening for a show. Just not for this one. For two reasons. First, that original scene became Act 2, so instead the show opens with two women drinking wine and talking about men. Second, the nakedness was scrapped by the director. The nakedness was not necessary. It was hard to argue about it since the director is my 17-year-old daughter. Arguing for gratuitous nudity is not the best position for a father. Having your daughter direct your sex comedy, that’s okay, right?
Each of the six characters – there are 3 men and 3 women – either take off their clothes on stage or enter the room wearing a negligee. It is an equal opportunity exploitation show. And that is the most Fringe element of the show.
Finally, I must say that the show is a comedy and it will make you laugh. It makes me laugh. As I have discovered during rehearsals, I am the kind of guy who laughs at his own jokes – especially when someone else is saying them!
Ward Kay is an amateur playwright, adjunct professor of public policy, and government statistician.
His short play Three Times a Lady has won awards from NVTA and the Little Theatre of Alexandria. He is a regular contributor to the Washington Post Style Invitational.