Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Kill the Critic! to be published

A couple of years ago, when I learned that my old-time radio comedy, The Last Radio Show, was going to be published, I mentioned in a post that it had been a long time coming. And it was. Five and a half years long, to be exact, from world premiere to publication offer.

Well, it turned out that was nothing. Heuer Publishing has just accepted my backstage farce Kill the Critic! for publication, one month short of eleven years from world premiere to that glorious, glorious publication offer.

A long and winding road

To tell you the truth, I'd given up on the play a long time ago. And that hurt. Because the original response to it was nothing short of phenomenal. 

I'd produced the world premiere at a small performing arts center in Palmer Lake, CO, with my friend Nancy Holaday directing. I was nervous at first because I didn't know what I had. But the audience loved it. The laughter was constant, the applause was enthusiastic, and the comments from the audience afterward were overwhelmingly positive.

I had a soft spot for that production for another reason as well. My daughter Brooke played the ditzy debutante Melanie Monzoni in that production (that's her on the left in the photo at the bottom of this post), and the feedback on her performance was just as positive as it was for the show itself. Some people even told me they thought she stole the show. As a proud papa, of course, I had to agree.

The play went on to get a staged reading that year at the McLaren Comedy Festival in Midland, TX, coming in a close second in their play competition. It also came in second in that year's Robert J. Pickering Award for Playwriting Excellence.

Do the hustle

With high hopes for success, I pushed it hard, submitting the script to as many theaters, contests, and publishers as I could find. In 2015, it got its second production with the Stage Presence Players in Austin, TX.

Tennessee Stage Company expressed an interest in producing it, but when they found out they would not get the world premiere, they quickly lost that interest.

The play reached its high water mark in 2016 with a staged reading at Theatre of Note in Hollywood, CA, which remains one of only two performances I've ever had by a professional theater company.

And then it just kind of... died. No other theaters wanted to produce it. The play didn't place in any other contests. And every publisher I submitted it to rejected it.

I understand why my regular publisher, Pioneer Drama Service, gave it a thumbs-down. The play is much too risque and dark for their catalog. But I don't understand why publishers like Playscripts and Dramatic Publishing weren't interested.

So I shoved the script in a drawer (or, to be more precise, a folder on my laptop) and forgot about it.

Back to life

But the play kept tugging at the back of my mind. It was, after all, The One That Got Away.

I have three other full-length plays that have never been published, but they don't bother me because they hadn't had such an auspicious start. And Kill the Critic! is funny. Like really funny. It's my one true farce, with mistaken identity and sexual innuendo and lots of doors slamming and opening and slamming shut again.

In fact, now that I think about it, it may be my funniest play. The Last Radio Show has, I think, the wittiest dialogue. It's a Madhouse! features the most over-the-top characters. But only Kill the Critic! has the constant, outrageous physical comedy that audiences love.

So I returned to it late last year, racking my brain once more to figure out where else I could send it. And in checking my submission log, I realized that for some reason (undoubtedly a stupid oversight on my part), I'd never submitted it to Heuer Publishing.

Which is weird. They already publish The Last Radio Show, and their sister company Brooklyn Publishers publishes my Hollywood mystery Lights! Camera! Murder! (they're releasing my kid's climate change comedy The Real Reason Dinosaurs Went Extinct later this year). And both publishers go a little darker than Pioneer. It was a perfect fit.

So I sent off it off to Heuer in September. And today, I got the word that they're going to publish it

Sweet, sweet success.

I guess if there's a lesson in all of this, it's to never give up. If you really believe your work is good, and it has received a lot of positive feedback, keep pushing it. If it's meant to find a home, it will.

But it might be a long wait.

Curtain up

And so, for the first time ever on this blog, I now share a scene from Kill the Critic! It's the opening scene, and I like it because it gets right into the action, setting up the premise and showing us the contrasting personalities of the two leads. 


Lights up. BERTRAM enters, his hands tied behind his back, a wastebasket over his head. TREVOR enters behind him holding a knife.

TREVOR: Don't move. (Locks the dressing room door.) Now where can I put him? I know. The bathroom. (Peers into the bathroom.) No. I might need to use this. (Closes the door.) How about the broom closet? (Looks inside, picks up a dead rat off the floor.) Yeesh! I wouldn't put a dead man in there. (Tosses the rat back in and shuts the door.) Aha! The wardrobe! (Throws open the wardrobe. It's crammed with old costumes. He tries to grab them up in one armful, but the knife gets in the way. He switches the knife to the other hand and tries again. Big surprise. The knife is still in the way. Finally, TREVOR has a brainstorm. He places the knife between his teeth—and immediately cuts his lip.) Ouch! (Touches at his mouth, sees blood.) Damn it! And on the night of my Broadway debut!

(TREVOR goes to the mirror to look at his wound. Tired of waiting, BERTRAM shakes his head until the wastebasket falls off.)

BERTRAM: Stanton. I should have known it was you.

TREVOR: Put that back on!

BERTRAM: You can't even play a kidnapper convincingly.

TREVOR: I said put that back on!

BERTRAM: I'll bet that's a stage knife too. 

TREVOR: What, this? No, I just cut myself with it.

BERTRAM: Well, you bleed like a real actor.

TREVOR: Thanks— (Pause) Now cut that out! That's exactly why I'm doing this! 

BERTRAM: You don't appreciate my wit?

TREVOR: Yes. I mean no. I mean, that's not wit. That's just the same venom you write your reviews with.

BERTRAM: Good actors don't read reviews.

TREVOR: They read you.

BERTRAM: Yes. Well, that's one of the advantages of being the most powerful theatre critic in New York. So how are you going to do me in?


BERTRAM: The method. The means of execution, man. Strangulation, perhaps? A quick blow to the head? Wait. I know. You're going to subject me to a soliloquy. 

Want more? Then be sure to visit the New Play Exchange for the full synopsis, cast list, and a 20-page sample. 

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