Sunday, December 14, 2008

Where Did You Get This Idea?

If you’ve ever been a part of a Talkback Session or Q&A with the playwright after a performance, invariably one of the first questions that comes up (providing it’s a world premiere, and not something like Shakespeare’s Taming Of The Shrew) is “Where did you get this idea.”

The idea for Say Goodbye Toto came in April of 2005. I was an Ovation Voter at the time, and was stuck in a very well intentioned, beautifully designed, adequately acted and deadly boring play by a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. I’m not a big fan of Depression era stuff, and I’m also not a fan of the type of writing where people die offstage right before the intermission, and people come onstage and cry about it. The kind of stuff where all the action takes place offstage, and people wonder what they’re gonna do about it onstage. That type of writing makes me snore. (I think I may have been the only one who didn’t like it, as the play pulled in critic’s raves from several publications.)

But sitting there, in the audience, out of nowhere. I suddenly remember at the end of the Wizard Of Oz, how Dorothy holds up Toto and says, “Say goodbye, Toto.” And waves little Toto’s paw for him at everyone just as they’re about to step into the balloon, right before things go wonky because Toto sees a cat and leaps out of Dorothy’s arms and the Wizard in the balloon takes off without them.

And my brain starts rolling from there. I could retell Wizard of Oz from Toto’s point of view. There’s something we haven’t seen before. Sure, there’s the movie version, and Return to Oz, and Wicked and later on, the Tin Man miniseries on Sci-Fi Channel, but nobody’s done it from Toto’s point of view before. And I think that dog has something to say. I really do.

Initially the idea was that Toto didn’t wanna leave Oz, that Dorothy was waving his paw against his will. The title of Say Goodbye Toto, would be a metaphor for not wanting to grow up, not wanting to return to reality.

But quickly I realized that wasn’t going to be as strong of a narrative as if Toto couldn’t wait to get out of Oz, and Dorothy was the one that wanted to stay. And a logical reason for why Toto would want to get the hell out of Oz would be if he saw Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion as romantic rivals for Dorothy’s affection.

Once I hit upon that idea, I got really excited about the possibilities. I could play around with audience expectations, and re-imagine the characters in ways they hadn’t been seen before. I could flip gender communication roles in modern day relationships, where Toto the boy is constantly pouring his heart out to Dorothy, who’s oblivious (because she obviously can’t hear him.) I could examine the idea of what unconditional love means to a dog versus a human.

The only thing I don’t have yet is a reason for why it’s called “Say Goodbye Toto.” My original reason that is was a metaphor for Toto not wanting to leave Oz doesn’t work anymore. There is a point in the play where Dorothy introduces Toto to Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion and says “Say hello, Toto.” (Toto promptly replies “I hate each and every one of you.”) But that’s as close as I get. I suppose I could have the Wicked Witch say it in kind of a Bond Villain way, “Say Goodbye Toto, eeeeeee hee hee heeeeeeee!” But that seems a little obvious.

Doesn’t matter. It’s too good of a title. It’s staying. Yay!

- Amy Heidish

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