Thursday, January 9, 2014

let's not spoil it

This evening I read a short play my daughter Hayley’s reading for class—Sure Thing by David Ives. It’s about “Bill and Betty, both in their late twenties” who meet in a cafe. As simple as that sounds, it immediately made me think of Groundhog Day because, well, when the conversation between these two turns sour, a bell rings and the conversation resets back a bit. It plays a bit like the “date night” sequence in Groundhog Day (even more like the original trailer‘s version of the “date night” with the alarm buzzer). For example, the first time, after Bill asks Betty, “Is this chair taken?” she tells him it is. Bell rings and Bill’s back to asking if the seat is taken. Another time, Bill’s been explaining how much he loves Faulkner and Betty tells him she thinks The Sound and the Fury (which she’s reading) is boring. Bell rings and Bill’s asking her what book she’s reading again.

Mel Gussow at The New York Times describes the play:

In this delightful little one-act..., the man... uses every possible approach and the woman... offers every possible response. After each exchange, an offstage buzzer sounds and the characters stop and start again, editing and revising as they speak. As the comedy proceeds, the conversation becomes shaggier while always retaining a base not too far off center from reality.

It occurs to me that Sure Thing is actually what the “date night” sequence would be like if Rita were Phil Connoring Phil at the same time he was Phil Connoring her.

(By the way, you can watch a film adaptation and numerous stage versions on YouTube.)

So I’m reading the play and I notice that Bill’s “sort of” girlfriend is named Stephanie. Phil Connors’ sort of girlfriend—the one who curses him into the time loop in Ramis’ second revision—is also named Stephanie. I’m thinking that whoever wrote this play is a fan of Groundhog Day. I keep reading and near the end Bill is talking about labels and he says:

Labels are not important, exactly. Like me, for example. I mean, what does it matter if I had a two-point at—(Bell.)—three-point at—(Bell.)—four-point at college, or if I did come from Pittsburgh—(Bell.)—Cleveland—(Bell.)—Westchester County?

Note the details. Bill is from Pittsburgh, where Phil Connors lives and works, then from Cleveland, where Phil Connors grew up. I figure this as confirming some homage to Groundhog Day. And, I know I want to write about the play in today’s entry. But, then I look up the play online and... well... INSERT TITLE.

An interview with Ives in Playbill makes the connection between Sure Thing and Groundhog Day. Here’s that bit, with some leadup:

The other thing [from that show that stayed with me all these years] was Sure Thing. How many times has that happened? You’re on a date, and you say the wrong thing, and you want a retake. In your play, a bell rings and the scene starts again. It’s a totally inspired idea. I don’t know why someone didn’t do that before. It was always there. You just picked it up and ran with it.

There I was, the first ever.

Skip down a bit and...

Did you ever see “Groundhog Day,” the Bill Murray comedy where he’s a TV weatherman caught in a time loop and keeps repeating the same day again and again?

Sure. It came out after Sure Thing.

And I check and sure enough it was first produced in 1988. The Playbill article tricked me at first because it’s a 2013 piece celebrating twenty years since Ives’ All in the Timing show of one-acts. But, Sure Thing had already been around for five years by the time it was grouped with the others.

So, then I wonder, did Rubin rip off Ives or am I just reading a bit much into a few coincidental details?

Considering that I’ve already written about how Rubin may or may not have ripped off Richard Lupoff’s “12:01 P.M.” or the short film adaptation thereof, I find myself questioning Rubin’s version of things in How to Write Groundhog Day.

Then again, the repeating day is not a very complicated idea. Sure, after the popularity of Groundhog Day we like to compare time loop movies or TV episodes to that film, but the time loop was already a thing. Hell, the Star Trek The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect” which I included in my first TV Time Loop Day, aired nearly a year before Groundhog Day came out. And, Lupoff’s story came out in the ‘70s.

(I actually find it a bit backward that the IMDb description for the 12:01 P.M. short calls it “A short similar in plot to ‘Groundhog Day’, but more serious.”)

Still, it’s interesting how a mashup of the short film of 12:01 P.M. and Sure Thing makes for a lot of similarities with Groundhog Day.

For the record, the TV adaptation of Lupoff’s story, 12:01, airing in July of ‘93, seems to have been timed deliberately with Groundhog Day. Nowadays, the cheap knockoff movies you might find on SyFy or straight-to-DVD show up just before or about the same time as the blockbuster films they rip off. But, I remember when 12:01 aired; I remember thinking they’d ripped off Groundhog Day. But, what did I know? Really, Lupoff and Heap (who made the short), tried suing “the rascals who robbed” them by “plagiarizing” the 12:01 story in the form of Groundhog Day.

My cynical side even suspects that Rubin and Ramis, linked as they were to improv (the Practical Theater Company and the Wavelength Improvisational Institute for Rubin, Second City for Ramis) I imagine they would know of Ives’ play. Not that I’ve worked in improv but reading Sure Thing, I imagined it, especially at first, as a sort of satire of plays themselves, with the bell representing the director, and I imagined an improv troupe using just this sort of thing with the multiple takes to construct a script.

Ultimately, 1) I see Sure Thing as an almost straight romantic comedy disguised as something more farcical, whereas I’ve said before I see Groundhog Day as a more serious philosophical piece disguised as a romantic comedy, and 2) Rubin’s telling of the origins of Groundhog Day make sense, especially with the copies of his pre-script notes in the back of his book. Did he ever read Lupoff’s story or see the short film adaptation of it? Maybe. Had he ever seen Sure Thing? Maybe. Does that mean he stole their ideas? Not necessarily.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to get to the bottom of this, definitively, which might require me hunting down Danny Rubin... which maybe I should do anyway.

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