A marker at the entrance of Butler University ...
A marker at the entrance of Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a play of mine is about to be read publicly for the first time–when I’m in that out-of-my-hands helpless phases after the final rehearsal and before the presentation–I always seem to try to flash back to its origin.

Problem is, I can never find it.

That’s true with “Lightning and Jellyfish,” my new play that’s part of Butler University’s New Works festival. I know that, for years, I’ve wanted to write a play that’s set in Wildwood, NJ, my hometown. And I wanted to use a location similar to the rock and roll shop where I worked for many summers.

But a location isn’t a play.

A character, then?

Angela, the main character, has the spirit and stories and some of the thoughts of a number of women I’ve known over the years, a Frankenstein monster of pieces, mixed with imagination, whose stitches, I hope, don’t show as a young actress breathes life into her. The goal is for Angela to pass as a singular creature, standing on her own without the aid of factual backstory.

But her origin? In some ways, Angela began on a boardwalk date a long, long time ago. In other ways, she has the spirit of my mother and the spunk of my lost daughter. In other ways, she’s me, conveniently sex changed so that I can hide within her.

The play didn’t begin to really exist for me, though, until I saw Mallery Avidon’s play “Oh Guru, Guru, Guru or Why I Don’t Want to Go to Yoga Class With You” at the 2013 Humana Festival. “Lightning and Jellyfish” doesn’t actually resemble “Guru” at all, but Avidon’s oddly shaped play gave me the confidence to try something structurally very different from anything I’d seen.

Tone? The influence on tone goes as far back as the Arden Theatre Company’s production of the first half of Brian Friel’s “The Lovers” back in the  1990s (or, at least, what I remember feeling while watching it.)

And then there’s the music of Cara Jean Marcy whose sound, more than Springsteen or Dylan, echoed in me as I wrote. And the words I shared with a dear friend, unsure how to respond when her daughter asked her questions about the universe.

The play itself, though, only began becoming viable when Diane Timmerman, chair of the Butler University theater program, asked me if I would write a play for the festival. That’s when the elements that had been swirling independently in my brain grew gears and started finding each other.

The fit was rough in the beginning, but after much grinding and sanding and readjusting, I hope we have something interesting. Wherever it came from. Faith–not a faith in a higher power but the faith that Diane showed in my work–had as much to do with its creation as anything else.

Hope you can make it Thursday night at 7 at the Schrott Center.