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I’m WWith Stupid – August 21, 2015

by Todd Hartley

Todd Hartley-smallI hope this all comes out OK, because I’m writing it in the dark in the back of the van in which I’m currently imprisoned. I want to tell the truth about my play while I still have time. God knows what these monsters plan to do with me when my usefulness to them has run out.

Some of you may remember that last week I wrote about becoming a first-time playwright. That part was true. But the play you will see this weekend and next weekend on the grounds of the former Aspen Art Museum is not the play I wrote.

The play I wrote, “Dexter Finkerwald and the Unbitten Fingernail,” was a serious investigation into taboo subjects such as incest, rape, murder and the horrible impact one generation’s crimes can have on following generations. It was dark, downbeat and, dare I say it, tragic. But something happened on the way to the forum.

Here’s what happened: I got kidnapped and was forced to rewrite the play at gunpoint. If my captors are ever brought to justice and made to reckon for their crimes, I’m sure they will deny everything, but don’t believe them. This is all true.

I first wrote “Dexter Finkerwald and the Unbitten Fingernail” a couple of years ago, and had been seeking a theater company with the experience and gravitas to do it justice. I was in talks with a group who said they wanted to do an off-Broadway run of about 100 performances and they’d just emailed me the contract. As I went to print it out and sign it, however, a group of masked individuals burst into my office and tried to grab me.

I took out three of them with a couple of roundhouse throat kicks and a Vulcan death grip, but then one of the intruders shot me in the face with elephant mace, which is the stuff they use to subdue rhinos, and I couldn’t see. I still managed to take out another intruder with a figure-four leg lock, but the last one pistol-whipped me and knocked me out.

When I came to, I was tied to a chair in a dark room with one bright light shining right in my face. All I could make out of what I was facing was a desk with a creaky, slowly rotating fan and a shadowy figure smoking a cigarette. He told me in no uncertain terms that either I would rewrite my play as a Greek comedy or he would hurt my family.

So for the past month, before they moved me into the van, I was chained naked in a cell with nothing but a chair, a desk and my computer. Every day, I would write while a masked person pointed a gun at my head. Every night, just as I was falling to sleep, five masked people would burst into the cell and beat me.

I don’t know who they are, but their voices sound suspiciously like those of the five actors you will see onstage bastardizing my work. I know, because a few times they gagged me, duct-taped me to a wheelchair and rolled me into their rehearsal space so I could watch them turn my masterpiece into a farce. It was horrible. I felt like I was in “A Clockwork Orange.”

I did my best to keep the comedy of the rewritten play as highbrow as possible to salvage at least a shred of dignity, but during the rehearsals the cretins would come up with juvenile puns and potty jokes and use them rather than the carefully crafted words I’d literally slaved over.

Their juvenile finished product is now nothing but gags and sexual innuendos. I feel like I need a shower after each time I see it, but the best they’ll do is blast me with a fire hose while I cower naked in the corner.

The only time they let me wear clothes is when they trot me out onto the stage for my small, coerced role in the play. So if you see me up there, know that I’m only going along with them because they threatened to kill my son if I didn’t. That’s the only reason I won’t jump off the stage and make a break for it.

But you can help. Go to the play en masse tonight (it starts at 5:30). When it’s over, everyone rush the stage and subdue the actors. If enough of you rush at them at once, it’ll work. They can’t possibly shoot all of you.

Todd Hartley typed this with his toes because his hands are tied behind his back.

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08 2015

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