SAMPLE CHARACTER STUDY
This was a character-based exercise in Deborah Stein's playwrighting class at Yale. The prompt was to introduce a character by having them teach a lesson in something seemingly random, but that would reveal who they are. Here, Leo Bossman teaches a cooking lesson.
LEO BOSSMAN sits in Philippe Starck’s Louis ghost chair. His legs are crossed, revealing two marigold, polka-dotted socks, held in controlled suspension. He is what they call “a New York dandy”. He smells of the old world: a mixture of cigar smoke, potato latkas, and fresh paint.
He is a small, old man with rounded tortoise-shell glasses and practically no hair. From his manner of sitting, it is clear he thinks he is a much larger and much younger man, with quite a lot of hair. He sustains our gaze and as we continue looking, he seems to change. As the seconds tick by, it becomes less and less clear whether it is our initial image or his own self-image that is the real LEO BOSSMAN.
LEO BOSSMAN waits impatiently. After not very much time at all:
LEO BOSSMAN: What’s going on? This is ridiculous.
LEO BOSSMAN: Really—what kind of a ship do you people run here? I’m starting NOW and if you aren’t ready, I’m leaving, and let me tell you—it’s not my neck on the line when Paul asks why—
LEO BOSSMAN: Frankly, I am AMAZED you all have managed to keep your jobs.
He crosses his legs the other way. A large golden pinkie ring raps annoyingly on the plastic. It crescendos as he taps:
LEO BOSSMAN: I’m beginning NOW!
Sounds of frantic scuffling.
LEO BOSSMAN: Ladies and Gentlemen, as I’m sure you all know, this—
He gestures to an invisible void; a counter with assorted vegetables, cookware, and an open cookbook smoothly and surreptitiously wheels in from stage right to fill where he has gestured.
LEO BOSSMAN: —is NOT my professional expertise. I'm doing this as a favor to a friend.
He casts a dirty look in the direction where the vegetables came from and continues crisply:
LEO BOSSMAN: I do not usually consent to appearing on these kinds of feminine programs, but in this, EXCEPTIONAL circumstance— here I am.
His tone becomes jocular.
LEO BOSSMAN: So! INGREDIENTS! The fun-da-men-tal building blocks of any recipe. Know them! Learn them. Great cooks understand and respect the INTEGRITY of the ingredients at hand. A pepper—he picks one up—for example, is not just a pepper.
LEO BOSSMAN: Smell it.
He smells it, eyes locked on the invisible camera in the audience. He is doing his mock James Bond, a favorite martini-hour pass-time.
LEO BOSSMAN: Sweet. A little spicy. Touch it!
He strokes it with one finger.
LEO BOSSMAN: It’s firm, with a smooth exterior…. He gives a cheeky grin at someone in the wings and with that, gives up his act. His face becomes businesslike and steely and he starts talking, talking fast. As his speech hits a mile a minute, he betrays a Brooklyn accent.
LEO BOSSMAN: Listen, there are plenty of good cooks out there. Every bo-zo in town thinks they’re a good cook. To a good cook, this pepper is something he sees in a grocery store. Its plastic-wrapped, nice and pretty, maybe its got a green and a yellow friend in the same packaging. He puts it in his grocery cart, goes home to his wife, carelessly finds a paella recipe some a teenager in Iowa has put on the internet, chops up the pepper in slipshod fashion and cooks a meal. They eat the food. His wife seems happy. Later that night she goes out and has an affair with his best friend. WHY? Because the best friend is deliberate. He does his research. He makes careful and calculated decisions. He reads the recipe attentively and understands the principles behind it. The fun-da-men-tal building blocks of any recipe. That best friend is a GREAT cook. He goes to the maaaaaaaaaaaarket (says this as if he were announcing someone to a Beaux-Arts Ball, with gestures that imply the same), not some wholesale-chain-mediocre-average-joe’s grocery store where the peppers have spent several hours on a plane from Ecuador, several hours before that in some loading truck, and God knows how long in contractors’ parking lots, processing plants, or any of the other moronic systems mankind has put in place to “modernize” the way a pepper gets from the ground to our mouths. Because let’s face it, that good cook is lazy. His attitude is a slippery slope that leads from poorly-chosen pepper to being unfulfilling to his wife in the marital bed. Of COURSE she had a bloody affair!
He pauses. Gaze dead-on again.
LEO BOSSMAN: Do you understand what I’m saying? It is not enough to be a good cook. I am here to teach you how to be a GREAT cook. If you’re satisfied with being a good cook, then you might as well turn this off right now.
LEO BOSSMAN: There is a reason behind every recipe. Paella has history, it has tradition. The kind of rice is essential. The 15th century moors did not introduce SUSHI rice to Spain, so you shouldn’t use it. The 18th century Valencians who used paelleras to cook in the open air developed a technique.There is a reason you pour all the liquid in one go, instead of ladling it bit by bit, like you would with a risotto. There is a reason why saffron—REAL saffron—expensive though it is, is an absolute a NECESSITY to make this dish. Paella has taken generations to develop. You have to respect that. It is OUR duty to learn from those masters that came before us.
He gets up from his chair, pulls out the cookbook that lies open on the wheely table and holds the recipe-page up to the camera.
LEO BOSSMAN: So? You want to be a great cook? Respect the principles. Understand your ingredients. Read the recipe. It’s all there. I know people don’t like reading anymore but the younger generation needs to stop being so coddled. This non-reading business is going to lead our society down the drainpipe. You might as well be walking brain-dead. READ IT.
He jabs the recipe, put down the cookbook with a thud.
LEO BOSSMAN: I’m done! Call Paul and tell him that’s all he gets!
He shouts as walks off stage. He grabs the pepper on the way out and takes a bite out of it, like one would an apple.