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An Outopia For Pigeons
An Outopia for Pigeons is a comedy about compulsion and salvation. The protagonist, Martha Washington, is the last passenger pigeon, desperately trying to save her species by building a Foucault-inspired outopia (a non-place). After all, hunters can’t find a non-place, so if the passenger pigeons are hiding in one, they’re safe, and can’t be found—at least that’s Martha’s reasoning.
Assisting Martha is a sperm whale named Charles Bronson, a whale so tough they named the toughest actor of all time after him. Their work is complicated by the arrival of Cotton Mather, a 300 hundred year old Puritan minister and witch dealer-with-er, who has problems of his own.
No one cares about genocide yet."
- An Outopia for Pigeons
Marie Antoinette's Head
"Is spurting a mode of sending or of giving?"
- Derrida, To Unsense the Subjectile
In this campy comedy we follow Marie Antoinette’s hair dresser, Leonardo, as he pursues Marie’s severed head across time and space. The first panel of the triptych takes Leonardo to the Palace of Versailles, just after the Queen’s execution, where drunken peasants are being harassed by Rousseau while partying with the head. Then the play shifts to California’s Corcoran Prison, in 1994, where the guards were staging gladiatorial combats between prisoners.
Leonardo finds himself in the prison’s green room, with their combat becoming a game-show, hosted by Charles Darwin, and the head shamefully serving as the consolation prize. And finally Leonardo’s pursuit takes him to a Gnostic semen cult in 1st century Rome, on the day of the great fire. In the Roman catacombs, Nero spies on the cultists’ feast, while Leonardo gets caught swiping the head from their altar. Throughout it all the telephone keeps ringing. It’s Marie calling for Leonardo, and he always hangs up.
Through to where? I’m the most consistent thing in your life and you don’t even know my real name.
Is it Mary?
Niagara Falls is a broken play for a broken city. A three-hundred year old boy (and former British soldier) leaves his home at the bottom of the Niagara River and wanders through the rust belt dereliction of the city, dripping wet and asking everyone: “do you know why there are so many bodies in the whirlpool?”
The answers are elliptical, given by a host of foils. The corrupt mayor is more interested in his five thousand and five dollars; the mayor’s mistress is obsessed with Canada; the mayor’s wives only care to leave him (and the city by extension), and the owner of a Seneca casino wants a casual revenge. Driven by imagist poetics, it is the city itself that is the protagonist, quickly approaching the end of its dramatic arc.
The boy’s question begs the larger question: how, with good resources, location, and one of the seven wonders of the natural world, can an American city die?
The Canopic Jar Of My Sins
The Canopic Jar of My Sins: A Medieval Morality Play for Latter Day Postmodernists is a play about culpability. The narrative follows Ralph Wiley, the scientist who invented plastic, as he fights to survive a show trial held on the massive island of plastic in the North Pacific Ocean.
His tribunal consists of an angel, a dead bird, and Roger Waters. After the trial, Wiley finds himself on the beach at Easter Island, where he meets the last Easter Islander and Robert Oppenheimer. Then the angel shows up, and things get strange.
"I'm an angel.
We do not come to offer hope."
- The Angel of Canopic Jars
A single consciousness moves towards death. Are the characters ghosts? Are they the fragments of an elderly consciousness? One person, four bodies, four voices. They slip through time, sometimes experiencing the past as a memory, sometimes experiencing it as a moment of storytelling, sometimes as a trauma survivor in a flashback.
They are taking themselves on a tour of their childhood in a pre-war, Ohio Valley coal town—purging the memories and fragments of a long life.
The text uses ritual and repetition to explore the nature of identity and how our sense of self continues even after the stories that constitute a life become fragmented and forgotten. In staging, the play is more akin to a ghost story told from the ghost’s point of view.
A ghost story told by the ghosts.
Exhausted Paint: The Death of Van Gogh
In Exhausted Paint, a frenetic Vincent Van Gogh takes the audience through a tilt-a-whirl exploration of his life, heart, and legacy.
The show is built around ideas of disorientation and struggle, often based on Van Gogh's extensive collected letters. These are exemplified by a single set piece. The piece is a wheel that is horizontal on a post and parallel to the stage, mounted on an axle so that it can be spun by an actor. From the rim of the wheel hang a series of objects (mobile like), each of which represents something from Van Gogh’s life and a scene of the play. After the initial scene, the actor will spin the wheel and perform the scene appropriate to that object.
Consequently, the play doesn’t have a set internal structure, only the introduction and finale are set. The other scenes can happen in any order.
Now I’m just a character in a play.
At least this actor looks like me. Kinda.
But his French is fucking terrible. And his Dutch is worse.
You need to get going now or you’ll be late for dinner.
I’m making your favorite.
I love my favorite.
In Your Lithopedion a serial killer attempts to reform and becomes the founder of Serial Killers Anonymous, which totally wrecks his marriage.
It’s a comedy about boredom, dysfunction, community… and child murder.
You’ll never think of 80’s music in the same way again.
Quotes & Reviews
Justin Maxwell writes strange, funny, scary plays.
His collection of short plays, A Blinded Horse Dreams of Hippocampi and Other Plays, is available from Alligator Pear Publishing. Many of his longer plays are available here on NPX.
His prose has appeared in the journals Theatre/Practice, Eleven Eleven, The Fourth River, Minnesota Playlist, Contemporary Theatre Review, American Theatre Magazine, and others.
He is an associate professor teaching playwriting in the MFA program at the University of New Orleans.
A Blinded Horse Dreams of Hippocampi
& Other Plays
These short plays are a collection of the poetic and unexpected. They include unassigned dialog and scene order determined by the spinning of a wheel. A chorus of seahorses sings, a car and a store have relationship problems, and Van Gogh meditates on his own death.
Each play offers a fundamentally different moral compass to guide away from loneliness and fear. It is this compass that sets the course through this lyrical and unique collection.
A Blinded Horse Dreams of Hippocampi
I’m in Al-Qaeda: a comedy of manners
~6x³=SAFETY: a comedic list poem
My Rich Temple
Old MacDonald Dirge
Patience on the Way to Daylight: an Ars Poetica farce
Exhausted Paint: the Death of Van Gogh
An Outopia For Pigeons is not only hilarious, it’s also deeply moving. It’s a dizzying mindf**k that also touches your heart in unexpected ways. It’s foul-mouthed but also strangely innocent. It’s irreverent, at times even blasphemous, but also very spiritual.
- Matthew A. Everett, Twin Cities Daily Planet
review of An Outopia For Pigeons
Justin Maxwell... works on the edge, taking his audiences in unexpected directions and ensuring that they’ll enjoy the ride.... a mad coherence... elicits near-equal parts laughter, fear and empathy.
- Theodore P. Mahne, Nola.com
review of Your Lithopedian
...a wild farrago of language and philosophical subversion... a sly commentary on post-modern America and how meaning has been reduced to sound bite.
- Jim Fitzmorris, The New Orleans Advocate
review of An Outopia For Pigeons