When I came up with the idea for “Wretches & Kings” we had just finished reading Sarah Ruhl’s play Eurydice in my playwriting course at University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. Eurydice is a fabulist retelling of the Greek tragedy of Orpheus. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of that play, and it wasn’t the direct inspiration for my 10-minute play either. The classes that centered on analyzing that play were highly inspirational however.
One day in class, Colleen Abel gave us the prompt to spend about 10 minutes in class writing a play based on deconstructing a historical myth. Due to my religious past, my mind initially turned to Biblical stories. I found the idea initially daunting, and spent over half the time trying to come up with a proper idea. Per my notes from class, my initial idea started off with:
Cain & Abel lounge in the living room. Cain is lying on the couch while...
I didn’t like that idea. It seemed overly derivative, or not quite clever enough. Then my mind turned to the story of Lucifer’s betrayal of God. Since Lucifer was the most loved and beautiful of all angels, I imagined a conversation between him and Michael just before his fall. I didn’t have much time to write after I came up with the idea, so what follows is what I was able to jot down during that class:
Lucifer sits at a table writing, scribbling furiously, away at a notebook when Michael walks in.
Michael – What’s up, bub?
Lucifer – Planning, plotting, scheming, devising...
Michael – Again? You know it’ll never work, right?
Lucifer – I seriously think I’ve got a better plan than him.
The “What’s up, bub?” line was what really got me thinking about writing this play. The inspiration behind this line is twofold. A young preacher that I used to study under in Titusville used to use that as a greeting quite often. The other inspiration comes from one of Lucifer’s many names: Beelzebub. I ended up dropping this line after the first full draft due to the feeling that it undermined the tone of Michael’s character.
I wanted to subvert the idea that Lucifer is the bad guy of the story, and that God is the good guy. The focus of this play is on how creation can’t be perfect, and that in order to appreciate creation you have to take the good with the bad. By creating a world that lacks death and pain, God has created a world that can’t be appreciated; a proper appreciation of life requires an understanding of the good and the bad. Therefore, Lucifer provides a necessary service.
When revising the play, I decided to make a number of fairly significant changes. First, I wanted to remove any reference to the male/female identities of all characters involved. References to brother/he/she have been changed. When referencing God in the revised version of the play, I decided to go with the Genesis references to God where God speaks in terms of “we” and the narrator refers to God as “they” (i.e. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...” Genesis 1:26).
I focused on making the characters a little sharper in their focus. Lucifer sometimes speaks in riddles. For example, toward the beginning of the revised version of the play he says, “Fixing a hole in the world that they made and keeps my mind a-wandering.” (A reference to The Beatles’ song “Fixing a Hole” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.) I also tried to give Michael a more militaristic tone, as he is essentially the General of the host of heaven.
The biggest change I made was probably adding to the Voices. When I workshopped this piece in class, a lot of my fellow students found the Voices to be the most intriguing part of the play, and they wanted more of them. For the revision I wanted to keep them somewhat ambiguous. Are these future demons that will follow Lucifer into hell? Are they voices in Lucifer’s head that the audience is privy to? Michael never acknowledges them, and I did that on purpose to keep their presence ambiguous.
My last note on this play is in reference to the title and the final line of the play. I wasn’t sure what to call it when I first started writing it, but then one day I was listening to Linkin Park’s album A Thousand Suns (upon many listens it became a favorite of mine). The track “Wretches & Kings” particularly caught my ear, not for the content of the song, but rather for what the title infers. In this play, God refers to the Kings, and Wretches refers to creation. The title of that album comes from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita, and I paraphrased that same scripture for the Almighty’s only line in the play.