Flip the Script Friday: Brent Hartinger, The Geography Club

And we are back with Flip The Script Fridays! Woo-hoo! Today’s script is one I recently read for class. It has its flaws, and actually I was not a huge fan of it, but after class yesterday, I had a totally new perspective on it. Here it is, The Geography Club by Brent Hartinger.

Basics

The Geography Club was written by Brent Hartinger in 2004. Hartinger adapted the play from the book of the same name, which he also wrote. The play premiered as a staged reading at the Seattle FringeACT Festival of New Plays in 2004, and then opened the first annual Northwest Playwright’s Alliance Festival of New Plays in 2008.

Characters

  • Russel Middlebrook, a gay high school student. The narrator and protagonist.
  • Kevin Land, a gay high school jock, love interest of Russel.
  • Min Lao, a lesbian (or bisexual) student, best friend of Russel and girlfriend of Terese.
  • Terese Buckman, a lesbian student and soccer player. Girlfriend of Min.
  • Ike, a “political lefty” student questioning his sexuality.
  • Gunnar, Russel’s friend. Heterosexual.
  • Trish Baskin, a high school student and potential love interest of Russel, oblivious to his sexuality.
  • Kimberly, a heterosexual high school student. Love interest of Gunnar.
  • Belinda Sherman, a high school student who is really interested in geography.
  • Brian Bund, a nerdy high school student.
  • Jarred and Nate, two antagonistic jocks.

Setting/Plot

A twenty-first century high school. Russel finds himself attracted to Kevin, a jock. He confesses this to his best friend, Min, who reveals that she has been in a lesbian relationship with Terese, a popular soccer player, and encourages him to go the distance with Kevin, which he does. Meanwhile, Gunnar tries to set Russel up with Trish so he can double-date with Kmiberly. The date goes horribly, with Trish completely blind to Russel’s lack of interest. As Russel and Kevin’s relationship grows stronger, they realize, along with Min, that there may be more students like them, or who want to talk about it. Along with friend Ike, they want to form a club, but they are afraid of what will happen should the school find out that its students are forming a gay-straight alliance. The gang gets together and dreams up a club that nobody would want to join – the Geography Club. Once they have made it official, they all meet up to discuss their feelings. Two obstacles present themselves: first, the matter of nerdy student Brian, who they feel bad for, but ultimately vote not to include him in the group because he does not identify as gay or bisexual, and second, a student called Belinda who signs up to join the club ostensibly to learn about geography, causing the group to evaluate allowing her in as a member for similar reasons, and hoping that she doesn’t cause problems once she finds out what the Geography Club is all about. Belinda ends up getting in, and fortunately for the group, she does not seem to mind. Though the group seems to prosper, Brian continues to get bullied, including an embarrassing incident where he is publicly humiliated and forced to wear a bra, and Russel’s reputation plummets. Then, word gets out about The Geography Club to the rest of the school, and the group members immediately throw around accusations, with Belinda being widely suspected as the culprit, because she has the fewest ties to the other group members, but also Russel. Due to the unrest between the group members and within their relationships, Russel and the others decide that they do not need the Geography Club anymore. In a twist, however, Belinda finds out and reveals that was Brian who submitted the paperwork for a “gay straight alliance,” taking the fall for the group. Although the two main relationships are finished, the gang ends up reassembling, this time as a proper, bona-fide gay-straight alliance.

My Thoughts

A long synopsis and a bit convoluted, I know, but with some interesting dynamics. I am sure that the book is fantastic, but it does not work as a play for a number of reasons. In the play, Russel narrates between almost every scene; it’s annoying, distracting, unnecessary, and actually made me feel less sympathetic to him. I preferred Kevin. Min and Terese are problematic characters as well; I like their pairing, but Min seems to refuse to own her sexuality, shuffling between “lesbian” and “bisexual,” whereas the woefully ignored Terese is all the stereotypes of a lesbian teenager, a butch soccer player with a manly name. Gunnar, Trish, and Kimberly are all kind of doltish, which is reflective of real-life ignorami, but it veers dangerously close to being silly in how blind they are. Overall, it’s didactic and there is a lot more talk than action, with some key moments happening offstage. The most egregious thing is that the character who endures the most pain – Brian – ends up benefiting very little from the huge favor he does for a group of people who kind of screwed him over, and that Russel, Kevin, Min, and Terese kind of get a pass, thereby negating their whole “we’re so misunderstood and persecuted” complaint. Even though it’s about equality, the Club members have their own axes to grind and can be stuck up and downright intolerant; not unlike real high school students, but in the play, they just seem to be so proud of themselves for doing nothing.

How to Make a Not-So-Great Play an Exciting One

 

In yesterday’s class, we broke up into groups, with the goal of creating a pitch and a trailer for one of the six plays we read. Initially, I joined the group that was to work on The Wrestling Season, another play about GLBT issues in high school which I preferred, but the group doing The Geography Club had only two members as opposed to the five members of The Wrestling Season‘s group, so I volunteered to switch over, which turned out to be the better choice. Initially, I thought we spent way too much time planning, but the execution ended up being concise and effective. Here’s what we came up with:

First, we turned off the lights in the room, all except one fluorescent above one of the chalkboards.

Then, my group members told the class the context of our pitch while I drew a map of the world from memory (of course, after I finished it in about 90 seconds, my scumbag classmates were all “where’s Indonesia? Where’s Hawaii?”) and wrote THE GEOGRAPHY CLUB in huge letters across the top.

Then, we played the karaoke version of David Guetta’s “Titanium” (click here and play the song while you read the rest of this post)

Then, one by one, the three of us each went up to the board while the song played, saying a line from the play and erasing one letter in the word “geography” until it read “gay.” These were three of them; I can’t remember the other three.

“I was deep behind enemy lines, in the very heart of the opposing camp.”

“There was no neutral territory on our high school campus.  The different groups and cliques were like countries, and the borders were solid. You couldn’t just cross them at will.”

“What’s done is done. I don’t think I could turn the lights back off even if I wanted to.”

Once I erased the last letter from the board, making the word “gay,” I looked at the audience, smiled, and then looked back to the board, erasing the rest of the words, putting down the eraser, and wiping my hands together to get rid of the chalk before leaving the scene, just with the world map.

We got a huge round of applause, and remarks like “I want to go see The Geography Club now,” and “I want to remake that trailer with you drawing the map, and then reread the play, knowing that it’s going to be frustrating and disappointing.” Someone even asked me how I drew the map, and I was like…uh…I know what the world looks like enough to draw it free hand?

Flip It?

After seeing how creative we could get with The Geography Club in this assignment, I would actually feel good about staging a production. It would be interesting to do it maybe on top of a giant world map (maybe in the round, or a raked stage under a proscenium?), with minimalistic features, intersperse it with geography facts (or GLBT geography facts), or have fun with color, maybe going Wizard of Oz with black and white sports uniforms for the jocks and then colorful outfits for Russel, Min, etc. once they enter the realm of the geography club. As far as songs, I might use “Foreign Letters,” by Chava Alberstein; “On the Floor,” by Jennifer Lopez, “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles, or “All Over The World,” by Herman’s Hermits.

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