“We will offer no relevant evidence. Facts limit freedom.” That is the opening statement from the prosecutor in Tapdancer, our latest book. It’s a surreal farce along the lines of what would happen if a Kafka nightmare was staged by the Marx Brothers. I’m having fun carrying the orders to the post office because I know what the buyers are getting. We first wrote it as a radio play, then adapted it for the stage in 1992, and now it’s between covers. So it’s 32 years old, my age when I had our first baby. A lot has happened since then, and what was first written as farce is increasingly our reality. Recently the governor of Texas, giving the finger to the Constitution and the Supreme Court, has been supported by 25 other Republican governors who think the original 13 colonies made a mistake. You can’t make this stuff up, commentators say, but they’re wrong. We already did, and I wonder if I should apologize.
This crackpot comedy had innocent beginnings. When our theatre company was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one of our board members was a petite blonde investment broker. At one of our fundraising gala events we asked audience members about their unfulfilled dreams, and her questionnaire confessed that she’d always wanted to learn to tap dance. A friend gave her a gift certificate for tap dance lessons, and months later, at another gala, she bravely got on stage and did her basic tap routine.
A good friend from our first theatre ensemble always wanted to be a lounge singer, a good one, and his aspiration paid off. He and his band became a sensation in Milwaukee with a repertoire of tunes from the 1940’s, and supper club patrons danced cheek to cheek to music from their courtship years. And at the end of every set, our friend came out in a tux, cleared the dance floor, and performed a very spiffy tapdance.
Then one night Conrad woke in tears from a nightmare. In his dream, our beloved tapdancing friend had been sentenced to death for defacing a billboard. Conrad took that nightmare by the scruff of the neck and turned it into a farce about an investment broker who tries to tap-dance and is awful, but loves it. One dare begetting others, he defaces a billboard that offends him and is sentenced to death by lethal injection. (He survives.) In reality, our friend’s dancing was top-notch, but all of us in the ensemble had experienced the indignity of being ridiculous in tap shoes when we were urged to take group lessons. If it’s ridiculous, use it, says the writer.
The book is funny, but crammed with things that are pretty scary if you take them literally. The villain in the piece is a court bailiff who has never been given the respect he wants, so when he accidentally gets to preside over the trial he becomes a maniac—a sadistic fascist who finally has control, taking revenge to pathological levels. Nothing to see here, folks, just move along. Remember, we wrote this a long time ago.