“Despicable, Malicious, and Forgivable Characters”

An Artist Biography of Daniel Guyton
by Kat Reynolds (Savannah College of Art & Design)

Daniel Guyton has been commended for his great writing skills since childhood. First, by his parents, who often joked that he might not be good at anything else. Then by his high school, which published his writings in a literary magazine! Last, by his college, the University of Georgia, where he received the title of “Amazing Student” in 2004. Who knew such a cute, talented, little writer would grow up to produce plays dissecting homophobia, abortion, religion, and even necrophilia!? Guyton, a two-time winner of The Kennedy Center/ACTF Short Play Competition, is a self-titled satirist whose plays reflect Americans’ idiosyncrasies so well, that the audience cringes. He takes risks in calling people out for their faults, and often gruesome, guilty pleasures. Even with this finger pointing formula, he cleverly creates characters the audience sympathizes with, and will ultimately forgive.

This well accomplished playwright has been published by lulu.com, The Dramatic Publishing Company, Original Works Publishing, Desert Road Publishing, and more than a few anthologies of best one-act play volumes. His plays have been produced in California, Canada, Florida, Indiana, Oregon, Georgia, New York City, and Iceland! As an artist with such unconventional play topics, Guyton has earned a large following in the American playwriting community. Perhaps the theatre going population no longer appreciates light hearted topics as much as Broadway likes to think!

As a child, Guyton had a speech impediment, and through the art of writing, voiced his ideas with confidence. He began to find a safe sounding board in the voice of other characters, and continued writing throughout his high school and college career. He was awarded often for great writing skills, so he continued crafting this voice through the written word and ultimately in college, he discovered acting. Finally in his junior year of college, he and a friend Spencer Temkin “sat around in a bar and recorded some of our dialogue.” They added a few characters, and Got Change for Two? was born. This is not Guyton’s first brainchild, Macbreath is a short play he created in high school however, Got Change for Two? is his first play to be produced. He says, “The audience reaction fueled more ideas from then on."

Guyton has written nearly two dozen plays since then, each one tackling a risqué topic and sculpting forgivable characters in unforgettable situations. Some of his most notable scripts are I’m Not Gay!, a play that explores homophobic prejudice, and Where’s Julie?, a script that follows a teenager’s decision to abort her baby… or not. I’m Not Gay! had a brief and successful run in Reykjavic, Iceland, where an audience member almost choked to death on opening night. Whether this response had been caused by laughter, or “bile in the back of her throat”, as some critics have suggested, we will never know. His plays, as well as poems, stir emotions that are ultimately met with love-it or hate-it reviews. Guyton’s scripts are currently being produced and published in America, and if they are reviewed well, theatres tend to run his shows over and over. But on the other hand, like the case of South Park, you either get it or you don’t.

This playwright has certainly had a successful career in only thirty years, so where do his ideas come from? One may think that growing up in Long Island, NY may not lend a young boy’s mind to such disgusting topics as murder, rape, and adultery. Perhaps small suburban towns are not as sheltering as television leads us to believe.

Guyton struggled with the loss of his father at a young age, hearing whispers of murder, covered-up death details, and lots of “I’m sorry, we don’t have answers for you right now” on behalf of the American Air Force. Our budding playwright never heard the truth until his teenage years, and was convinced suicide was the culprit. Luckily, Guyton was able to use his writing skills as an outlet for confusion and frustration.

As his writing style matured, play themes emerged. The most consistent theme in his scripts is the topic that investigates characters’ disgusting personal flaws, which are often overlooked as the audience sympathizes with characters’ situations. A perfect example of this theme is presented in Milo and Barbara, when the audience lets Milo off the hook for leaving his wife for an entire month. They allow him this atrocity after his wife Barbara admits to sleeping with her brother-in-law to help cope with her husband’s absence. The abuser becomes the victim! Guyton often compiles stories to showcase humans worst characteristics, and display them in such a way, that these people are forgiven for their wrongdoings. He has mentioned that he enjoys watching his audiences “laugh until it hurts, and then when they realize it hurts, laugh some more.” With this theme in mind, I wonder how he would write a play about Hitler’s childhood… I wonder.

Guyton’s style is popular and timely in a society where Family Guy and South Park are mainstream evening entertainment for many Americans. As a child of the eighties, perhaps The Simpsons dark humor was a great influence on him. Whatever the influence, Guyton is gaining supportive audiences throughout the country as they eat up his plays. A photo on his website even shows Robin Williams attending an evening of short plays, in which Guyton’s was showcased!

Yes, his audiences generally enjoy his sick humor and satire of peoples foibles, but how are his scripts affecting American culture? Every now and again governments, parents, and the public at large need to check themselves. Are they making good choices regarding the citizens, children, and neighborhoods? Governments can write laws to create order, teachers can steer families towards better decisions, and HOA’s can put restrictions on community shenanigans. Guyton challenges his audiences to check themselves, and take responsibility for their actions, whether it is adultery, rape, or religious acceptance. Audiences will hopefully walk out of the theater intending NEVER to behave the way “that character did.” So, Guyton is really doing us a favor by poking fun at ridiculous behaviors. He is teaching us morals. To learn more about Dan’s parodies and parables, please visit www. danguyton.com. Happy reading and we’ll see you at the theatre!

Where's Julie? An Uncomfortably Hysterical Play

by Kat Reynolds (Savannah College of Art & Design)

Where’s Julie?, a play written by Kennedy Center short-play award winner Daniel Guyton, takes audiences on a journey through the lives and living room of an exceptionally generic American family. Correction: an American family who is exceptionally crazy! If you enjoy the humor of South Park or Family Guy, you are sure to enjoy Guyton’s dark comedies, of which this play is one of the best. The script follows the young character Julie in her quest to decide whether to keep or abort her unborn baby. She ultimately finds her answer with guidance from a crew of characters such as the loveably racist Mom, atheist sister Allison, and stoner boyfriend Hector. Each character fulfills their own needs as they share moments of clarity with the audience. Throughout the play, Guyton poignantly introduces two more unforgettable roles through The Running Crew. These two Dick Van Dyke-esque comedians bring the audience back to reality and fill in gaps on behalf of a missing intermission and curtain call. All of these characters highlight two themes which Guyton’s plays discuss: despicably loveable characters, and a matriarch’s struggle to keep order. If you are an audience member who enjoys American family parodies, I suggest you look up Guyton’s next performance of Where’s Julie? and go see it!

The play’s script opens with a picture perfect set of a 1950’s household, with one exception. A Nintendo set. This is the play’s central prop, and represents the broken family unit. As a tertiary plotline, the audience follows the game set and its main player, Jeffrey, on a quest to fix the machine. Next, Guyton introduces the central family parental units appropriately named Mom and Dad. These two present obstacles as Mom desperately tries to earn love and attention from her husband, while Dad desperately tries to fill his various dinner plates. As the parental figures attempt to create order in their own home, two new characters are introduced across town in Allison’s apartment.

Julie and Allison are sisters who have left Mom and Dad’s nest in search of Band-Aids for their own lives: one needs a job and the other a pregnancy test. Allison presents her symbolic Nintendo as her failure to get a grip on life because Julie is “in the way.” Julie meanwhile is creating a butterfly effect in each household as the readers see how her decisions affect everyone around her. This script culminates with her most crucial decision: SEX. In Allison’s absence (cue melodramatic music), Hector takes the scene as Julie’s clueless, stoner boyfriend. Within a conversation, Julie unveils to Hector that he is, in fact, the father of her unborn child. How else can he appropriately respond, but lighting up a fat joint?

With no support from her sister or boyfriend, Julie’s last resort is God, or something close to it. Margaret is a religion-loving, Jesus-praying sixteen year old who puts God “on hold” to help Julie through her problem. Another character blends into the background, but must not go unmentioned. Jeffrey is Julie’s Autistic brother, and has been reviewed previously as a representation of Jesus. He is a character that challenges the family to make their own decisions by uttering the word NINTENDO as creatively as Bill and Ted say “DUDE!” Who knew one mid-90’s video game could present so much compassion, frustration, and final advice when creatively placed in dialogue?

As mentioned before, the play introduces two characters as comic relief. The Running Crew’s conversations kindly, but consistently remind the audience that this is JUST a play, and the characters are JUST actors, and not representations of actual people. I begin to wonder whether Guyton created The Running Crew to get some laughs, take the heat off of himself, or to really make a point that actors are “…actors! They don’t have…feelings….or anything.” I have concluded, after much time spent dissecting the script, that The Running Crew are ultimately a set up for the final scene. This is the scene which literally brings the family unit into the audience, and forces the patrons to accept the dysfunctional clan as they are and will always be – exceptionally crazy!

Guyton has a great talent in finding humans’ most despicable traits and creating loveable characters who embody those behaviors in their daily routine. For example, in his play I’m Not Gay!, the character Gary actually murders his wife so she will not gab to their neighbors that Gary is, in fact, gay. The audience allows him this relief because we feel sympathy for his need to be what he considers normal. Similar characters appear in Where’s Julie? when Mom blurts out oblivious racist generalizations, and when Dad beats his son for being a “retard.” In this script the audience cuts Dad a break because, as viewers, we suppose that Jeffrey is actually an all-knowing Jesus figure, and Dad is far less mentally capable and doesn’t know any better. We forgive Mom because, what can we say except “bless her little heart."

Hector provides another example of a despicable character as he represents a 23 year old that not only sleeps with a 15 year old, but also sells, steals, and smokes drugs! I cut him a break because he eventually decides to keep his day job to support his budding family, and he appears to sincerely love Julie. Would this attitude sway a judge in court? No! But somehow, Guyton convinces his audience to care for these characters who are innately immoral. Each role in the play presents a conflicting evil choice and relationship of acceptance with the audience… except Jeffrey. He materializes moral support and a quiet ear for many characters. In fact, many scenes actually sound like a prayer in which Jeffrey just listens. This coincidence, if it is that, may further substantiate his embodiment of a Christ figure.

Another interesting concept Guyton represents in his plays, and particularly this one, is a strained relationship with the matriarch and her concept of order. In Guyton’s dramatic play Attic, Mother tries to maintain control with drugs, whereas, in this piece Mom attempts maintenance with advice, cereal, and a clean house. Does Mom embody all that a 1950’s society has put on her – cleanliness, caretaker, and non-judgmental confidant? Yes, but in the end, this picture of happiness falls apart as she runs away with an audience member to have an affair in the lobby!

Guyton often shares with the audience an inch of his vision, and allows us to run a mile with it. This poor family is a delicious smorgasbord of immoralities and power struggles, and Guyton allows us to taste the play’s themes and then empty the serving dishes, just like Dad’s character, with lobby discussions after the show. However, like the despicably loveable characters, at the end of the day, I am willing to let this criticism slide. After all, Guyton may just be presenting a mirror to nature. That large compact forces the audience to look at our own behaviors and make decisions best suited to ourselves. What a smart way to passively scold the public for their own behaviors!

I will say that I have both seen the play and read the script for Where’s Julie?, so I have strong opinions of what works on stage versus just reading the play. Both mediums are thought provoking, and laugh-out-loud parodies of what we see in the daily American household. Holding a script in hand allows readers to understand stage directions from the playwright’s perspective, and not from a director’s interpretation. With that in mind, I would highly suggest reading the play first if you enjoy lighthearted jokes at the expense of human idiosyncrasies, and then viewing Guyton’s shows to watch hilarity ensue. To learn more about the author or purchase his scripts, please view his web page at www.danguyton.com.

Nomination for University of Georgia's 40 Under 40

by Kat Reynolds (Savannah College of Art & Design)

Daniel Guyton is an inspiration as a budding American playwright. His pieces show a worldly vision many current scripts lack. They challenge audiences intellectually, ethically, and, well... humorously. As a theatre director and playwright myself, his pieces affect me to push my writing to levels where I am learning and creating simultaneously. I continuously learn theatrical skills from Daniel as one of his past cast members, I honor his criticism from his position as my thesis committee member, and look up to his work ethic as a business colleague. I highly recommend Daniel as a "40 Under 40" as he makes an artistic impact wherever he goes. As far as achievements are concerned, I am aware that Daniel has published numerous plays, holds a Kennedy Center award for his scripts, and has been produced on an national and international level. These are incredible accomplishments for someone under 40 years of age!

What can I say about Daniel's wisdom, his sense of justice, and moderation? He is a constant support for my creative work at the Savannah College of Art and Design as he is on my thesis committee for my Masters in Arts Administrtion. Attending each performance I direct and perform in as well as providing artistic feedback for my own stage plays provides me a stellar colleague from who I receive constant wisdom. Daniel is a fair man, a patient man, and a team player. In each endeavor we have embarked upon for the past eight years, Dan has been kind, patient, and fair in his guidance, suggestions, and friendships. Relating anyone to a moderate character trait is difficult. In a world in which we all often work too hard, love too much, and move too fast, Dan is steadfast in his goals to become a leading American director and playwright. Without his knowledge, patience, and balanced work ethic, he would not be where he is today - a great UGA alumni success story!

Kat Reynolds

Nomination for University of Georgia's 40 Under 40

by Jenifer Margaret Kelly (University of Georgia)

American theologian and activist Harold Thurman once said - “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

Dan Guyton, 2004 MFA in Dramatic Writing, does this with his life. He does what makes him come alive and it inspires all those around him. From his current job helping American Veterans transition back to living their dreams after serving active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to the plays he writes. Among his many awards, he is a two time winner of the Kennedy Center playwriting award, the second one during his tenure at the University. Some people change the world with great inventions or foundations, Dan changes the world and inspires others through who he is a person and his gift as a storyteller and playwright. He addresses social issues in his playwriting that most people look at and then simply look away. Through humor and sensitivity he has given voices to the voiceless in our society. His unique and compelling style make us not be able to look away from our communal woes such as teen pregnancy, racism, mental health problems, homophobia and more. He does this with humor and grace and ultimately compassion. He has a lot to say to the world and he is just beginning.

Jenifer Margaret Kelly, MFA, UGA 2003