Monday, November 26, 2018

Bent But Not Broken: The ARC's Are Here!

Hello Friends,

Here is a helix of the Advance Reader Copies of BENT BUT NOT BROKEN!

BENT officially releases on March 15 online and in Los Angeles. Something wild in New York on April 16. And lots of other things before, in-between, and after at other locations across this great land of ours.

When the time comes, you can get to the purchase links at or

Thank you, to everyone, who helped to make this book possible. It takes more than a village. It takes cities, bravery, and magic-that-I-don't-even-know-where-it-comes-from. And readers like you.

"No one ever died from Peyronie's Disease." --The Doctor
"Of course, no one knows the cause of every suicide." --Don Cummings

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

THE WATER TRIBE @ ESTLA Launchpad, Friday, November 16 @ 8

Hello Friends,

Please consider coming to the fully staged reading of THE WATER TRIBE at Ensemble Studio Theatre--LA. The cast is amazing. The play runs less than 90 minutes without intermission. Part of this season's LAUNCHPAD--for plays that are "good to go on their feet." It's a great festival and I encourage you to see as many of the evenings as possible.
The director and the cast for THE WATER TRIBE are out-of-control.

W/ Hannah Prichard, Christopher Reiling, Amir Abdullah, Simone McAlonen & Jayne Taini

3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039


The Water Tribe
Claudia and Johnny are intelligent but without intellectual or social context. They want to get married but they need a tribe to witness their very existence. Claudia is an orphan with a cousin, Sonia, who does nothing to help Claudia secure her future. Johnny is half an orphan, with his mother, Sydelle, doing what she can to be loving. Brian, a former co-worker of Claudia, provides a measure of balance and grounded advice. But when things go wrong with this new tribe, Claudia turns to give Johnny what she thinks he craves: an adult circumcision. When that fails, too, Claudia is left to fend for herself. Nearly obliterated by circumstances, Claudia and Johnny fight to find connection and home.


Being alone is the fast condition of birth. Then, there is so much to do to make sure you survive, hopefully with the help of others. You must pay attention. And you must choose wisely if you have the chance to choose. Possibly, you will not die alone in the streets. We must understand our precarious condition. I wrote this play while experiencing consistent personal rejection because of my age, abilities, sensibility and gender. Then, I looked at young people and saw they had it even worse as power consolidates, that money no longer flows freely, that this world is often harsh and ready to dismiss. Everyone on earth needs a chance to find their power and freedom. No matter how limited, anything is a start. Actually hopeful, I think we can do well—whether as a lover of some form of religion, secular-humanism, or nothing-at-all. Our ability to see each other as valuable and as worthy of belonging is what we have, biologically. It is real, actionable, and requires only the smallest shift of open-heartedness.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Let Go. November 10

All your best friends are doing it. Let Go. on Fairfax. November 10.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

America's Got Talent! Time to VOTE again! The Semi-Finals Live Show

TUESDAY, September 11, 8PM (7C)
AGT Semi-Finals!
Don't forget to vote for my beautiful husband and his beautiful choir, AGAIN, on Tuesday evening (tonight) on America's Got Talent!
The outcome of this round will be determined by your votes to send them to THE FINALS, so vote early and often. There are four ways to vote and you can vote for Angel City Chorale up to 10X with each method. Voting begins during the live broadcast and ends at 7AM Eastern Time the following morning (Wednesday).

I hope you enjoy the show. Choirs are cool again. YOU have always been cool.

Stuff the box:

1. Download the App!
The fastest and easiest way to vote and follow along with AGT.
2. Vote online

You can Vote 10X, easy, each time you sign in. The app and the online voting will remember your sign-ins, so you can just vote wherever is easiest for you. 

If you are A MANIAC, and I know you can revote 10X each using different email logins for methods 1 and 2. You just keep signing in with the different email addresses you have hidden around all over the place and you can vote another 10 times using the new sign-in. It's not really stuffing the ballot's more like, "network television enthusiasm."

3. Vote using the toll-free number provided during the broadcast.
You can vote this way 10X, but only 10X, assuming you only have one cell phone number. Just keep redialing. It costs nothing. You can do this in addition to the app and online methods.
PHONE NUMBER IS 1-866-60-AGT05      1-866-602-4805

4. Xfinity X1 customers can vote via their set-top box by saying "Vote for AGT" into the X1 voice remote or by pressing the remote's Info button.

And for Wednesday (a note from the choir):

Wednesday 9/12 - Semi-Final Results Show
If we end up in the middle (as we did during the quarter-finals), we'll urgently need your votes again for the Dunkin' Save during a half hour window between roughly 8:10PM - 8:40PM Eastern Time (5:10 PM - 5:40 PM Pacific). Make sure to have notifications turned on for the AGT App and check your email and our social media pages during this time! (There is no phone voting for the Dunkin' Save.)

(Again, for the Dunkin' Save, you can keep signing in using different email addresses on the app or online.)
We love you and thank you so much for your support during this mind-boggling odyssey.


A final note from me, Don, about all this voting stuff: Adam and I understand, like the rest of you, that this is all somehow seedy, cheesy, odd, and annoying to ask for your time to vote like an Irishman in 1960 Chicago. But here we are, living in this strange reality-tv world. Maybe you shouldn't vote. Maybe you should not watch the show. Maybe you should throw your television out the window and thank your good sense that you have freed yourself from all that is "screened" in our culture. I mean, of course. Take off your clothes! Run in the woods! Never look back! could vote. Might be easier.

Monday, August 13, 2018

America's Got Talent! Time to VOTE

Don't forget to vote for my beautiful husband and his beautiful choir on Tuesday evening on America's Got Talent!
The outcome of this round will be determined by your votes, so vote early and often. There are four ways to vote and you can vote for Angel City Chorale up to 10X with each method. Voting begins during the live broadcast and ends at 7AM Eastern Time the following morning (Wednesday).

I hope you enjoy the show. Choirs are cool again. YOU have always been cool.

1. Download the App!
The fastest and easiest way to vote and follow along with AGT.
2. Vote online
3. Vote using the toll-free number provided during the broadcast.
4. Xfinity X1 customers can vote via their set-top box by saying "Vote for AGT" into the X1 voice remote or by pressing the remote's Info button.
Thanks so much for your ongoing support!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Archive


Writer CV
(Books, Plays, +)


Appearances: Television/Theatre/Film
(Actor +)





Wolfe Tracks/Interview Magazine


Piss Play is about Minorities So It's Really Important

Broadway World: Winner of The Golden Pineapple for Best Play


American Air


Back to:

The Fat of the Land >>

Back to: Don

Back to: The Archive



The Fat of the Land   (Excerpt)

By Don Cummings


The Characters

James                         a composer
Martha                         a painter and James' best friend
Beverly                        their neighbor and James' new friend
Sam                             Beverly's husband, a judge
Robbie                         Martha's nephew, a dancer
Claudia Vestibule       James' and Martha's closest friend

The Fat of the Land was work-shopped at The West Coast Ensemble in Los Angeles followed by its World Premiere at The Theatre District, produced by The New Theatre--Autumn, 2006, featuring Robert Gantzos, Larisa Miller, Mary McBride, Guy Wilson, Dan Alemshah and John Bader. Dan Alemshah received the LA Ovation Award for Best Featured Actor for his portrayal of Claudia Vestibule. The Fat of the Land also had a full staged reading in Octoberfest at Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City, directed by Billy Hopkins. The New York cast included Ean Sheehy, Jodie Markell, Leslie Lyles, Mark Elliot Wilson, Dan Alemshah and Henry Gummer. The Fat of the Land was one of fifteen finalists for the Kaufman & Hart Prize for New American Comedy at Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

The Fat of the Land


Act I


Scene 1


Warm light comes up in the main room of a two-hundred year old, upstate New York house. The wooden floor is worn and covered with area rugs. On one side of the room are soft white sculptures of heads on a shelf. Below, above and next to the heads are sloppy piles of art books, cans of lard, paint cans filled with brushes and an easel. The other side is neat with sheets of music, a working sound system, a keyboard and a guitar. The owner, Martha, has decorated the room with a variety of colors. There is a sofa, two chairs and a few occasional tables. The idea of a window hangs to one side with a view to the autumn leaves. There is easy access to the adjacent unseen but easily accessed kitchen. This place is ninety miles northwest of New York City. The air is clean. The sun is bright. Odd guitar music is heard. It is a scratch track coming from the speakers.


James is in his late thirties, handsome, charismatic, kind, affable, witty, sometimes sarcastic and sometimes attentive. He is working on a guitar song along with the scratch track. The piece is freeform, with piano and guitar, recalling the French romantics, but possibly nothing more than a new age ramble. Progress is at best sputtering. He is distraught. He has been distraught for days.


James: (Screwing up courage) Give me something, here.


Beverly: It’s your favorite neighbor.


James: (actually relieved) Oh, good.


James picks up the guitar and answers the door.


James: Hi, Beverly.


Beverly enters. She wears a knit hat and a large sweater—something concealing and unflattering. Beverly is about forty years old and looks it. She carries the weight of her marriage and wants to slough it off. She was once a lot of fun. A little flighty and not the sharpest tool in the shed, she nevertheless does pay attention. She is agitated, a little scared, excited and ready to explode. However, she maintains her composure to impress James.


Beverly: Hi, James. Can I come in?


James: Sure.


Beverly: Are you being visited by your muse?


James: More like avoided.


Beverly: James, you’re so clever. You sure you have a second, because this is important.


James: Sure, what’s going on?


Beverly: It’s hard to say.


James: You look ready to say it.


Beverly: It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?


James: Amazing.


Beverly: (Looking out the window) The apples are getting so big on the trees.


James: And the leaves are ridiculous.


Beverly: Ridiculous?


James: This place is paradise...What’s up, Beverly?


Beverly: I think I’m going to leave my husband.


James: You think?


Beverly: I have to.


James: Resolve is the first step.


Beverly: Like apostles. Oh James, it’s wrong, but I feel relieved.


James: So where are you going?


Beverly: First I thought I’d stop here.


James: Would you like a cup of coffee?


Beverly: I already had a few. Is this one of your songs?


James: Yeah. Whatever. (He shuts off the music) You want something to eat?


Beverly: No, thanks. It’s nice. Turn it back on.


James: It’s not finished.


Beverly: Does it have words?


James: Eventually. Nice?


Beverly: I took Sam to the Pyramid club when we first got married.


James: Sam went into the city?


Beverly: Poughkeepsie.


James: Fun town.


Beverly: There were so many African folks and just really talented performers.


James: I’ve never been.


Beverly: You have to go. It’s very historic. The Roosevelts, you know.


James: That Eleanor sure got around.


Beverly: Good God in Lutheran heaven, she was helpful.


Martha calls from the back room.


Martha: (Offstage) Jimmy! Come check out the light. You have to see how the purple has the green in it.


Beverly: I didn’t know Martha was still here. She out in the shed?


James: She’s on a deadline.


Beverly: She’s so interesting.


James: (Toward the outside) Beverly’s here.




Beverly: She gets to do so much.


James: Her energy is amazing.


Beverly: I’ll have a cup of coffee.


James goes into the kitchen for some coffee.


Beverly: It’s funny.


James: What?


Beverly: She comes up from New York weekend after weekend and I barely know her. You come live here for a few months and we’re such good friends.


James: We clicked.


Beverly: We did. At first I thought you two were an item so I didn’t want to hone in.


James: Just best buddies.


Beverly: You city people are so modern. Do you miss it? (She turns on the music)


James: What?


Beverly: The city.


James: Not at all.


Beverly: I think I would miss it. The restaurants. The excitement. And the money.


James: Not so much.


Beverly: What do they pay singers for those commercial songs?


James: Depends on the commercial. (Entering with coffee)


Beverly: I can’t believe anyone can write music.


James: Do you want me to put something else on?


Beverly: No, I want to hear yours.


The music plays.


James: (He gives Beverly the coffee) Here you go.


Beverly: It’s such a gift. I’d love to be a musician.


James: You play an instrument?


Beverly: James, I sing, you know.


James: Really?


Beverly: I love to.


James: You should sing, then.


Beverly: Really? Like those singers who sang all those jingles you wrote?


James: Do something better than that.


Beverly: James, you’re so modest.


James: Just honest—


Beverly: This is interesting. (Raising the volume of the music)


James: That’s one way to put it.


Beverly: But it’s so—


James: Really, it’s not ready. Lower it.


Beverly: Yes sir. (Silences the music) James, do you think I should leave Sam?


James: You can’t run away from him. Go home and wait for him and talk—and if he doesn’t budge, tell him you’re going to have to consider some options.


Beverly: He always gets to do stuff. He gets to go up to Albany, gets to go to Utica. What am I supposed to do? I want to see some people. Do something.


James: Join a group.


Beverly: He won’t let me.


James: I don’t want to sound like a snob, Beverly, but that’s just kind of upstate trashy.


Beverly: Should I say the D word?


James: Only if you mean it.


Beverly: I sometimes do. Do you like Sam?


James: I don’t know him well enough to make that call.


Beverly: Do you think he’d be surprised if I just flew the coop?


James: Yesterday you were talking about a baby.


Beverly: You remembered?


James: Of course, so, I think he would be surprised.


Beverly: I’m really in a pickle then.


James: Beverly, just tell him you want some excitement. If he doesn’t get it, make an ultimatum.

Beverly: What kind?


James: I don’t know, Beverly. You’ll have to figure it out. It’s a beautiful day. Go out and do something, honey, it’ll come to you.


Beverly: There’s the new mall with all those great restaurants. I could shop and grab a bite?


James: Yeah, try that.


Beverly: Thanks for talking to me.


James: No problem.


Beverly: I’ll go to the mall.


Beverly starts to leave.


James: See you later.


Beverly: I don’t have an ultimatum.


James: Just think about it in the food court.


Beverly: I can get the chow mein! Turn up your music, James, it’s so lovely.


Beverly leaves.


James: Thanks for stopping by.


James goes back to the guitar. He thinks there may be something in him, something better.

Martha Enters. She is in her thirties. She is very direct and very happy. She lives every moment of her life with her full senses. Life pulses from her. Light practically beams from her eyes. She brings in an abstract lard head sculpture similar to the ones on the shelves. This one pivots.


Martha: She gone?


James: She went to the mall.


Martha: I’m sure they’ll be happy to have her.


James: She’s going to make an ultimatum to her husband.


Martha: And I just saw a pig fly over the big Jesus on the mountain.


James: Did they interact?


Martha: They were both too proud. (She dismissively plunks down the sculpture.) Another fat head is formed.


James: It’s so greasy.


Martha: Isn’t it great how lard has always been that way? Some things are forever. Jimmy, this time of day is so dramatic. You have to see the changing color of the savior.


James: What color is the moody prophet?


Martha: A beautiful greenish purple—He scans the hillside, sneering at the subdivisions in the distance.


James: Jesus has good taste. You look—


Martha: Beautiful. I feel it. Everything is beautiful this evening. It’s like every single molecule of air is shaking and rubbing against my cheeks. The clouds are pulsing purple rays all over me. I want to feel this way all the time.


James: I know. It’s amazing up here.


Martha: Come outside. It’s so green and violet and dusky. There’s so little time.


James: You have the whole rest of the week.


Martha: I have to fix the Edith Head and go into the city and see my dealer. I have to crunch…Oh, hell, with this corporate lingo.


James: Be careful. They’re listening.


Martha: I love the fall. Look at that northern purple light. It’s like Turner. I feel so young breathing this air. Did you see the leaves? They’re red and orange against all this three dimensional blue.


James: I love the country.


Martha: So much better than the city. You’re right. The whole marketplace is just a big game of follow the leader. That mentality sucks you into old age. I am so happy my sculptures of lard are going to make me popular. And rich. Like you. I had to do it in this America. But after that, I cannot succumb to some preordained art history controlled by market forces. I want to feel alive and connected. This place has the color I need. Lard is so wan. These hunks of fat are the last offerings I make to those barracudas. Then it’s the land of color for me—forever. I need the joys of blue and yellow. Time expands in these hills. I have to live here full time.


James: Really?


Martha: As soon as my show is over.


James: This is so great. We’ll have more time together. You are so—


Martha: Happening. I know. The pulsing Jesus on the mount looks at us and smiles.


James: He can see you are happy.


Martha: He can see us right in the middle of our great lives.


James: You’re really going to live here full time?


Martha: Absolutely. I’d rather look at those clouds all day than eat.


James: You have this clear purpose. Your eyes are shining.


Martha: It’s about time. I’m poised!


James turns on his music.


James: Everything works so well up here. You know, I have this progression. It’s not really a progression. But Beverly thinks it’s nice. What do you think?


Martha: It is nice.


James: But really?


Martha: It’s like the Brooklyn thing.


James: A little.


Martha: Cool.


James: You didn’t like the Brooklyn thing?


Martha: I did. I loved the Brooklyn thing.


James: But this is actually pretty different.


Martha pauses to listen.


James: You don’t think?


Martha: (convincing herself for his sake) It’s coming.


James: It is, isn’t it?


Martha: It is. It’s all coming.


James: (convincing himself) I know. I feel it. (shutting off the music) I should go into town and get some new strings. You staying all week?


Martha: My nephew is driving in from Indiana so things are getting jumbled. I have to go in on Friday to see my dealer, check out the press shots. Come outside! (She stumbles over a cigar box covered with glued macaroni shells painted gold)


Martha: My macaroni box!


James: I didn’t move it. I thought maybe you wanted to leave it in the middle of the floor.


Martha: I made this two years ago.


James: You turned a corner with that one.


Martha: This one really dismantled my inner pretensions. It stripped my ego so I could focus. I was so scattered and dishonest in my work. Look at this tawdry thing, what a breakthrough.


James: It’s a truthful piece.


Martha: The pasta shells are hilariously grotesque.


James: It’s so tacky.


Martha: I used to think of myself as a Renaissance woman, maybe I’m just Baroque.


James: Go outside. Catch the end of the sunset.


Martha: Come with me. Come with me.


James: I have to get strings—


Martha: Just for a few minutes, while the sun is setting.


James: I have—


Martha: The air is sucking us outside. We can’t stop it. Look at our beautiful world.

James: I—


Martha: We can skip in the grass. Smoke some pot.


James: I’ll get my coat.


Martha: If life were this beautiful all the time, then they could take that big Jesus down.


James: Where would they put him?


Martha: In a museum.


James: His day off would be moved to Monday.


Martha: He’d welcome the change. Har. Har. Come on, that big Jesus is going to be just radiant at sunset.


James: We all look radiant at sunset. Wow, full time.


Martha: I’m compelled.


They exit.

Happy French Rap Music Plays.

Lights Fade.



Scene 2


Morning. The room is messier, wilder. The lard sculpture stares at Martha but Martha paints. She is incredibly happy. She looks outside. She paints. She mixes a new color. She paints again. She smiles. She paints. She gets a pain in her lower abdomen, curious, drinks, sighs and paints. She studies her painting. She looks over at her sculpture with guilt. Time is of the essence.


Martha: Okay, fathead. I’ll get to you in a minute.


Martha exits. There is a knock at the door. Beverly enters with Sam. Sam is in his late forties. He attempts to maintain control over most things, a trait that has brought him success and pride but has caused others to be accommodating and anxious. Being a man of some color, he overcompensates for what he believes society believes to be a shortcoming—this manifests in odd elocution, an oppressive bearing, studied charm and a stilted courteousness. He does not show it, but he is secretly propelled by a low simmering rage that lies in him at all times. Beverly has something important to ask.


Beverly: James?


Martha reenters with a glass of water, swallowing three aspirins.


Martha: Hello?


Beverly: We aren’t disturbing you?


Martha: Actually— (Examines the painting) I’m just playing around. James isn’t here.


Beverly: Oh, we had something to ask him.


Sam: We’ll come back another time. Martha?


Martha: Yes. My name. Nice to meet you. I’m dirty. Uh—


Sam: I’ve seen you before.


Martha: James—


Sam: I’ve seen you coming in very late on Friday nights.


Martha: (Without guile) I’ve smelled your burning leaves. So—


Sam: How many years have you had this place?


Martha: Three or four. James’ll be back—


Sam: I think it’s been five years.


Martha: Yeah. Like three or four. My aunt died. It makes me feel older. Maybe four years.


Sam: It’s been five years.


Martha: Maybe five.


Beverly: It’s changed so much in five years.


Sam: People move. Your aunt was in good health to the very end.


Beverly: I used to drive her to go food shopping. It took forever, but since they built the new Shop-Rite, it’s only a ten minute drive from door to door. So many changes.


Martha: And of course there’s those lost five years.


Sam: So it has been five years.


Martha: If you say so. Well, good of you to stop by. I’m—


Sam: It is a certain pleasure to meet you, too.


Martha: You know, Sam, the leaves you burn. I mean—it’s kind of cool because it’s interesting how the smoke refracts the light, but I love the air up here and your smoke is tough on my nose—


Sam: You have to close your windows.


Martha: I like my windows—


Sam: If you close them, then the smoke won’t come in your house.


Martha: I know. But—


Beverly: You artists are so committed. Look at your nails! How will you get that off?


Martha: I won’t.


Beverly: It’s really something what you’ll go through—for your art! It’s exciting and dirty and who knows what else!


Martha: But what it is Sam is that I don’t want to have to close my windows. You know?


Sam: I have leaves to burn.


Martha: I have family coming. So I’m having a time thing here. I don’t want to be rude, just do me a favor and burn them a little farther away from my house. Is that okay?


Sam: I’ll think about it.


Martha: What’s there to think about?


Sam: I do certain things in certain places.


Beverly: He doesn’t like to change himself.


Sam: And there are the real property issues.


Martha: What are you talking about?


Sam: The leaves may appear closer than they actually are but only because two feet of your driveway runs on my property.


Martha: What?


Sam: I’m not bothered by it if you aren’t.


Martha: It’s just two feet. I mean— Let me know if you want me to have it moved. Jimmy’ll be back later.


Beverly: He went into the city?


Martha: No, just into town. He’ll be back soon. You can check in with him later on.


Beverly: What are you painting?


Martha: I’m painting clouds right now.


Beverly: Who would ever think to paint the clouds?


Sam: I could start to burn the leaves on the other side of the house but it’s at the top of a hill and it’s exposed. When it’s windy I will have to burn them in the original location.


Martha: That sounds like a fair deal.


Sam: It is a fair deal.


Martha: Thank you, Sam. I had given up on you.


Beverly: (Looking at the picture) Has anyone else ever painted clouds?


Martha: Lots of artists, yes.


Beverly: Beyond my understanding.


Martha: You like it?


Beverly: Yes. It would look great in a big gold frame.


Martha: I don’t usually frame them.


Beverly: How will you hang it? 

Martha: I attach a piece of wood in the back with a hole in it.


Beverly: I went to Chelsea once. Everyone was trying to be so different.


Martha: That’s not it.


Sam: Why won’t you frame it?


Martha: I’m not in that line of work.


Sam: But a picture is supposed to have a frame.


Martha: I don’t care much for frames. If you buy it, you can frame it.


Sam: Is it for sale?


Martha: It will be. But first, I have to finish up my heads


Sam: Do you sell a lot of paintings?


Martha: Slow and steady.


Beverly: I used to sing in the choir when I was in school.


Martha: You did, huh?


Sam: She still sings. All the time.


Beverly: We did choir stuff. You know—four part harmony—madrigals, The Beatles. It was fun.


Martha: We’ll all have to sing together sometime. James—


Beverly: (Blushing) You think?


Sam: Probably not a good idea.


Beverly: Why not?


A fight kicks up.


Sam: Because you’ll sing louder than everyone else.


Beverly: I will not. I used to sing in harmony.


Sam: Is that what they call it?


Beverly: Don’t judge me.


Sam: I’m a judge.


Martha: (diffusing the anger) My father was a lawyer.


Beverly: I’ll have to practice so we can all sing later.


Sam: Who did he work for?


Martha: Factory people mostly. Represented workers.


Sam: Liberal?


Martha: Nah. He just practiced law to support his fishing habit.


Sam: Did he ever take you?


Martha: Oh, yeah.


Beverly: I once got a catalogue from The New School. But I would really like to sing.


Martha: Your dad ever take you fishing?


Sam: My dad wasn’t around much.


Martha: Oh.


Beverly: His parents were separated.


Sam: No they weren’t.


Beverly: Honey—


Martha: You don’t have to tell me.


Beverly: He thinks it’s cliché.


Sam: It’s a black thing. You expect it.


Martha: You’re black?


Beverly: He’s just twenty-five percent.


Sam: Enough to make a difference.


Martha: Five years and I had no idea I was living next door to a black man.


Sam: Black as the ace of spades.


Martha: There goes the neighborhood.


Sam: There it goes?


Martha: I was just kidding, Sam.


Sam: You know, in the eyes of the state my property is just as valuable as yours.


Martha: Sam, I was kidding. Thanks—


James speaks as he enters.


James: You can’t fucking get anything done up here. Are we in North Dakota?


Beverly: Hi, Jimmy. What’s wrong?


James: They don’t have the strings I need. It’s James.


Beverly: Martha calls you Jimmy.


Martha: I always have. But it’s James.


James: Hi, Sam. (Pause) Everything cool?


Martha: We were just getting to know each other a little better.


James: Good.


Beverly: James, I wanted to—


Sam: We’ll come back another time.


Beverly: James, we just stopped by because—we wanted to have you over for dinner Friday. To invite you.


Sam: You and Martha. 

Beverly: Martha, sure.


Sam: Yes.


Beverly: You and Martha. Can you come?


Martha: (Avoiding) I don’t think I’ll be here.


James: That’s French night. Claudia’s coming up. You’ll be here.


Martha: Oh, French night. I’ll be here.


Beverly: But you’re busy.


James: Another night?


Beverly: Sam goes to Albany on Saturday.


James: Oh—


Beverly: But you’re busy this Friday?


James: French night.


Beverly: Because we really wanted to have you over on Friday night.


James: Those French, always getting in the way.


Martha: It’s been planned for a long time.


James: Well—why don’t you join us?


Beverly: But we invited you.


James: What does it matter who starts? We invite you, you invite us next time.


Beverly: Well—okay. What’s a French night?


Martha: A theme night.


Beverly: Like a hay ride?


James: Yeah.


Beverly: Can I bring anything?


James: Bring some cheese.


Beverly: What kind?


James: Something stinky. Maybe some wine.


Beverly: How fun. We have something—well—is it okay to come early to a French night? Can we stop by before things get going?


James: Sure.


Beverly: Okay, then.


Martha: Great.


Beverly: We’ll see you at French night. I’ll bring stinky cheese and wine. And we’ll talk and eat and maybe sing.


Sam: Yes, we will.


Beverly: James, you are so bright and creative, who would think of having a whole night devoted to the French?


James: Certainly not the Algerians.


Sam: James, I heard they had a gay mayor in Paris. What do you think about that?


James: He never calls.


Sam: We will see you at French night, then. Maybe Martha can catch some fish?


Beverly: She’s not going to be doing any fishing, Sam. See you at French night, Martha. I’ll let you know if we want to buy that painting, right Sam?


Martha: I’ll have to finish it first.


Beverly: But don’t frame it.


Martha: No.


Beverly: Wouldn’t want to destroy the uniqueness.


Martha: You can do whatever you like with it once it’s yours.


Beverly: Oh…Okay.


Sam: Come, Beverly.


Beverly and Sam exit.


Martha: Jimmy, I come up here for the space and the light. I am happy you are up here—but please—these people are vulgarians. I don’t want them around.


James: Isn’t it sad to be such snobs? It really limits the enjoyment one can have.


Martha: We’re not snobs, Jimmy. We’re just better.


James: You think?


Martha: This whole thing with you and wanting to know the people—get over it.


James: Beverly has promise.


Martha: She’s audience. She worships you.


James: Beverly doesn’t worship me.


Martha: You like her doing it, too.


James: And you want Sam to fuck you.


Martha: I do not.


James: You want him to want you.


Martha: No I don’t.

James: You want him to want you—but you don’t want to do it.


Martha: Who knows! I just, no more of these people. I have shit to do.


James: Just one little French night and then, au revoir.


Martha: Good. Do you think this painting sucks?


James: Wait until you finish it then decide if it sucks. 

Martha: My lard sculptures are so derivative. I think they suck.


James: They’re great. They’re ironic.


Martha: It’s a fat head with a lard ass. (She turns the sculpture on its pivot) It’s so sophomoric. Where’s the beauty?


James: Look. I don’t know why some things sell. I’m just trying to be supportive.


Martha: Thank you. I really need that. When I was little I was never allowed to create anything. We couldn’t make a mess.


James: My parents wouldn’t pay for my piano lessons.


Martha: My parents paid for mine. Girls look pretty at the piano.


James: Boys look queer at the piano.


Martha: I’m afraid so. (She picks up a sculpture from the shelf) I’m going to put this back in the shed to dry. This is going to make me rich and famous.


James: You will literally live off the fat of the land.


Martha: That’s the title of my one with its head shaped like Texas.


James: Those oily Texans. So ironic.


Martha: I love you, Jimmy.


James: It’s gonna be a great show, Martha. (Kisses Martha on the cheek and she exits) Love you, too.


James picks up the guitar, looks at his music and then looks out the window across to Beverly’s house wondering, “What am I doing?”


Light French Romantic Piano Music Plays.

Lights Fade.






A Conversation with Don Cummings

By Jeff Wood, Film/Play Editor, The Coachella Review


Don Cummings’ critically acclaimed plays have been produced on both coasts: The Fat of the Land, American Air, What Do Men Live By?, Stark Raving Mad, The Winner, Piss Play is About Minorities So It's Really Important, and A Good Smoke. The Fat of the Land was a semifinalist for the Kaufman & Hart Award for new American comedy and received a Los Angeles Ovation Award for best featured actor (Dan Alemshah). A Good Smoke was a semifinalist for the Eugene O'Neill 2008 theater conference. It had a reading in June, 2009 at The Public Theater in New York starring Meryl Streep, Henry Wolfe Gummer, Grace Gummer and Debra Monk and has been optioned for Broadway. Piss Play was produced in the summer of 2009 as part of the New York Cringe Festival where it received the Golden Pineapple Award for best play of the festival. His new play, Live Work Space, opens in Los Angeles in July, 2010. His movie, Who Killed Michelle Levesque? is in development with the producers who made the movies Elf and Meet Dave. His collection of creative nonfiction essays are loosely held together in his yet-to-be-published memoir, Open Trench, named after his blog. Mr. Cummings is a graduate of Tufts University, The Neighborhood Playhouse and a member of West Coast Ensemble and The Dramatists Guild. He lives in New York and Los Angeles with his Recognized-by-the-State-of-California-Domestic-Partner of seventeen years. He is neat. Find him online at


What is your background and how did you become involved in playwriting?


I had natural music ability. I spent most of my early years, and I mean ages three to six, basically sitting in front of a stereo listening to records. I eventually started guitar lessons and I was this guitar-singer-performer kid. This led to being in musicals, which led to being in plays, which led to taking acting “very seriously.” I was also a math and science kid. I was a strange mix of creativity and hardcore academics. I was well behaved and majored in biology, was wait-listed at two medical schools, did not attend, went to The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater where I was basically abused for two years and went on to act in over forty plays. Most of the time that I was acting, I was also writing – at least little monologues to perform or poetry about loss and death, in the most light hearted way.


I was not a natural writer as a kid. My brain was more set up for collecting measurable facts. Writing to me was always about talking, my mother is a big talker. I hated writing research papers. But I was always making things up, puppet shows, sketches.


I did one of those semesters abroad, “Tufts in Paris” and it was there that I went full-on with creative things. I was writing songs, busking with my guitar in front of the Pompidou, acting, seeing plays and I thought, “Okay, I like this a lot. I want to do this.” I was terrified because I come from a class of terrified people, but I figured, “Well, I’ll probably live if I don’t become a doctor and I’m not afraid to wait tables,” even though I should have been because it was awful to have to wait tables.


When I returned from Paris for senior year, there was a slot at Tufts for an original play. There is this group called Pen, Paint and Pretzels which was some holdover from some drama group from back in the day and part of their charter was to encourage new work. No one was interested in taking the slot. There was not much of a climate at Tufts for new work. And even though I had never written a play before I thought, “Hell, I can write a play.” So I did. And that’s how it began. The play was called Be Daring Now Miss Prism. It was a dark comedy about killing off one’s parents. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out why I wrote it. But in Act II, the main characters were not so much empowered as lost. The head of the drama department hated the play. My regular drama professor hated it, too. But everyone else who saw it loved it and over the next few days, I would be in the cafeteria eating some of Medford’s finest slop and I would overhear people saying my lines and laughing and I thought, “Okay, what I do is memorable and I like that people think I’m funny. I can keep doing this.”


In the meantime, I was waiting on acceptance and rejection letters from medical schools and acting schools. I landed, as I mentioned, at The Neighborhood Playhouse. Got through the two year program and started the whole acting adventure in New York.


Sitting in dirty mop bucket stench-infested hallways waiting to audition for bad material got me into the practical questioning phase of my twenties: “Why on earth do I have to smell this mop for over an hour waiting to be called in to do some middling role in some awful play? I can write better than this. What a waste of time.” I acted for many more years, on sitcoms, in indy films, etc., The big transition was my one man show American Air. The big notices were for my writing. My acting, sure. But what people really noticed was my writing.


I let my acting career roll out until my last gig – one line as a waiter on a sitcom – and that was that. Afterward, and that was about six years ago, I focused on writing almost exclusively. I still sometimes perform doing my original thing – music.


I know you write fiction and screenplays. How did you become a multi-genre writer? And what are the fundamental differences between the genres as they relate to your writing and self-expression? In particular, what are the differences between playwriting and screenwriting for you?


For playwriting, I use Word. For screenwriting, I use Final Draft. Though this seems like a very silly difference, it makes all the difference in the world to me. I respond fully to different environments. Let me just say this: I prefer writing in Word. I feel like Final Draft has a death grip on my throat. But I appreciate how screenwriting forces you to make things zippy and active. In a play, I could write a ten page scene of two people talking about very little. So screenwriting is the great antidote to such overindulgence. The commonality is I am basically a comedic writer. I carry this into all genres. I became a multi-genre writer completely by necessity and then chance. The first essential expression was through playwriting. After the success of my one man show and then The Fat of the Land and A Good Smoke (one act version), I decided to write another one man show. I sat down and it started to come out like a book. Instead of fighting it, I went with it. I had been blogging for a while (my way of staying connected to the world while basically sitting at home, alone, with my laptop, forgetting to shower) and I felt like I could do it. So I wrote the book. Writing for television and film simply happened because “The Industry” came to see my plays and then asked me to write for television and movies. That was the chance part. This happens with greater frequency now. This is good. But I do feel sad that more theaters don’t come see my work and then ask me for more plays. Seems like every play needs to be lifted out of the dust and then has to be forced into existence (Production), by me. But, we’ll see. Life is longish. Many things could change.


Do you feel that writing across genres strengthens your skill as a writer? How? 

Look, I think all writing helps all writing. The language portion of the brain is one little spot in your head (music uses more areas throughout the skull) and so keeping that language area on fire at all times is, simply, great practice. Once you get the rhythm of your play, movie or book, you just stay in it. I do think writing for television and film has informed my playwriting quite a bit. My plays used to be more rambling. Now, they are more pointed. For better or for worse. I think writing a book has helped enormously with keeping very large images alive in my mind – then having to turn them into words – but mostly, I think writing a book has more than anything just helped with keeping my writing skills very much alive.


When I get a new idea, I can tell pretty quickly whether it would work best as a play, a movie or an essay. I write down the basic idea on the computer and then put it in either the Play, Book (and essays) or Movie folder. Then, when someone asks me to pitch something, I have all this stuff. It also helps to write in different genres because I do get bored easily. I like the variety.


What was the impetus to write The Fat of the Land? How long did it take you to write?


The Fat of the Land, like most things I write, was written in stages with other projects leap-frogging around it. So, officially, with readings, productions, rewrites, all of that, it took five years. But really, it took about a year. I was driven to write the play based on life experience (which is how I write all my plays). At the time, I was going to a big high school reunion and I became reacquainted with an old friend who was being completely oppressed by her husband. I was fascinated that this woman, who had so much to offer, had allowed herself to be controlled so completely, especially during the current era. At the same time, a good friend asked me if I would donate some sperm for her baby cause. It was quite a question and led to enormous things, of which only some were handled in the play. Additionally, I was looking to buy some land in upstate New York with my life partner right next door to my best artist friend. We got very close to the sale, but the place turned out to be terrible, there were back taxes due on the property, my friend and her boyfriend split up so that was all falling apart and we backed out of the whole thing. So, unrealized potential of one friend, sperm donation asked by another, and a potential idyll destroyed with another friend, these collided in my life. What they all had in common was big life transitions in early middle age. So the unifying idea of the play was, “Can you move on? How do you move on? Will you move on?”


How collaborative are you as a playwright? How much can your work change through the reading/rehearsal process?


My work changes enormously. I listen to all notes. I always have to cut because everything I write is always too long by at least fifteen percent. (And please edit down this interview if you must.) If a lot of people point at the same place in a script then I know that area has to be fixed. And as I always say to people in writing groups, classes, etc., “You don’t ever have to take a note from anyone, but you have to take note of where they are pointing.” I usually have at least three readings of my plays before I attempt to get them into production. One, in a living room away from all beasts on earth. Then a big rewrite and a reading in some public space with writers and actors and other theater people in the audience. I open it right up to discussion and I get mountains of notes. I make sure ALL of these people are smart, sensitive, supportive types. Then, a big rewrite and a major trim and a full public reading where I invite everyone in town and notice where the audience is paying attention, when they are coughing, when they are laughing and when they are groaning. After that, I usually hope a production comes. When it does, it goes into production, gets cast and after the first read through with the cast and any notes from either the director, the artistic director, or both, I do another rewrite during the first week of rehearsals and then hand off the new script. I usually don’t change anything after that. If an actor or the director asks to change a word or small sentence here or there I may or may not say yes. The show runs. After the first production, I do a rewrite to reflect any changes that were made during the production and I also put in all the stage directions that were discovered during the rehearsal process. I am fluid about it. Luckily, I am usually not asked to change the main concerns of a script. Ever. If someone does, I actually walk away and chalk it up to – It’s simply not for them. I am being glib. The truth is, it is a bit devastating when people do not understand what I am doing since I am, pretty much, all about making things clear.


Are the themes in The Fat of the Land – such as creativity, suburbia, prejudice, sexuality – indicative of your other work? Do you find yourself writing variations on the same themes, or are the kind of writer who likes to attempt something new every time?


I write something new every time. Operationally, I try to get at the truth of whatever my theme is. My life changes. Everything changes around us. I respond to those things.


What is it about comedy that appeals to you? Do you feel that you can make a point about serious topics more effectively with comedy than drama?


I kind of have very little choice. I try to write serious and it comes out of funny. I was a super duper underdog, socially, as a kid---and I wanted to rise out of that and comedy was the way to do it. Plus, I am Irish and Italian which is just a funny mix, being pulled between a lyrical/bullshitting culture and a ribald/bulldog one. I do not really believe in serious drama. I feel like life is often serious, but it is always funny. Even at funerals, everyone I know just dies to make a joke. Everyone wants to release tension. Everyone wants to lighten things up. Look, the human condition is horrendous. You lose everything and then you die. You gain, true, but really the absolute trajectory is loss and death. This is simply too serious for me. It makes me very upset. I still cry over the death of my grandmother (1989) and the death of my dog (2008). I still can’t believe I am losing hair and energy. I am horrified that my parents and friends are going to die. Additionally, I hate Time Warner, a company that makes me lose hours of my life at any given moment. As far as serious topics go, I do not believe anything is any more serious than anything else. I have no reverence. I am ready to make jokes about terrorism, sexuality, downtrodden minorities, incest, rape, you name it, at any time. I am so upset about so many things that to deal with it head on in a serious manner would be unbearable to me. I cannot believe this is what is on earth. The only way I can handle it is to attack it with humor.


I had a playwriting instructor who said actors make the best playwrights. He cited William Shakespeare as an example. Do you agree? If yes, how much actor—even if metaphorically—does a playwright have to have in him (or her)?


One does not have to, of course. But for me, I am glad I was an actor for many years. It is very informative because you know what works. You just get used to the form and so you get to the dialogue and character stuff very easily. Story, well, that’s something else. I was not so good at story at first. I really did not see things as all that changeable. Now, I realize you need a very clear story, with a big, medium or small trajectory, but SOMETHING in order for people to feel excited, with a clock ticking, with some stakes. I do think people who do not act can often have a hard time with dialogue. I am often asked, “How do you figure out what people are going to say?” And the truth is, I do not figure it out. I just get fully immersed in the situation and then I let the people talk. I say people because I never think of who I am writing about as characters. I only see them as real. They just say it in my head and I write it. I am taking dictation, really. It’s improv-of-the-mind and my job is to be a quick typist.


The first plays I wrote, I simply used actor analysis in reverse. What does this character want? What is the conflict? What time is it? What day is it? Where was he before the scene started? What does he believe in? And, WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?


So I think being an actor helps. I think it is not necessary if you are someone who really pays attention to life, the people in it, what they do, how they talk. If you write plays that are more visual, conceptual, filled with puppets, video and string art, well, then, that is something else, entirely.


My pet peeve is seeing a play that sort-of-has-people-in-it but what the playwrights are really doing is they are writing a thesis and just use the characters to prove their point. It’s a mild form of Shaw. These plays bore me to death. You see the point coming at you like a two hour freight train. And you have to sit there and take it. And if the playwright is clever, they tart it up with twists and turns, bright colors and mysterious secrets which are later revealed. It is all trickery that leaves me cold. I want the truth. And I want it hard and I want it brave and I want it irreverent and I want it fully expressed. But that’s just me and I have a feeling that I am in the minority.


What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received? Why? 

The best writing advice, hm….hard to pick one thing. I like the spirit of Anne LaMott in Bird by Bird. I always suggest to writers to read that one. You just sit down every day and you write and you do not worry about anything but doing your work, bit by bit. Also, Julia Cameron’s saying, and I am paraphrasing, “God, I’ll take care of the time, you take care of the quality,” meaning, I just have to get myself in the chair and do my time and if I stay open, committed, the good stuff will show up. Lastly---and this is from a very good white witch friend of mine in Los Angeles, “The thing you are most uncomfortable doing, that’s what you have to do."


What is the one thing you hope people most take away from your work?


I call it FPA. It’s vulgar, but here it goes. Fucking Pay Attention. And I don’t mean to my play, but to your life, yourself, what is around you. I think people are terrified of the truth of their circumstances. I hope to jar them into that (in the funniest, nicest, most forgiving way) and I hope I am loving enough to let them know that it is going to all be okay, and even better, if you stop lying.


But what people usually take away from my work is a good time, a desire to be on stage with the characters and a few good lines they can repeat in a cafeteria. Fine with me. 


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