As the first production of An Invitation Out creeps closer and closer, one question has been making frequent appearances in the many conversations where I can’t shut up about my play – “So how’d you come up with the idea for this?” And I usually answer with something short and tag line-ish to avoid going into the long-winded, embarrassing truth that the origins of this show extend all the way back my gawky teenage years in the quiet mountain town of Paradise, California (yes, the name is mostly ironic). One of the first leading roles I ever got in my high school drama department was in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. And yes, it’s one of those plays that gets performed so often (and usually rather badly) that many theatre folk roll their eyes at the very mention of it. But coming to it fresh was electrifying. I was immediately intoxicated by the language, the wit, the plot’s effortless combination of intelligence and utter silliness. The style of it very quickly clamped onto my fancy, and never let go. My high school drama program was pretty amazing, looking back, and in my freshman and sophomore years, I’d already been exposed to Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard, and Jean Giraudoux. Wilde was the fourth and final nail in the “maybe I want to be a playwright” coffin, and I was done. The year that I performed in Earnest was also the year that I wrote my first play.
Flash forward more years than I’m comfortable admitting to, and we arrive at the heyday of Facebook and Twitter. As countless posts skittered across my computer screen, I started to notice a trend – a sizable number of the things getting “liked” or shared around were quick, two or three sentence attempts at humor or cleverness, a form that Oscar Wilde made his public reputation from. “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much” “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” “The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.” Seriously, Oscar Wilde would have OWNED Twitter. 21st century social media had found a new stage for the witty epigram, had in fact turned the internet into one gigantic Victorian dinner party with everyone rushing to come up with the best zinger of the night. All of the sudden, the archaic 19th century drawing room comedies I’d been obsessed with since high school felt more immediate than ever, and seemed a natural form to use to explore an online world of clever dandyism gone mad. The idea was a simple one: I would write a Wildean drawing room comedy, but in a chat room instead. From there, the story gushed out very quickly, a look at the future inspired by the past that would hopefully shed some light on the present. So there you have it, how I came up with this. And now, if we happen to bump into each other, you’ll already know the answer to your question, and won’t be subjected to me rambling on about high school theatre productions and long-dead playwrights, and we can both share a perfectly lovely sigh of relief.