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plays by Bryan Davidson

Bryan Davidson: Full-Length Plays



War Music, a triptych of three inter-related acts, takes its inspiration from historical events of the two World Wars. Rather than an official history, War Music focuses on the men and women at the margins of history, characters with little or no control over the conflagrations that swept through Europe and America.

The play explores the intersection of war and music. From the scabrous songs sung in the trenches, to the God-and-country hits of the Blitz, to the art music of the avant-garde composers, music takes on many forms—satire, expression of faith, and propaganda. Each act is centered upon a specific piece of music, and takes on the style of that piece.

Act I: At Dawn

England, 1917. Douglas Fox left a promising career as a pianist to go fight the Germans. Now, in an English field hospital, he’s waking up to find that his right arm has been amputated. Upon learning of the incident, composer Frank Bridge begins work on a new piece, Three Improvisations for the Left Hand.

Act II: The Accidental Shooting Death of Anton (von) Webern

Mittersill, Austria. 1945. The war is over. Black marketeers strike deals with occupying Allied troops. In a botched sting operation, composer Anton Webern is shot by an American G.I. Years later, an American soldier replays the events of that night over and over in his mind, trying to set the ghosts of that night to rest.

Act III: Mysterious and Marvelous Things

French composer Olivier Messiaen’s mystical Quartet for the End of Time had its premiere in the most unlikely setting—Stalag 8-A, a Nazi prisoner of war camp. As Messiaen’s musicians—French soldiers and fellow prisoners—wait to begin rehearsal, Messiaen falls asleep and goes on a mysterious dream journey through a Dantesque forest filled with mysterious and marvelous things.

Character Breakdown: 5M, 2F

Set/Technical: Set in various locations in Europe, 1917 - 1945.
Running Time: 2 hours


Los Angeles Times "Top Ten Plays of 2002" Ovation Award, Playwriting, 2002

Production History:

Playwrights' Arena & Echo Theatre Company, 2002 Geffen Playhouse, 2004


Los Angeles Times October 26, 2002 THEATER REVIEW 'War Music' weighs destruction, creation A haunting presentation at the Los Angeles Theatre Center ponders upon war and survival--both physical and emotional. By Daryl H. Miller, Times Staff Writer The first moments of "War Music," a new play by Bryan Davidson, are meant to evoke that delicious sense of anticipation before a concert: the swirling cacophony of the instrumentalists' warm-up, followed by the conductor stepping onto the podium, raising his baton and.... Just then, an air-raid siren screams. It's a sobering bit of symbolism, inviting the viewer to think not just about war's disruptions but about all of the lives lost -- all of the music silenced forever. How to endure that? In a haunting presentation by Playwrights' Arena and the Echo Theater Company at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, "War Music" suggests that the truest counterbalance to so much destruction is to go on creating. Like an orchestral work, the play is divided into movements, each inspired by the life of a composer -- Frank Bridge, Anton Webern and Olivier Messiaen -- during World Wars I and II. The first movement charges into a WWI firefight that has pinned two British soldiers to the ground. One is a pianist, Douglas Fox (Jeremy Maxwell), a friend of Bridge's (Morgan Rusler). The battle claims one of Fox's arms, prompting Bridge to write the piano piece "Three Improvisations for the Left Hand," of which the "At Dawn" section, woven into the action, trembles with the promise of renewal. Pondering Webern's accidental death at the hands of an American soldier in post-WWII occupied Austria, the second movement focuses not so much on the composer (Christopher Shaw) as on the GI (John Prosky), whose life is shattered by the event, and an aspiring musician (Maxwell) inspired by Webern. The final movement is inspired by "Quartet for the End of Time," which Messiaen wrote while a prisoner of war in 1941. Awaiting a rehearsal of the piece, three fellow prisoner-musicians (Kevin Crowley, Shaw and Prosky) enact a comic "Waiting for Godot"-like routine while Messiaen (Maxwell) is led through the process of creation by Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows (Nancy Bell). The play's gorgeously surreal visuals, staged by Jessica Kubzansky, reach their fullest expression here. Wandering through an ethereal forest (dangling strips of white fabric in Susan Gratch's set design, painted in dreamy pastels by Jeremy Pivnick's lighting), Messiaen gathers up all of the sorrow from the previous stories, mixes it with such timeless beauty as birdsong, and turns it into an enduring act of redemption. 'War Music' Where: Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles When: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends: Nov. 17 Price: $15-$20 Contact: (213) 473-0640. Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Los Angeles Times, Daryl Miller


Bryan Davidson: Ten-Minute Plays

Death's Messengers

Set in a dank dungeon in 19th-century Germany. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm troll an insane asylum in search of folktales. POOR TOM, an aged inmate, confides in Jacob, telling him an incredible story: that he once saved Death herself, who promised not to come for him until she first sent her messengers. But Death will come to all of us, and soon makes a visit to the old man's cell.

Character Breakdown: 4M, 1F

Running Time: 15 minutes


Nomination, LA Weekly Award, One-Act Playwriting

Production History:

The MET Theatre Ensemble, Los Angeles, 2003


Cause of Death

An adaptation of a story by Zora Neale Hurston. 1917, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haines, a US Marine, does a local girl wrong. But when the girls mother goes to the local bokor (witch doctor), the young American ends up on an autopsy table, where a military coroner and his green assistant spar over truth and magic.

Character Breakdown: 4M, 2F

Running Time: 15 minutes


Staged reading, Black Dahlia Theater, 2004


Three Pennies

Germany, 1805.

Herr and Frau Wolff arrive at the Schindler house for a visit. But soon they suspect that the Schindlers are hiding something. Night after night, Frau Wolff witnesses the ghost of a young boy walking the grounds. Ultimately, she uncovers the secret guilt which keeps the child from finding peace, but at a cost.

Character Breakdown: 4M, 4F

Set/Technical: Use of 4 live microphones.
Running Time: 25 minutes

Production History:

Moving Arts One-Act Festival, 2003


Travelogue with Viewmaster #47128

1972. Don is an American contractor working in Africa. He's returned to the States for the holidays, and is giving an impromptu slide show to old friends. As the slide show (represented by a Viewmaster reel, "Treasures of Africa") progresses, Don must confront the collapse of his marriage and his own place in the animal kingdom.

Character Breakdown: 1M

Set/Technical: Requires a viewmaster projector.
Running Time: 15 minutes

Production History:

Edge of the World Theater Festival, various locations, 2001


Don in Thailand

Don's wife has just left him. To get over her (and to capitalize on his new freedom), he buys a spot on a sex tour of Thailand. But his ex soon intrudes into his idyllic fantasy, leaving Don with a sticky ethical dilemma. An exploration of fantasy and ritual.

Character Breakdown: 1M

Running Time: 15 minutes

Production History:

Produced as part of COCK TALES, M Bar, Elephant Theater, 2002.