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Jurgen the Pawnbroker, and Other Plays

0211160825amdThe following concerns the backstory to the writing of each of my plays in the compilation Jurgen the Pawnbroker & Other Plays.

 

Jurgen, the Pawnbroker
I fell in love with the book, Jurgen, a Comedy of Justice, written by James Branch Cabell (a distant cousin), when I was still in my twenties. I had noticed it in my father’s library while I was growing up but paid absolutely no attention to it. Then my younger brother, Benjamin, took it with him to the University of Virginia Law School to pad his dorm-room shelves while he was getting his JD. I spent a couple of days with him there in Charlottesville. Bored for something to do while he attended class I started the book and found I couldn’t put it down. Not having finished it when it was time to leave, I snuck it into my suitcase. It has been in my library ever since. Possession being…etc.

Cabell was a great favorite of writers such as Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, H.L. Mencken, William Faulkner, Robert Heinlein and James Thurber. But he might have remained relatively obscure until the Comstock Society tried to have Jurgen banned because of “obscenity” and instead made it famous. Depending on how one counts it, Jurgen is the third and most famous book in an 18-volume set of books making up The Biography of Miguel. The Biography is “a mix of fantasies, historical romances, social satires, verse, plays, and essays. Cabell considered it a single work” (Wikipedia). I believe the set holds its own with any of its rivals like Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series and even, in some ways, Wagner’s Ring of the Niebelungen.

I have read and enjoyed many of the volumes in the Biography, but Jurgen is the one that has haunted me to the point that I felt the need to adapt it into play form. If I had the talent, I would try to turn it into an opera. It is a comedy, but like any great comedy it has great depth as well.

Jurgen feels that he has been unjustly cheated out of happiness, ending up a pawnbroker instead of a duke or cardinal and married to a plain and shrewish wife instead of to his beloved Dorothy. He has the opportunity for a do-over by way of a retrospective journey through mystical medieval regions filled with strange people, beautiful women and magical creatures.

A Priest, a Rabbi and a Horse
Did you ever try to tell a joke and you kept getting interrupted? You probably were able to shrug it off. Not everyone can. See what happens when Vito tries to tell a joke to three friends during dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Diabolus ex Machina
It has long been known that authors are not always in control of their characters, who often go off on wild tangents completely unpredictably. This was true when authors wielded scratchy quill pens and it may be even truer in this day of the computer, as children’s-story author Silvy Grayson and his wife, Sybil, find out.

Hemlock
Euthanasia (mercy killing) has become a hot topic lately as several states have passed laws making physician-assisted suicide legal. New laws sometimes have unintended consequences, however, with interesting complications for all parties concerned. This is especially true for brothers Bryce and Neville Bennington who take over a funeral parlor in Portland, Oregon after the death of their father.

I hope those of you who read my plays and/or hear them performed will enjoy them.