"Screwball" is a term for a particular sort of comedy, but these days the particulars of the sort are a little difficult to pin down. The term originated with the coincidence of a baseball pitch and the popularity of a particular type of Hollywood movie, and so most people define a "screwball comedy" as a film from a very specific time period in which romantic entanglement provides the conflict for slapstick comedies about class differences and mistaken identities (and
?). That is all pretty clear-cut, but the term has gone on to describe other, less-specific forms that adhere to many of the same elements. A screwball comedy is not the same thing as a romantic comedy (especially lately), as it usually incorporates more farcical elements with a strong female lead. Strong, in this context, meaning she has a deliberate and dramatic effect on the story and other characters, not that she's just
. Given certain rises in the popularity of female protagonists and the reticence of some to use (or even know of) the farce genre, lots of things get lumped in under "screwball" these days. Personally, I use it to describe any film or play that up-ends conventions and incorporates a little light-hearted love and violence.
I consider the play I'm rehearsing now,
, to be a screwball comedy. You could also call it a romantic farce, but frankly I find it just a bit too screwy for that. It has the requisite strong female leads and the struggles to overcome ridiculous romantic adversity, and plenty of slapstick. The emphasis, however, isn't on sex (except when it is) and there is that strange convention of playing someone's inner monologue. Maybe "magical realism" is applicable, but come on now: way too many dick jokes for that kind of nonsense.
I'm having an absurd amount of fun working on the show. It's hard work, and a sort of work I haven't done in some time, and for both of these reasons it is cathartic and rewarding. The overwhelming feeling I have is of returning to a very pure, unpretentious style that came naturally to me in my early twenties, which is as much as to say that this rehearsal process makes me feel younger. I hadn't realized I was losing touch with something valuable when I got serious about stylistic distinctions, clown and commedia, and the ways of effectively communicating these skills to students. I did lose touch, though. There's something to be said for working with total abandon, just throwing oneself into it and leaving every last drop of energy and idea in the rehearsal room. I used to do it instinctively, and have been thinking that because it didn't come naturally anymore, I was past it. It's nice to know not only that I'm not past it, but that it can still nourish me in a particular way.
What it does not nourish, of course, is my back, my hips, and my heretofore cherished sleeping habits. There is comedy to be had even in my journey of simultaneous rediscovery of enthusiasm and what that costs. Caffeine intake is at a two-year high, and I find myself feeling almost immortal in the rehearsal room, and drowsy to the point of being nonexistent at home. Yet in all that, I have been better about exercising in the mornings before work. Momentum is a powerful force. (So are
.) I'm fairly certain that I'm losing track of myriad things, and we're going into our production week, so that's probably only going to get worse. There may be a little hell to pay down the road for letting other things slide now, but I'm not sure the tunnel vision of the push to an opening night can be mitigated terribly much. I've missed that too.
The genius of the original screwball and romantic comedies is that falling in love is a rebirth, in every sense of the term. That's why love stories make such potent genres, why television and movies try to work them into any and everything, and why we keep swallowing them up. There's trial and suffering, with the greatest of payoffs: A new life. Love resurrects, and laughter gets us through all the torment leading up to it. Maybe this all sounds too pretentious to be accurate, but even the zaniest of stories can come from profound emotions, and the satisfaction of any comedy is coming out smiling a bit more, seeing things with a little more humor. It's been fun falling in love with this sort of theatre again, strong-willed woman that she is, and I'm grateful for the bruises.