Page 45 Review by Stephen
A comedic study in social inadequacy and sexual anxiety, THE PLAYWRIGHT depicts the imaginary sex life of a celibate man, libidinous beyond his middle-aged years.
"The playwright lodges in Uncle Ernie's spare room. Ernie's real family have long since passed away. And so the playwright feels good that Ernie is no longer alone.
"It was his own mother's birthday last week, but he didn't send her a card. His 1978 award-winning screenplay, 'The Secret' was largely based upon his older, retarded brother. And the playwright hasn't been welcome since it aired. The playwright regrets his loss of family. But he never wastes good material. Never ever."
It's such a craftily conceived piece, colourfully illustrated by Eddie Campbell with a lot of lateral thinking. For the unusual format of panels arranged along a single tier draws one's attention to each component part, which doesn't necessarily reflect what's been written, but the thoughts behind the writer. The writer in this case being the plump-lipped playwright himself, a man who yearns for love and to start a family, but is too embarrassed to do much more about it than fantasise.
It's a record of his daily observations; a "relentless mental narration" in the third person singular that has left him isolated from the world around him, but it's also the conjectures of a creative mind, embellishing the world to form a fanciful narrative with the playwright himself at its self-obsessed centre. It's what he's been doing his entire career: mining his meagre, solitary experiences for plays like 'Tea For One' instead of actually living his life to any of its potential. He is, if you like, a tea bag left too long in tepid water, stewing in its own juices. It's no wonder he wrote 'Rainy Like Sunday Morning'.
Effortlessly funny, the book remains poignant for the playwright is certainly sincere. He looks after his uncle, and then his brother. He may project more onto the attentions of the nurse whom he employs to look after his brother than is actually there, but is he wrong to live in hope? Is he wrong, full stop? Then there's the opening sequence on the bus as the playwright sizes up his female fellow passengers lustfully, but White then whips out two killer sentences which make you rethink the playwright's priorities:
"The playwright feels a mild discomfort as the bus empties.
"And the number of available life partners decreases."
Campbell's second panel there depicts a maternal ward adorned with fresh roses, in which the playwright is sat alongside a bed, gazing with soft adoration at his newborn child while tenderly holding its unseen mother's hand.
As the monologue meanders from present to past then back again (it is, tellingly, a monologue with no dialogue at all), we learn more of the childhood traumas compounded by later, last-minute terrors that have left the playwright so painfully repressed until by chance he watches a television documentary about clever boys from poor backgrounds - with a certain degree of self-interest - and he experiences a most unexpected epiphany. The question is, will the playwright actually do something about it, or simply use it for his next award-winning play? After all, "The playwright never wastes good material". Never, ever.
Scenes of a sexual nature etc.. Some readers may discover fresh tips for manual relief in the novel practice of "greeting the stranger". There's also evidence to suggest that White and Campbell could produce a significantly lucrative side-line in saucy seaside postcards.