Every writer has been forced to remove something important from his prose. In journalism, it’s called killing your darlings. Your editor declares the piece is too long, or too complicated, and you must figure out how to make it more streamlined and readable.
Sometimes this entails cutting material — information, characters, context — you consider essential. It can be a painful process.
It’s no different for playwrights. They create works whose characters push the action forward. If the action stumbles or spins in place, well, maybe it’s time to employ the Delete key.
Over the years, Thomas and Judy Heath have written five previous plays — “Perfectly Normel People,” “Bedroom Secrets” (also known as “Re-Wire”), “Back to the Nest,” “Hostage Bride” and “My Blondie Summer” — and two screenplays, “Mothers & Daughters” and “The Chairs.”
Naturally, they had to kill some darlings.
But what to do with the corpses? Could it be possible to revive them somehow?
The Heaths decided to do just that. Their new play, currently being workshopped at the Queen Street Playhouse, is called “Dead Characters,” and it features the ghosts who inhabit the couple’s creative attic.
Hector appears as a flesh-and-blood figure at the beginning of the play but gets axed from the script and sent to the attic where he encounters a cast of other excised characters, each from previous Heath plays, as well as the work’s creator.
The whole play, therefore, depends on making the meta the main thing, Thomas Heath said. “It’s a drawing room comedy meets the ‘Twilight Zone,’ with sarcastic urban humor,” he added.
Hector wants to know why he has been cut.
“If you met the creator who just killed you off, you’d have questions, too,” Thomas Heath said.
The play also provides an inside look at the state of the theater business today.
The workshopping of “Dead Characters” will be opened to the public 2-4 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Queen Street Playhouse, and the performance will be followed by a Q&A with the audience moderated by Queen Street Playhouse Executive Director Brian Porter. The Heaths are playwrights-in-residence with the Footlight Players, the company that calls the playhouse home.
The Heaths specialize in character-driven plays with lots of dialogue, Judy Heath said. Two of their shows made their way to New York City, “Perfectly Normel People” in 2012, which is about a college freshman from Kansas who moves in with a dysfunctional Italian-American family from Queens, and “Bedroom Secrets” in 2013, a two-hander featuring a shrink and five of her patients coping with sexual issues. Both garnered praise from Fringe Festival audiences and critics.
Now, they are looking for opportunities to push “Bedroom Secrets” (“Re-Wire”) to the Off-Broadway stage, and to find a place for “Dead Characters” in the Big Apple.
They have their advocates.
"I've worked with the Heaths for a number of years on bringing their work to New York, and it's exciting to see their hard work and passion for the theater pay off,” said Ken Davenport, a Tony Award-winning producer and author of the blog TheProducersPerspective.com. “And they may have discovered the secret to a long and successful marriage along the way — write plays together!"
Writing together is not as difficult as one might think, the Heaths said. They start with an idea and with a particular voice in mind.
“Once we get going, the characters inform us and start to speak for themselves,” Thomas Heath said.
That’s when the plot takes shape and the issues tumble forth. They like to address philosophical questions, such as why bad things happen to good people, they said. They like to inject dark humor. They like to have fun with their words.