“Bully”, or How To Write A Play You Don’t Want To Write

Vincent Truman

Vincent Truman

“Bully” was the next play I had to write. The problem is I didn’t want to write the damn thing.

Life is a series of thousands of experiences; none are disconnected from each other. I’d go so far as to suggest that, if you put them in a single chart, most life events in a single person’s existence would resemble far more a web than a flowchart. Repercussions from one event invariably show up in seemingly independent actions years removed from said event. I think, if you were to ask, any successful playwright would admit to a thread being present, or felt, from one work to another. Certainly one can draw a line fromAlan AykbournAlan Aykbourn’s 1959 play “Love After All” with his magnificent, trilogy “The Norman Conquests” in 1973, as one could certainly draw subtle parallels from that work to 1979’s “Sisterly Feelings.” Similarly, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Play About the Baby” reveal common fires in Edward Albee’s work, despite over thirty years separating them.

Following on from my plays “Venus Envy”, “Killing Angela” and “Featherstone”, all of which dealt with hidden or manufactured agendas, “Bully” was fully ready to be written, even if its author was reluctant.

“Bully” recounts a man named Alex, who, after thirty years of living in shame and fear, decides to confront the bully of his youth, in the form of a freelance electrician, husband and father of one named Darrell. Despite having no contact in those intervening decades, Darrell’s bullying tactics served to nurture a life in Alex of just not wanting to be picked on or harassed; the result being that nobody notices Alex at all anymore and his ability to withstand this predicament has led him to Darrell’s garage on a crisp Saturday morning. Alex goes there to confront Darrell and extract an apology, but he is well-armed with tools to use in the event an apology isn’t coming. And it isn’t coming.

I’ve got a bully of my own in my past, who, by no coincidence whatsoever, is named Darrell. I occasionally spy his Facebook page and am excited by, and terrified by, confronting him. But after all these years, what could he say to me in real life? From his pictures, he’s still the slit-eyed, tough-looking fellow he was thirty – nearly forty – years ago. And unlike my counterpart of those many years ago, I see a woefully unhappy man, trapped within the posturing of a high school dropout. Certainly any confrontation I would have with him would only serve to retrigger that power he thought he felt over me those many years ago. So, while I still maintain traits that make me uneasy – I’m uncomfortable in crowds, I tend to avoid confrontation, I constantly think of myself as not “manly” enough to stand up for myself, to say nothing of my tendency to pick friends, and a spouse, who exploited those weaknesses, either to re-enact past battles or to punish myself – I have convinced myself that such a meeting would be pointless and that I shouldn’t overestimate a schoolyard bully’s power over me as I drift into middle age.

But, aha. I have also been Darrell. There was a time, in my drinking 20s and careless 30s, that I would use just about anyone who got me what I wanted, and I would wreck those who stood in my way. I proudly waved the banner of “I Don’t Give A Fuck”, which was easily, and occasionally accurately, called out as grave insecurity. I slept with married women – kept my own personal log of exactly how many that was separate from my usual conquests – and was basically no good. That particular thread was given new life recently, as a very good friend of mine is basically doing the same thing. And I find I not only have no time for it, but I am like a ex-smoker who is very quick to judge anyone who might light up in reaction to stress or addiction.

To write “Bully” has forced me to inhabit several of my lives, and it’s been absolutely horrifying and panic-inducing. A workshop was planned for the beginning of April; in terror, and when things weren’t falling perfectly into place, I canceled it with a couple of days’ notice. The rewrites, which followed the actual workshop in late April, have depressed and panicked me, alternately. Yet I do know this: “Bully” is the most intimate, personal and risky of any work I’ve done. That alone has meant that it had to be written.

“Bully” has been selected to be featured in the maximum amount of performances (seven) in the 2015 Chicago Fringe Festival.

To be continued.

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