Recommended Reading: Diving Normal

So I’ve been doing some writing lately. No, not reviews – I’ve been making my first forays into playwriting. Who knows what’ll come of it, but it sure is fun. I’ve been writing some really crazy stuff (crazy, at least, for me) as my imagination has jumped on board this train and just taken over the controls. I look at some of it afterwards and just go, “Who wrote that? Because it sure wasn’t me.” I’m surprising myself daily with some of the stuff I’m coming up with. Let’s hear it for the ol’ subconscious, everybody!

To help me along this new adventure, I’ve decided to do some inspirational reading and look at other plays that are being written today – for insight into form, structure, and the topics that are on the minds of other writers. Thankfully, I have the perfect resource for such an endeavor sitting right on my bookshelf.

The complete set of Plays and Playwrights anthologies.  

Oh baby, what a treasure trove of inspiration these have been for me over the past few weeks! Because of that, I thought I’d start a series of posts highlighting some of the great plays I’ve been reading. Perhaps you will be encouraged to read them too.

I’d like to start with Diving Normal by Ashlin Halfnight, a playwright whose work I have come to admire greatly over the past couple of years. This play appeared in NYTE’s most recent anthology, Plays and Playwrights 2007, and it showcases one of the dominant characteristics of Ashlin’s writing: compassion. He genuinely likes all of his characters, regardless of their shortcomings, and never takes sides. He wants them all to win, yet remains cognizant of the necessity for conflict and the eventuality that someone will win out over another in some fashion. Diving Normal displays that inherent tension beautifully.

Because Ashlin doesn’t take sides he also doesn’t judge his characters, leaving that instead to the reader. Which is both nice and a little unnerving: nice, in that it allows the reader to make up their own mind about the characters and the play’s events; unnerving, in that it forces the reader to really confront their own feelings about the play’s themes without being told how or what to think. In the case of Diving Normal, those themes include friendship, loyalty, and sexual compulsion. The way Ashlin confines his three protagonists – Fulton, an everyman-type graphic novelist with a bright future; Gordon, his third wheel-ish next door neighbor who has a crush on Fulton’s girl; and Dana, a gritty young woman with secret carnal desires – to the play’s unit living room set and slowly-but-confidently reveals them to us free of subterfuge keeps one riveted.

Did I mention that Diving Normal is full of surprises? Oh yeah – that’s something else Ashlin is really good at. He keeps the reader alert by constantly pulling the rug out from under him or her. Just when you think you know where things are going, he subtly makes an unexpected (but fully earned) turn. This is especially true of the play’s final three scenes, in which Ashlin brings things to an emotionally roller-coaster conclusion. The Boss hit the nail right on the head in his introduction to PP07 when he called Diving Normal “perhaps the most blisteringly intimate” play in this collection.

For those of you who are into liner notes, check out this very candid interview I did with Ashlin back in February. He talks about the genesis of Diving Normal, as well as a number of other topics covering his plays, his career, and his multifaceted background. Very good stuff.

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