Elegy of Lightning by Massimo Monfiletto is a one act play from Periphery 54. The play can be found under the story of the week tab. The Periphery Blog is a blog about writing, narrative, art, and everything in between.
For my final blog post, in the chaos following finals week and graduation, I wanted to share with the blog the first story I ever read from Periphery: Elegy of Lightning by Massimo Monfiletto. It is a one act play about an artist trying to paint his masterpiece, and it is truly incredible. In the ‘Letter from the Editor’ from Periphery 54, Former Editor-in-Chief Jake Lieberton says, “Periphery 54 celebrates the triumph of artists. Each of the pieces selected for this publication engages with craft, challenges conventions, and reveals profound truths about conditions of artistry and humanity” I can’t help but think that Elegy of Lightning at least partially inspired Jake’s description. Not only does the play deal with artistry and its pitfalls in the literal text, but also showcases a lot of literary choices within the piece that work really, really well. I want to take use this final blog post to talk about why I love this piece, and examine what exactly Elegy of Lightning does so well.
The part I love most about this play is Russel. He is such a wonderful mess of ego and talent and delusion. I want to punch him, but I also deeply want to get a beer with him. From the very first bit of dialogue, the audience already knows everything they need to about Russel:
MOLLY!!! I forgive you! Everyone has weaknesses, and you’re not beyond slip-ups! I know you didn’t mean it. You’re just… fragile. Breakable. Come out and I’ll cradle you against my chest and shield you from the rain!
Still no response
Molly, I finished the portrait of you. It’s a masterwork, my best yet. It’s the night you found out Bowie died and you cried and cried and cried. You’re so pretty when you’re sad. So Beautiful and sweet and melancholy, like a kiss in the rain.
You’re dealing with a lot, I know. Let me come in and paint you again, like I did last night. Let me take on your sorrow and turn it into something beautiful. I’ll consume your pain and turn it into the most intense kind of catharsis, spindly and delicate. Let me paint your sadness in bruise tones. I’ll make you beautiful. Come out.
Pause. No response
C’mon, stop being a bitch, it’s freaking dusty out here!
Russel sees himself as some kind of romantic self-consumed artist, as Van Gogh cutting off his ear in anguish. That illusion is a thin veneer though. Push back on him just a little bit and the elevated diction, the romantic imagery falls away and the real Russel reveals himself. He is such a layered character in how he recognizes his own absurdity, but only latently. He has bought into his own illusion because that’s how he wants to see himself: the romantic self-consumed artist. I love how this piece slowly strips away that illusion as more and more information is revealed about him. The first discordant piece of information is how thin that illusion of the romantic artist really is through his first lines, and finally the illusion is shattered with how accurately Molly portrays him in the final monologue. It is a wonderful reversal of how we initially see Russel.
Part of the reason the reversal is able to function so well is that this story doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There is a history to this play, and it is integral to how we understand the events of it. Characters are familiar with Russel’s past antics, and through those actions we get a better sense of both the characters that bring the past events up, and of Russel himself. The most history we get is from Molly when she talks about how she was seduced by Russel’s illusion. Her monologue perfectly exemplifies how to present exposition in an effective way. Through her monologue, her character is deeply informed, and more context is given about Russel, as well as a viewer actually getting direct information. Her monologue works on a lot of levels as well as finally being an accurate description of Russel in reality versus how he sees himself. The history of the play allows characters to have depth, and the telling of that information works hard to characterize, recontextualize events, as well as simply give exposition.
I started this blog to showcase that celebration of artistic triumph. More than what I had to say, I wanted to use the Periphery Blog show what other artists, poets, and authors had already said. I wanted to use this blog to do what Periphery does so well: gives artists and authors a platform to speak. It has truly been a pleasure wandering through old editions of the journal, and having a platform to talk about what makes them tick. With the closing of my time here at the Periphery Blog, however, a new chapter begins. I am absolutely thrilled that the talented and prophetic Hagan Maurer will be taking over. Hagan writes poetry, flash fiction, short stories, songs, and damn near everything in between. From that versatility, the blog will be different, the blog will be new, and I absolutely can’t wait to see where he takes it.