By Scott T Cummings

By Charles L. Mee


In conversation Chuck Mee’s soft-spoken erudition is matched and refreshed by his perpetual sense of curiosity and wonder. He is the kind of guy who can get away with saying “Cool!” a lot and wearing red Converse sneakers. He conducts himself with a soothing ease and a subtle, playful glint in his eye. He is never glib, though he can be wry, as he was in Louisville when he talked about the type of theatre he likes.

“I think I write a play to make myself happy, so that I don’t have to go to the theatre and see a play that I don’t like. I write totally to please myself, with the assumption that I am not so weird that other people won’t be pleased by it, then, too. A lot of people won’t be, but that’s cool. At least I’ll please myself, and the people who are pleased by what pleases me.

“I see a lot of plays that make me frantic with boredom because they connect all the dots. Audiences are so much smarter than that. Think about when you watch network TV. Somebody is brought in the emergency room door and the doctor comes to stop the bleeding, and you cut away to somebody up on the fifth floor and they’re coming out of surgery or having a heart attack and somebody does something about that. Then you cut to a commercial and an automobile is going down the Pacific Coast highway and you’re thinking about sex, and then you cut to a commercial in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background, and then you go back into the middle of the emergency room and we’re all following all of these stories with perfect clarity-and we call it relaxation. Right? The audience in America that least wants to be ‘challenged’ is sitting in their easy chairs drinking beer and having no problem with this. But you go into the theatre and everybody wants to connect every dot, and I think it drives people crazy. It makes people bored in ways they don’t even understand. So I think that if you can put pieces of a play together that are as challenging as network television, it’s just more fun.”

Back in June, Mee taught a two-day playwriting workshop to participants in the month long training program offered by the SITI Company at its summer home on the campus Skidmore College. At one point, he elaborated on his preference for making disjointed plays full of unmediated sharp edges and “juxtapositions where you’re startled by the suddenness of life.” Then, in a moment of candor, without a scintilla of self-pity, he explained why:

“When I was 15, I had polio. Suddenly,’ without any motivation or aspiration on my part, my entire life was transformed, really in a millisecond. So my experience of life is that it is not a smooth, orderly progress of events that is best understood by some unifying theory. And I tend to project that persona story on to a perception of the world itself. To me, those astonishing juxtapositions are how life feels. That feels true.”

Acknowledging the crutches that have assisted him in walking most of his life, Mee added, “Since at age 15 was rendered abnormal, any work of art that normalizes the world seems threatening to me. Not only does it feel alien to my experience, it also feels hostile. It feels like it wants to snuff me out, like there is a standard of normality that either one measures up to or is found wanting. So I am interested in making theatre that in its form makes space for people like me. That’s my objective.
“If you do that, if you think of your work in that way, it gives you a real life-or-death reason for doing it. It saves you from being a dilettante. It saves you from wondering, ‘What should I do next? What would be interesting? What would people like? What does the culture want?’ All those questions undermine you if you don’t work out of a life-or-death sense of your own survival. If you don’t present a vision of the world that nourishes you, then you are making the world unsafe for your own existence.” S.T. C.

Pacific Resident Theater