It’s a good Friday! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)
Why? Because The Fourth Orange (one act edition) is officially available in paperback and eBook today just about everywhere books are sold. It’s a funny family friendly one act fairy tale with majority female roles and a large ensemble cast so you can get absolutely everyone involved. It’s great for schools, theatre festivals and drama competitions and I can’t wait for you to check it out!
To celebrate the release of this play, I want to share some fun behind the scenes facts that went into the making of this mash-up sequel / prequel / adaptation. Think of it as a digital post-show talkback but nobody has to worry about leaving early to get back in time for the baby sitter!
I’m going to start with the things that usually come up at real talkbacks for this show but, if you have another question, don’t hesitate to post it in the comments to keep the discussion going!
Is The Fourth Orange a real fairy tale?
The Fourth Orange is an adaptation of The Merchant. The Merchant is a real fairy tale in the sense that it was written in Giambattista Basile’s The Tale of Tales (1634-1636) which is a classic collection of Italian fairy tales.
But The Merchant is not The Fourth Orange. The original story has zero oranges in it. In fact, even the fairy tale from the same collection that The Love of Three Oranges is allegedly based on* doesn’t even have oranges in it. The Three Citrons is about lemons.
I never quite know how to answer this question. What makes a real fairy tale? If a story has all the elements of a fairy tale, doesn’t that make it one no matter when it was written or who wrote it?
What I think people want to ask when they ask this is: did I make this story up? And the answer to that is, well, sort of? At least, I’m the first person to tell this story just like this and to call it The Fourth Orange.
There were moments when I was writing this play when it really felt like fan fiction of my other plays because it was this huge mash-up of several different worlds, some of which I had already made my own in other adaptations. But when you consider that this is really an adapted mash-up of several things that were themselves adapted mash-ups, it’s hard to say it’s an entirely original work.
*=Carlo Gozzi’s The Love of Three Oranges is actually a gender flipped mash-up of several of the tales from Giambattista Basile’s The Tale of Tales including the frame story, but that’s another blog post.
It’s both a prequel and a sequel to Carlo Gozzi’s The Love of Three Oranges.
The Fourth Orange begins before Creonta turns Princess Ninetta and her sisters into oranges and continues through their transformation and rescue (there’s a moment in this play that comes directly from The Love of Three Oranges and, yes, I tried to keep the dialog the same for consistency) and ends up years past where TLOTO ends. This makes it both a prequel and a sequel to that story.
It’s also a prequel to The Green Bird. Sort of.
In Carlo Gozzi’s original version of The Green Bird, Truffaldino is married to former villain Smeradina who is “rehabilitated” in a super racist way. (And everyone always asks me to tell them exactly what the racist thing was and I’m always like, I refuse, you all have access to Google.)
I knew I absolutely wasn’t doing any of that racist nonsense in my version. Instead, in my adaptation, Smeraldina is still a villain (and now promoted to main villain just like she always wanted in TLOTO) and Truffaldino is married to Franceschina, a commedia character that was not originally in Gozzi’s The Green Bird at all but was a traditional love interest for Truffaldino in classic commedia dell’arte.
So while Franceschina wasn’t a new character in a commedia / historical sense, she was a new character to the world of my plays and I wanted the chance to introduce her. Truff and Franny’s relationship in The Green Bird is also not great and the writer in me really wanted to understand how they got to that point. How did they meet? How did the fall in love?
The Fourth Orange is the story of how they met. That makes it a prequel to my adaptation of The Green Bird.
It pairs nicely with either (or both!) The Love of Three Oranges or The Green Bird when done back to back.
Because the one-act versions of TLOTO and TGB both run around half an hour, schools and other groups often perform them back to back because they share characters, costumes and sets and it makes life easier for everyone. The Fourth Orange can also pair with either play (or both if you want a longer evening) for even more flexibility.
How The Merchant met the oranges.
I actually started writing The Fourth Orange well before I was even thinking about adapting The Green Bird (I talk more about how I ended up adapting TGB anyway here) but I had a very fixed idea of what I wanted it to be.
I knew that I wanted it to be…
- the story of how Truffaldino and Franceschina met where Franceschina was an overlooked fourth orange
- more about Creonta and why she turned the princesses into oranges in the first place
- about what a story wants vs what the characters want
- a reluctantly hero / refusing the call of adventure
- a chance to reference a lot of little random bits of The Tale of Tales that I liked from tales I wasn’t planning on adapting
I know a lot of what I wanted to include in it.
I knew how I wanted to start it.
I know how I wanted to end it.
Problem was, I had no idea what exactly was going to happen in the middle.
Lots of writers might worry about that but I decided to trust the source material to provide. As I did a detailed read through of The Tale of Tales, I kept looking for a tale that had most of the elements I needed, one that I could adapt into the story I already knew I wanted to tell.
A when I found The Merchant, a story about a reluctant hero who keeps accidentally saving the day and refusing the rewards, I knew I had my story. The rest is history!
The Fourth Orange is an adaptation of only first half of The Merchant.
In the original tale, the hero (male), goes on the lam after accidentally killing his best friend, the prince. On the way he meets the grieving ghosts and refuses their treasure, rescues the fairy princess from bandits and refuses her offers, and then defeats the dragon with the seven heads (that it can reattach with an herb). Then, as in The Fourth Orange, he walks away from the reward and a random peasant claims it.
While my adaptation ends there, the original has the hero change his mind and come back later to reveal himself to be the one who killed the dragon (by revealing the beasts’ tongues he cut off). He weds Princess Menechella but then, shortly thereafter, is seduced by the Sexiest Lady Ever (I gender flipped pretty much everyone in my version) and bound by her magical hair.
Then his random twin brother shows up, pretends to be him for a while and then rescues his bro from the magic hair by having his magic dog eat the sexy lady whole. (And, yes, most of this is mentioned in The Fourth Orange just in a different place in the story and without the twin brother.)
Once rescued, the original hero cuts off his own brother’s head because he thinks he slept with his wife while he was pretending to be him. (Even though our hero himself just literally cheated on his wife with the sexy lady but whatever, double standards guy.)
Once he realizes that his brother did not actually sleep with his wife, he is able to undo that murder by reattaching bro’s head using the same herbs the dragon used to reattach its heads earlier and everyone lives as happily ever after as anyone does in these weird morally ambiguous stories.
Needless to say, I thought all the presumed adultery and sibling murder could go from the story without anyone missing it too much.
Carlo Gozzi’s The Blue Monster is based in part on The Merchant (specifically the dragon and head reattaching herbs bit).
I was procrastinating from working on something I was supposed to be writing and I had a passing whimsy of a commedia mash-up play I’m not going to tell you much about right now because I am still writing it. But part of that idea involved finding a commedia play to use as a skeleton to graft this adaptation to and I became fixated on the idea of using one of Carlo Gozzi’s lesser known plays, The Blue Monster.
I tracked down a copy (which was ridiculously expensive?) and read the play only to discover… the climax of the play is literally the exact same dragon battle scene from The Merchant I had already just written in The Fourth Orange.
I had wasted all that time and money chasing down a play… I had basically already adapted. It was so sad it was kind of funny.
I took it as a sign from the universe that I needed to get back to that thing I was originally working on and stop chasing plot bunnies.
This play contains one of my favorite stage directions I have ever written.
When Princess Menechella suggests feeding the dragon one of the random bystanders, the stage directions read:
“Bystanders stand by harder.”
It’s a sentence that doesn’t make any sense taken literally but actors always know exactly what to do when they hit it. And that warms my little playwright heart!
(I’m almost as proud of that one as I am “Move a log. Go nuts.” from TLOTO.)
Only one line survived intact from my very first draft to the final one.
I write really rough drafts and very little of what I write in the first draft usually makes it to the final one. But this exchange was there from the very first draft:
MENECHELLA: What kind of half rate dragon do you think my father would feed me to?
(Though the original version of the line had the word “crappy” before half, something I had to remove for the school markets.)
The 2016 elections fundamentally changed the theme of this play.
I already wrote about this at length but the short answer is I was originally writing about the story forcing someone to be a hero against their will and I ultimately wrote about how anyone can decide to be a hero just by trying to do the right thing. This meant the story changed radically in that final revision pass but I think it’s ultimately a much better play for it.
The funniest part was the result of pure laziness on my part.
During the final revision pass, I was obsessed with trying to add some kind of pithy line that summed up the point I was trying to make by having Franny accidentally delivery her sausages by giving up on delivering them. And I spend many frustrating days of writing and rewriting trying to get it just right and I finally just got completely fed up and wrote the following.
You know, those sausages were for her in the first place. I completed my delivery after all.
Wow. Just goes to show… something, probably.
Every time I see a production of The Fourth Orange, that exchange always gets one of the biggest laughs.
Which just goes to show… something, probably.