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Scott C. Sickles' NONSENSE AND BEAUTY is a new play 20+ years in the making

Thursday | Apr. 5, 2018

Scott C. Sickles' Nonsense and Beauty is as much an outlier as it is an inspiration: a "new" play that began its development in 1994, hit a dead end, sat more or less dormant for 15 years, but then found an unexpected second life. That resurrection continues at The Rep's Ignite! Festival of New Plays with a sold-out reading this Saturday.

The play's long history began in the mid-'90s, when Sickles first conceived of writing a biographical play about British novelist E.M. Forster and his decades-long love affair with a policeman named Bob Buckingham. Complicating and enhancing their relationship was Buckingham's wife, May, who became a close friend to Forster and, in later years, his nursemaid. Their wondrously unconventional and emotionally complex love triangle seemed like ideal material for a play.

Sickles notes that he wrote the initial script in a "pre-Will and Grace world." While it received a handful of readings at new play festivals like Ignite! in the '90s (including one helmed by future Ignite! director Seth Gordon), Sickles believes that its LGBT subject matter held it back when he was shopping it around to theatre companies for a full production.

"We got rejected by every fabulous professional company in the United States of America," Sickles says. 

For a playwright as prolific as Sickles, who has a deep bibliography of full-length plays, one-acts and 10-minute scripts, rejection like this is common. What isn't common is what happened next.

Except for the occasional reading, the play gathered dust through 2014, when Sickles decided to submit it for Gulfshore Playhouse's New Works Festival. 

"When the play is that old and you've done all this work on it, there's an attitude of, 'Stick a fork in it, it's done,'" Sickles says. "I went there thinking, 'If they give me notes, I will try them. If I don't like them, I'll just restore it to the previous draft.' And then I kept all their notes."

Emboldened by the experience, Sickles began to seriously rework his play, including the title. Once called Shepherd's Bush, the script became Nonsense and Beauty after one of Forster's best-known quotes – "Nonsense and beauty have close connections." 

The workshop process revealed that the play could use some cuts, including axing an opening sequence that took place at Forster's deathbed. Sickles laughs that he initially resisted this suggestion with a lengthy written explanation as to why he wrote the play the way he did, but relented as soon as he saw it performed with his first scene removed.

"You know, I don't miss it," he thought to himself.

Another note that stuck with him: "You don't need to show us every moment of their lives."

As a result, the version that will appear at The Rep features a number of changes, including entirely new passages. Sickles says he's looking forward to seeing a reading by a fresh cast of actors, which always teaches him more about his own script. It means letting go of some of the control over his own work, but that's when the best discoveries often happen.

"As I'm fond of saying, 'Nothing shoots a play in the foot faster than the playwright's intentions,'" Sickles quips.

Click below for cast information on The Rep's sold-out reading of Nonsense and Beauty: