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Rewards and challenges of serialized drama

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Categories: development, looking ahead, Tags: , , ,

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The reading of Vivat Regina this October marks the first time a sequel has been performed as part of the Bare Bones reading series. Sequels are somewhat rare in theatrical drama, but a story like Mrs. Hawking’s has so much long-term potential that it could hardly be told any other way.

In writing Vivat Regina, one thing was certain— the piece had to stand up on its own, even if you had no knowledge of the original. That meant boiling down the essentials of what the audience needs to know in order to grasp what’s important about the situation and the characters. I worked to establish their circumstances quickly— they are operatives in the Sherlock Holmes mode, except perhaps a little more superhero-style derring-do, and Mary is doing her best to learn from her more experienced mentor Mrs. Hawking. The nature of the characters, too, needed to pop quickly; Mary is eager and enthusiastic, but troubled by how long it’s taking her to pick things up, while Mrs. Hawking’s severe, uncompromising anger toward what she sees as a broken world must bleed over into everything she does. It’s wonderful and I think it adds a lot if you know what brought them to that point, but as long as you can grasp what they’re like and the tenor of their interactions, I feel like you can jump into the story and go with it without confusion.

In addition that challenge, there’s a lot of benefits to come from being able to tell multiple stories. Characters arcs have the time and space to grow organically, and it is possible to observe how these people evolve and change in a believable manner. Somebody like Mrs. Hawking, who is bound up in lots of old damage and psychic baggage, is of course going to take a long time to move forward out of it. The time to explore that baggage allows for her to actually grow and change, but allowing for the fact that it is a slow process to move forward from wounds that deep. It allows for full, satisfying exploration of the characters over time.

It also presents the combined challenge and advantage of having to set things up now to pay off later. A serialized piece will exist in a world that grows larger and deeper with every installment told, which can really enrich the storytelling. It increases the sense of immersion to see how connections grow and form, and hints of things that will become important as the development continues. In Vivat Regina, take for example the introduction of the policeman Arthur Swann. He is set to become a very important character in the greater plot, so I wanted to introduce him to the audience, but not reveal his ultimate purpose right away. So I wanted to demonstrate him as a person by giving him something to contribute to this story without necessarily having him perform his ultimate role right away. I think it is interestingly hinted at, though, which should get the audience interested in him as a character.

Also the greater trajectories of the main plot must have the groundwork laid for where they will ultimately go. The relationships between Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel have to take some interesting twists and turns, but I want to them to feel natural and believable to the characters. I need to hint at future conflicts and dynamics now so we see where they came from when they finally occur. I want it so that when you see these things finally manifest, you can identify what they grew from in moments of previous installments. It gives a feeling of completeness to the characters and a depth to the world.

But of course it’s up to you to decide how well I managed all this. You should come to the reading and check it out! Vivat Regina will be read on Thursday, October 2nd at 8PM at Unity Somerville, 8 William Street, Somerville, MA.

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Meet Gabrielle Geller, voice of Mary Stone in Bare Bones!

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Categories: character, performance, vivat regina, Tags: , , ,

Meet Gabrielle Geller, the voice of Mary Stone in our upcoming staged reading of Vivat Regina with Bare Bones!

I interviewed Gabrielle about her character, whom she has portrayed before in both the original Bare Bones reading of Mrs. Hawking, as well as during the development process of this second story.

Vivat Regina will be read at 8PM on Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 at Unity Somerville on 6 William Street, Somerville, MA, courtesy of Theatre@First.

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Cast announced for Bare Bones reading of Vivat Regina!

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I am pleased to announce that we have a cast for the staged reading of Vivat Regina at Bare Bones with Theatre@First!

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As I mentioned, the three talented people playing Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel in last year’s Bare Bones reading of the original play were kind enough to agree to return. I am delighted to have Elizabeth Hunter, Gabrielle Geller, and Ryan Kacani reading again. But that meant I still had three other people to choose!

This audition process was even tougher than it was last year; I was very fortunate to have a nice selection of talented people, but sadly that meant there were more people I enjoyed than I could possibly use. It’s always sad when you don’t have enough space for someone who gives a good reading and whom you’d be happy to work. I feel very grateful so many people were willing to share their talent with me to put on this piece. Thank you so much to everyone who auditioned; I really wished I had more roles.

The cast I finally settled on is a follows:

Mrs. Victoria Hawking – Elizabeth Hunter
Miss Mary Stone – Gabrielle Geller
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking – Ryan Kacani
Mrs. Johanna Braun / Frau Kirsten Gerhard / Narrator #3 – Joye Thaller
Mrs. Clara Hawking / Narrator #2 – Samantha LeVangie
Mr. Arthur Swann / Narrator #1 – Matthew Kamm

I am very excited to work with every one of them.

I hope you’ll all come out to see this very talented cast read Vivat Regina on Thursday, October 2nd at 8PM at Unity Somerville at 6 William Street, Somerville, MA.

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“The Cuff” – scribblings on the end of Mrs. Hawking’s mourning period

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Categories: base instruments, development, scenes, Tags: , , , , ,

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So I’ve been working to figure out the Mrs. Hawking timeline to nail down when each story needs to happen. The main things to work around are that the first story takes place in 1880, to happen in proper proximity to the Indian Rebellion and the Battle of Kandahar, and I want the sixth story to have Mrs. Hawking taking on Jack the Ripper, which would happen in 1888. Six pieces need to be spread across that span, with an amount of time between them that is believable. I’ve decided that it makes more sense to place Base Instruments in 1883 rather than 1882, which is what I had originally been using for all other pieces of it written for this 31P31D, so that the second trilogy can be in 1885, 1886, and 1888, making no gap longer than two years.

If it’s happening in 1883, then, it occurred to me that means that Mrs. Hawking will be almost out of mourning for her late husband the Colonel. Mourning for widows was very regimented in Victorian England, so even if it didn’t match her own feelings or preferences, she would have to observe the etiquette so as not to attract unwanted attention and criticism. I don’t know if this is an especially useful scene to include in Base Instruments, but it’s an interesting thing to address.

The Cuff
by Phoebe Roberts

VICTORIA HAWKING, lady’s society avenger
MARY STONE, her housemaid and assistant

London, England, 1883
~~~

(MRS. HAWKING dresses to go out in public. She regards herself in the mirror. MARY neatens the vanity table.)

MRS. HAWKING: Two months now.

MARY: Two months of what?

MRS. HAWKING: Two months until I’m out of mourning.

MARY: Oh, my. I’d quite forgotten.

(She goes to the wardrobe and begins looking through the dresses.)

MARY: I haven’t looked at your old things since I came. I think it should all still fit.

MRS. HAWKING: I don’t much care.

MARY: Well, I should think it would be easier than having to shop.

MRS. HAWKING: I’ve no wish to return to colors. It isn’t as if I can dress how I like anyhow.

MARY: Well. If you kept to blacks, no one would think anything of it.

MRS. HAWKING: Mm.

(She holds up her right hand to look at her wedding ring.)

MRS. HAWKING: I wouldn’t mind dispensing with this, though.

MARY: Oh. I’m… not sure that’s done.

MRS. HAWKING: No. It is not. If you’re shackled to a man, you’re at least rid of him when he dies. But you remain in the cuff until you replace it with some living fellow’s.

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: I had thought to bury the Colonel with his. But Nathaniel saved it, and gave it to me. He thought at the time I might like to have it.

MARY: Did you keep it?

MRS. HAWKING: It’s in a snuffbox in his dressing room. What else could I do? Like this, certain parties would object to anything less.

MARY: It’s a small thing, at least.

MRS. HAWKING: It keeps me beneath notice.

(MARY comes close to look at MRS. HAWKING’s ring.)

MARY: It’s beautiful.

MRS. HAWKING: India ruby. He was so proud.

8/21/14

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“Glad to Be Your Man” — scribbling on the reappearance of Arthur Swann

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Categories: base instruments, development, looking ahead, scenes, Tags: , , ,

Base Instruments is likely to have a very large cast. That's not ideal for produceability, but more and more I suspect I just need to adapt these Mrs. Hawking stories into a miniseries or something, so I'm not worrying about that stuff when I'm just trying to figure out what happens in each installment.

Arthur Swann, a young policeman, was introduced in Vivat Regina, and though nothing happened beyond getting to know him a little, it was pretty clear he was positively impressed by Mary. Because I think Base Instruments will end up being a murder mystery, I think it will be necessary to have Arthur reappear in this story, especially since I'm planning on him becoming more and more of an important character. That means the relationship between him and Mary will have to progress. One of his traits is that he's supposed to be charming in a way that respects and admires Mary's capability and independence, which I want to demonstrate in his pursuit of her. However, I have to be careful to not push things too hard, as I want the attentions of Nathaniel's brother Justin to be a legitimate distraction for Mary in this story. Justin'll seem less special and remarkable if lots of dudes are throwing themselves at her. I may be able to rely on the fact that he's very good-looking and a gentleman, the sort of man Mary never would have expected to give her a second look, while Arthur is a bit more ordinary-seeming. But I can balance that out later. Here's a shot at looking what Arthur reappearing in Mary's life would begin with.

I really love him calling her "rare bird," given the significance of the bird motif in these stories. :-)

Glad to Be Your Man
by Phoebe Roberts

MARY STONE, house maid and assistant society avenger
ARTHUR SWANN, a policeman

London, England, 1883
~~~

(Officer ARTHUR SWANN leans against a lamp post. He notices MARY as she walks by.)

ARTHUR: As I live and breathe. Evening, rare bird.

(MARY turns.)

MARY: I beg your pardon?

ARTHUR: Don't you remember me? Because I couldn't forget you.

MARY: You're that policeman. Who needed some help with a ruffian.

ARTHUR: And you're the girl what gave it to me. Mary Stone.

MARY: Goodness. It's been more than a year, hasn't it?

ARTHUR: I'm like to recall a maid who can swing a poker like that. You know, ever since that night I've been keeping a weather eye out for you, hoping you might come back again this way. But you never have.

MARY: I'm sorry, I've had no cause.

ARTHUR: Shame on you, then. Who knows what trouble I might have gotten into without you around to watch my back? Could you bear to carry that on your conscience?

(MARY laughs.)

ARTHUR: So, then. Can you stay a spell to visit?

MARY: Forgive me, I've things to do.

ARTHUR: More important business, eh? Like German spies slipping away in the night from embassies?

(MARY fights to keep her expression neutral.)

MARY: I… I don't know what you mean.

ARTHUR: Well, it isn't as if us walking bobs often receive tips about when to bust up foreign spy activity. And when it comes after I've only just met a remarkable young lady clearly staking out the embassy…

(MARY laughs breezily.)

MARY: Staking out? Oh, heavens.

ARTHUR: I may look like just a pretty face, but there's a tick or two working behind my baby blues. Thank you kindly for that, by the by. My captain was fair chuffed with me.

MARY: Sir. I really don't know what you're talking about.

ARTHUR: No worries, miss. I'm not about to say anything, have no fear of that.

MARY: Perhaps I'd best be on my way.

ARTHUR: I won't keep you. Only I hope if you've a moment sometime, you might spare it to have a chat with me. And you know… if you ever need another copper to show up at the right time… I'd be glad to be your man.

MARY: Well… that's kind of you, I suppose.

ARTHUR: If I might see you again, I'll do a lot more than that.

(He tips his cap.)

ARTHUR: And remember, the name's Arthur Swann. In case you ever need it again.

8/20/14

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“Family Dinner” — Hawking drama I’m not sure about

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Categories: base instruments, character, development, scenes, Tags: , , ,

I started this scene for inclusion in Base Instruments, but the more I wrote it the less sure I was about it. While it’s roughly in character– Nathaniel wants Mrs. Hawking to show up to a family dinner while his brother Justin is in town, Mrs. Hawking doesn’t want to go –I don’t feel like the motivations are necessarily strong enough.

Yeah, Nathaniel wants his aunt to act like she’s part of the family, but he knows that she and Justin don’t like each other and it’s not likely to be a pleasant evening for anyone involved. I feel like he would be wiser than to force everybody into a situation that’s likely to make the whole family miserable; he would instead pick his battles to work on developing relationships with her that both mattered to him more and had more of a chance of success, such as his and hers, or even hers and Clara’s. Also, I think if Mrs. Hawking didn’t want to go to an event, she just wouldn’t; she’s starting to value Nathaniel and his feelings more, but the concept of “but we’re your faaaaaamily” just doesn’t matter to her. She wouldn’t make herself miserable to do any service to that. I don’t like making characters do thing for the sake of drama or the plot that I don’t feel are really in character.

I tried to make it work. I tried to give Nathaniel an outside reason for why he would insist on this– tying it into his issues with Justin rather than just letting it rely on his desire to make his aunt connect with family. And I tried to make it so she was only trying to minimize her own misery by agreeing to the dinner on his terms, because the alternative would be worse. But I’m not sure I buy it. Also I don’t know if I actually want to include that dinner happening in the story; I’m not sure what dramatic purpose it would serve. Although it might be funny just to see all these people fighting with each other under the guise of polite conversation, with Nathaniel frantically trying to make everybody just be nice to each other for one evening for God’s sake.

Ah, well. Even if I don’t use it, it’s practice. And I won’t have to try to recreate it if I decide that I want to.

Family Dinner
by Phoebe Roberts

VICTORIA HAWKING, lady’s society avenger
NATHANIEL HAWKING, her nephew and assistant

London, England, 1883
~~~

NATHANIEL: Here’s the research you asked for! Interviews with the company members, and diagrams of the crime scene. And not a soul will know you’ve had them.

(He hands over a folder and she inspects it.)

MRS. HAWKING: Hmm. That was neatly done. Thank you, Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL: Glad to do it, Auntie. And I’ll have the floor plans for the theater on Monday.

(Pause.)

NATHANIEL: Are you pleased?

MRS. HAWKING: I am. I must concede, you’ve been a great help and very little trouble in the recent past.

NATHANIEL: I’m glad to hear it! And I promise not to trouble you by dropping by while you’re ruminating for the rest of the week.

(She freezes suddenly and stares at NATHANIEL in suspicion.)

MRS. HAWKING: What do you want?

NATHANIEL: Now, don’t get cross, Auntie…

MRS. HAWKING: Out with it.

(NATHANIEL takes a deep breath.)

NATHANIEL: Justin is coming to London for a visit, and I’d like you to come to family dinner.

(She turns to walk away.)

NATHANIEL Oh, come on, Aunt Victoria!

MRS. HAWKING: Go chase yourself.

NATHANIEL: It’s only just an evening!

MRS. HAWKING: Which you seem intent to ruin for everyone.

NATHANIEL: Justin’s in town so rarely. Can’t we spend one night at least pretending we can get on like a normal family?

MRS. HAWKING: To what end?

NATHANIEL: My occasional peace of mind.

MRS. HAWKING: Best not to rely on delusions for comfort, nephew.

NATHANIEL: He won’t be here long. He’ll be on to the country in a few days to see Father.

MRS. HAWKING: Then let your father bear him. Your brother is an entitled rake who never stops talking.

NATHANIEL: I thought that was what you thought of me.

MRS. HAWKING: You’re not a rake, I grant you.

NATHANIEL: Indeed? Oh, goodness, Auntie, I never knew you cared.

MRS. HAWKING: Justin, however, I can’t stand across even a dinner table.

NATHANIEL: Oh, come now. It’s rare to have so much of the family together.

MRS. HAWKING: Perhaps think on why that is for a moment.

NATHANIEL: Clara wants you to be there.

MRS. HAWKING: No, she doesn’t.

NATHANIEL: The children never see you!

MRS. HAWKING: By design, Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL: Careful there, Auntie, that’s my flesh and blood you’re talking about.

MRS. HAWKING: I don’t care for children, why should you subject yours to me?

NATHANIEL: Because I want them to know you.

MRS. HAWKING: Whatever for?

NATHANIEL: Because you’re important to me! My God, woman, is that so hard for you to grasp? Would I keep coming back for more of your trouble if you weren’t?

(She raises an eyebrow at him. He sighs.)

NATHANIEL: If you must know, Justin has opined to me, loudly and often, that he doesn’t understand why I’ve gone to so much trouble to keep you in my life. If you can manage to bear up through one family dinner without being particularly horrible, it might give the appearance that my efforts haven’t come to nothing, and perhaps it will shut him up. For a moment. Could you possibly see your way to helping me with that? I don’t ask much of you, Auntie.

MRS. HAWKING: Ha!

NATHANIEL: All right, then. In that case, I promise you, if you don’t come, Clara will commandeer this house and have a party laid in ambush for you in your own dining room. And there won’t be any getting rid of us then.

(Pause.)

NATHANIEL: And don’t think Mary won’t help me. Because you know she will! So, what shall it be, then?

MRS. HAWKING: You are becoming quite the ruthless strategist, aren’t you, boy?

(NATHANIEL laughs.)

NATHANIEL: I’ve been learning from the best.

(He goes to retrieve his coat from the rack.)

NATHANIEL: Do cheer up, Auntie. Perhaps little Beatrice might do with your influence.

(MRS. HAWKING looks at him, considering. He smiles.)

NATHANIEL: Imagine what might come of that.

8/16/14

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“Vivat Regina” to have staged reading with Theatre@First’s Bare Bones!

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Vivat Regina, the second installment in the Mrs. Hawking series, is going to be having a staged reading with Bare Bones, the reading series hosted by Somerville, MA theater troupe Theatre@First!

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Bare Bones previously hosted a reading of the original Mrs. Hawking in April of 2013, which was performed to great success. I’m very fortunate that the excellent actors who portrayed the three leads, Elizabeth Hunter as Mrs. Hawking, Gabrielle Geller as Mary, and Ryan Kacani as Nathaniel, have all agreed to return to play their characters again in the reading of the sequel. I’m so excited to work with them again!

Auditions for the remaining roles will be held on Tuesday, September 2nd at Unity Somerville at 6 William Street, Somerville, MA. I will be looking for one man to read for Arthur Swann and two women, one for Clara Hawking and one to be double-cast as Mrs. Braun and Frau Gerhard. The ability to do a German accent would be welcome for the latter actress but is not required. Any interested parties are welcome and encouraged to try out!

If you’re interested in coming out, please go to the Bare Bones website for relevant information and how to sign up for an appointment!

The reading will be held one night only, on Thursday, October 2nd at 8PM at Unity Somerville. Admission is free but there is a $5 suggested donation to support Theatre@FIrst.

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The two Victorias

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Categories: character, influences, vivat regina, Tags: , ,

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In choosing to name my hero Victoria in this setting, I cannot help but invite comparison to the most famous Victoria in history, the queen who gave her name to the period. Indeed, I briefly considered titling the second story “Victoria Regina” instead of the more generic “Vivat Regina,” to hammer the parallel home. The first explicit reference I make to this comparison is the conversation in act 1 scene 5 of Vivat Regina. Mary makes the assumption I imagine that many people would make, that Mrs. Hawking would approve of a willful, prominent female leader who wielded so much personal authority. But the queen, despite her own place, was not a supporter of women in public positions, and in fact found the growing feminist movement to be godless and unseemly. She promulgated a social order and a standard of morality that reinforced many of the structures Mrs. Hawking is struggling to tear down, which gives our hero a particular resentment for having been her namesake.

My thinking on her is very influenced by an excellent documentary called Queen Victoria’s Children, which also gave me the idea for who might bring the problem in Vivat Regina. The documentary characterizes the queen as a strong, imperious personality, but also thrown by whims and rages and compelled to regard everything around her as a prop to her own existence. I plan to use this image of her if I ever actually depict her onstage in the story. At the moment I have no plans, but I have established that she and Mrs. Hawking have encountered one another in the past. I’m sure they owe each other favors, in fact, or at least have each other in some sort of Mexican standoff. I’ve not exactly decided what their history is, but I am certain it resulted in an uneasy coexistence where they do not work together, but occasionally find they must work around each other. I’ll have to figure out exactly how that works if I ever write them actually sharing a scene together.

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Mr. Ambrose Hawking

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Categories: character, scenes, themes, Tags: , , , , , ,

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Though I’ve written very little in his voice, I’ve thought a great deal about the patriarch of the respectable, successful middle-class Hawking family, and the father of Justin and Nathaniel. While his younger brother Colonel Reginald Hawking served in the military, Ambrose built the family business from the ground up, turning a series of small investments into a thriving venture capital firm with interests all across the empire. He was close to and very proud of his brave younger brother, with Reginald’s choice to marry the fiery, inscrutable Victoria Stanton being the only difference to ever come between them. This conflict is referenced in Like a Loss, a ten-minute play featuring the Colonel and his valet.

Ambrose is a bastion of traditional Victorian masculinity, accustomed to authority and privilege and very skeptical of the notion of women having agency. The world and its accompanying systems have done well for him, and so he is loath to see them change. His younger son Nathaniel, however, is beginning to question and even reject the assumptions to which his father raised him. It will come as quite a shock when he is confronted by Nathaniel’s new perspective on things, especially when it comes to affect the way Nathaniel decides to raise his own son.

I don’t know if or when Ambrose will ever actually appear in the plays. Even in the upcoming third one, in which I plan for other members of Nathaniel’s family to appear and drive the conflict, I don’t know if there will be room for him. Still, I think the influence of a traditionally Victorian patriarchal father is important for Nathaniel’s sorting out of how he’s going to engage with feminism. If nothing else, I’m sure he will be mentioned, as he is in Like a Loss, or perhaps show up in another in-universe short piece.

Here is a small chunk I felt compelled to write, just as a way of exploring the slightly more human side of him. One thing is clear, he cared very deeply about his brother the Colonel, and what pained Reginald was also pain to him. I also think it serves to make his strong antipathy towards Victoria a lot more understandable. So, in service of that, here is a conversation I could picture them having about the Colonel.

~~~

NATHANIEL: Did you think he ever knew just how… strongly she felt?

AMBROSE: Are you joking? Of course he did. He wasn’t a fool.

NATHANIEL: How do you know?

AMBROSE: Everyone knew. You could read it in her every glance, she never tried to hide it. And it cut him.

NATHANIEL: Did he tell you?

AMBROSE: He didn’t have to. I was his brother, I could see it in his eyes.

NATHANIEL: You never told me.

AMBROSE: By Jove, Nathaniel, do you fancy I hate her just because she’s unpleasant at dinner parties? The woman my brother loved despised him above all else. And he had to live with that. You may have found a way to forgive her, boy, but I never shall.

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Early development for Mrs. Hawking 3

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Categories: base instruments, development, looking ahead, themes, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I won’t be able to truly tackle this for a while yet, as I have other projects that are currently more pressing, but I do have a fair bit of preliminary work done on creating the third installment in the Mrs. Hawking story. As I’ve mentioned in earlier entries, it will deal primarily with the three following themes:

– Mary’s establishment of what kind of protégé she truly wants to be.

– A hinting at Mrs. Hawking’s fear of her eventual decline into old age.

– The reaction of Nathaniel’s family

I’ve talked a great deal about the first two themes in this space. The third will be dealing with the first time Nathaniel’s involvement in Mrs. Hawking’s work (and his growing feminism, in sharp contrast to the common values of the day) is scrutinized by the by and large conventional members of his family. I’d like to have his brother Justin show up, to demonstrate a clashing ideology, and have his wife Clara actually be informed of what’s really going on and have to respond to it. I want to explore how Nathaniel will handle experiencing the threat of disapproval for basically the first time in his life, and realizing just how much at odds his new worldview is with the rest of society.

The case they shall be working in the course of this episode will be brought to them by a ballet dancer, in order to introduce the ballet motif that will expose Mrs. Hawking’s inner struggle. I haven’t figured out exactly what the problem will be, but it occurs to me that we’ve yet to see Mrs. Hawking deal with a true mystery. The problems in the first and second installments were entirely known quantities— return a stolen child, capture a miscreant hiding behind diplomatic immunity. I’d like to show her actually having to figure out what happened based on the gathering of clues and applying deductive reasoning. I enjoy mysteries a great deal, as the need to seek out more information is a compelling way to pace things, and I love the way it allows stories to unfold.

I struggle a great deal with titles; though I’m pretty happy with “Mrs. Hawking” and “Vivat Regina,” I rarely think I’ve come up with good ones. But I have an idea, at least, of what I’d like to call this third story. I’m leaning towards either “Base Instruments,” regarding to the imperfections of those people who struggle to deliver grand results, or “The Burden of Regard,” in reference to the weight placed on people from whom important things are expected. The first two have a quality of irony about them, which I would like to maintain in this third title if possible. Opinions on what works better are of course welcome.

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