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“The Splendor in Midland” from Lit Between the Ears, Volume One August 4, 2006

Posted by William Spear in >> Lit Between the Ears - Volume One, >> Radio Drama.
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The fourth script in Lit Between the Ears, Volume One: Chekhov, O. Henry, Spear and Tarkington On the Air is “The Splendor in Midland.” Splendor chronicles the changes in fortunes and social positions of three Midland families: 1) The Ambersons; 2) The Minafers; and, 3) The Morgans. The Ambersons and Minafers are both financially decimated. The Ambersons also lose their prominence and standing within the community. Concurrent with the decline of the Ambersons and Minafers is the rise in wealth and status for the Morgans.

The focal character, and catalyst for events, is Georgie Amberson Minafer. Georgie is the third generation of Ambersons in the Midwestern town of Midland. His abundance of manly beauty and Amberson lineage is noticed by everyone. However, his antics as a spoiled youth make Midlanders hope and pray for his come-upance – something that will take him down a notch or two. When his come-upance ultimately arrives, it delivers a fierce thrashing “three times filled and running over.”

“The Splendor in Midland” is currently a script-in-progress, an attempt to show how scripts are written and the considerations behind story and character development. It is adapted from Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Magnificent Ambersons. Tarkington (born 29 July 1869, died 19 May 1946) was an American writer and The Magnificent Ambersons was the second book of his Growth trilogy. Orson Welles adapted the novel to a film in 1942.

Lighting the Fuse: An Excerpt from The Splendor in Midland
The writing of “The Splendor in Midland” has begun and the following passage has received interesting feedback. In June, Hunterdon Radio Theatre (Clinton, NJ; http://www.hrtonline.org) conducted a script development session for its writers. The Splendor in Midland was included and the following passage was particularly noted for: 1) Setting tone for the characters; 2) Backfilling story details; and, 3) Setting the current story.

The session also demonstrated the requirement of two actors of contrasting styles to successfully perform the piece. These insights are routinely revealed through script development sessions.

In the passage, Eugene, the protagonist, is returning to Midland after an absence of 20 years. Fred Kinney, a minor character, is updating Eugene on the town’s recent history. In 23 lines of dialogue, barely a page, Eugene and Fred establish the following: 1) Their friendship after a 20 year interruption; 2) They have both aged during that time; 3) An undetermined painful moment in Eugene’s past 20 years ago; 4) Fred’s bachelor party was raucous; and 5) Midland’s residents don’t think much of the story’s main character, Georgie Amberson Minafer. Eugene also foreshadows what will ultimately be his greatest obstacle: A Mother’s love for her children.

Excerpt from The Splendor in Midland
MUSIC: OFF MIC: ORCHESTRAL.

KINNEY: (OFF MIC: CALLS TO EUGENE) Gene Morgan! (ON MIC) I’d heard you were in town. I don’t believe you know me!

EUGENE: Yes, I do, Fred Kinney! Your real face – the one I used to know – it’s just underneath the one you’re masquerading in tonight. You ought to have changed it more if you wanted a disguise.

KINNEY: Twenty years! It makes some difference in faces, but more in behavior!

EUGENE: So it does. My own behavior began to be different about that long ago – quite suddenly.

KINNEY: I remember.

EUGENE: Well … Know what I remember? Your wedding. I saw your lovely wife upstairs.

KINNEY: She wasn’t going to miss a big Amberson show for anything.

EUGENE: I remember your bachelor dinner too – most of it, that is.

KINNEY: More than what I can say about the night we went serenading.

EUGENE: That’s a night I try not to remember.

KINNEY: Sorry Gene.

EUGENE: Don’t think anything about it. Tell me, what’s the old town been like for twenty years?

KINNEY: There’s an heir to the Amberson line. Have you seen young Georgie?

EUGENE: Real good-looking boy. Seems like fine Amberson stock.

KINNEY: Too much Amberson, it seems, to some folks. His mother just fell down and worshipped him from the day he was born.

EUGENE: That’s what Mothers are supposed to do.

Closing
Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, the basis for The Splendor in Midland, is an outstanding novel and accessible. Welles’ movie is equally entertaining. Enjoy both and stay tuned to the progress of The Splendor in Midland.

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