Melvin’s been the most difficult character to crack, and has certainly been the one under most discussion in the super-secret writing meetings. Our protagonist has always been Caroline, and as such is closely linked with the story, so the two progress hand in hand. The waitress, Miss Chicken, arrived pretty much fully formed, and is distinct enough that she slots in naturally to whatever plans we have.
Melvin, however, is different. When the play was short, and the focus was on the couple’s interaction, he slotted easily into the “boyfriend” role. However, as the play got longer, and Rubber was brought more into the story, he slipped quite strongly into becoming the antagonist. We could make him very clearly one or the other, but we felt that would be simplistic and unsatisfying. So, most of the trouble has been to reconcile both sides of his character, while trying to a real person rather than a function of plot.
How this difficulty in balance has come out in the script is that you’d have some scenes in which Melvin was being boyfriend-y, and then some scenes in which he was small-minded, rude, and just an arse, and you had no idea what Caroline would see in this guy. It is important that you buy them as a couple, and to some extent you want them to figure out a way past their problems. There had to be some tension as to who Caroline would end up with, but also there had to be some sympathy with Melvin’s plight, otherwise there would be no drama. It was also important structurally – to buy the ending of the second act, you have to believe in Melvin and Caroline as a couple.
Our specific thoughts concerning motivation (rather than what seemed funny and to make some sense) only truly coalesced for all the characters following our performance at the Y Theatre. An email from me on June 24th contains this nugget of Melvin motivation:
“…Melvin realises she’s never going to be the sort of girl he wants to be in a relationship with…”
Will succinctly defines his position in the play:
“…Caroline’s story, Rubber waxes as Melvin wanes”
And on the 30th, Will sent me a bio about him, to inspire further script development:
Job: British Gas telesales (shifts)
Friends: Work mostly, male mostly, locals.
Notes: Confident but prone to anger. More comfortable in mainstream culture than with subtlety. Caroline is not his first serious partner. He compartmentalises his life. Work/relationships/friends. Is genuinely fond of Caroline.
The only amendments I made to this were that he is “the sort of person who tries to figure out the plots to movies as he goes along,” and I describe him at the end leaving “Malvolio-style/like the antagonist of a high school comedy”.
So now, Melvin’s function in the play is a lot clearer. Yes, he is Caroline’s boyfriend, but they are wrong for each other. This makes him the antagonist, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person. His outbursts stem from an emotional place – frustration about his relationship – rather than him being a dick, and they are simply his way of dealing with their issues. He doesn’t get on with the waitress, but that doesn’t mean he’s misanthropic, just that their personalities don’t gel. His solo is yet to finalised, but it’s now more about himself than attacking other people.
It’s worth pointing out that however aggrieved Melvin is, as his relationship with Caroline goes up and then down, and though he blames Rubber for some of his woes, he doesn’t descend into something too unpleasant. We have a setup where both of the female characters in the play are bisexual but Melvin doesn’t seek to make emotional capital over this.
Obviously, the character will continue to evolve, as we have yet to hand the script to James to see what he can do with it, but we’re coming to a better place with him, which is satisfying.
Next week, we’ll look at the music.