Types of Monologues

It's difficult to categorize monologues and monodramas because quite often they are hybrids of style. The following categories are somewhat arbitrary, but hopefully will be of some use in identifying specific characteristics of both monologues and monologue plays.

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NARRATIVE MONOLOGUES

In these plays, the artist recalls actual stories and events from his life. The actor/writer generally is the narrator in these pieces. There may be little or no attempt to perform different characters in the story. The emphasis here is on the telling of his own personal tale. Billy Crystal's autobiographical journey, 700 Sundays, tells of growing up in Manhattan, and the people who influenced his life. Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia is an example of this mainly narrative storytelling style. In this monologue, Gray recalls his fascinating experiences while working as an actor during the making of the movie The Killing Fields (see interview).

Another example of an autobiographical monologue is Evan Handler's Time on Fire (see interview). In his play, Mr. Handler tells the story of a time in his life when he was dealing with a life-threatening cancer. His story reveals the helplessness patients quite often feel when dealing with medical bureaucracy.

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL CHARACTER MONOLOGUES

Some autobiographical monologue plays are character driven, relying mainly on dialogue rather than narrative. The actor/writer acts out his story with multiple characters to propel the story.

Chaz Palminteri's A Bronx Tale is based on his recollections of growing up in the Bronx. At the age of thirty-six, Palminteri wrote and performed this thirty-five-character, one-man show. It was a major success and was later turned into a film starring Robert De Niro (and many other actors). William Gibson's Golda's Balcony is a fascinating portrait of Israel's fourth prime minister, Golda Meir. Mr. Gibson uses one actress (Tovah Feldshuh in the original Broadway production) to play all the roles. Doug Wright's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, I Am My Own Wife, tells the true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, an East German transvestite. Once again, one actor (Jefferson Mays in the original Broadway production) plays all the characters in this fascinating play. John Leguizamo's Sexaholix tells the personal and hilarious story of his high-octane sex life.

CHARACTER-DRIVEN, FICTIONAL MONOLOGUES

In these plays, the actor/writer creates multiple characters to express a theme, display a lifestyle, or tell a (sometimes) imaginary story. In many cases the characters have a common connection. For instance, John Leguizamo's plays Freak, Spic-O-Rama, and Mambo Mouth deal with his childhood, his life, and growing up in Manhattan using real and imaginary characters.

Danny Hoch portrays mainly urban characters types, many living on the edge, in his character monologues (see interview).

Sometimes one character acts as the spine of the piece. In Jane Wagner's The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, Trudy, a mad bag lady, serves as a narrator who has befriended aliens from outer space who have come to study a "planet in puberty." Lily Tomlin, who premiered this play on Broadway, inhabited twenty-four characters during the course of the evening.

Whoopi Goldberg's recent revival of Wfhoopi uses characters to express Ms. Goldberg's point of view on humanity, politics, and the world as she sees it. The recent production was updated for the post 9-11 world.

REALITY-BASED DOCU-MONOLOGUES

These pieces are created from real-life events. The monologist uses the exact words of the people involved. In her play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, Anna Deavere Smith relates the experiences of forty-six real people in the wake of the Rodney King verdict and the riots that followed. Ms. Smith portrayed all of the characters. She obtained her information by tape-recording the actual people and taking notes on their speech tics and vocal inflections. For more information on reality-based docu-monologues, see Christopher Ashley's interview later on in the book. (He was Ms. Smith's director for her play Fires in the Mirror.)

Another American: Asking & Telling, Marc Wolf s one-man play, was distilled from over two hundred interviews conducted with members of the military culture (including gay and lesbian service members and veterans, their family members, and the people who oppose their right to serve). Mr. Wolf portrayed a series of characters struggling with the government's ban on gays and lesbians in the armed forces.

TOPICAL MONOLOGUES

These monologues rely heavily on the events of the day as seen through the eyes of the monologist. They are part autobiographical, part observation, and part opinion. There is a thin line between topical monologues and stand-up comedy. Both generally incorporate anecdotes, jokes, and personal observations. I feel, however, that there are differences between the two. For one thing, the topical monologist's intention isn't only to get laughs from his material. His stories generally have a wider sweep, and usually there is more of a cohesive quality to his piece. Stand-up comics primarily tell jokes, although on occasion, they will also include some anecdotal material. Kate Clinton's funny, feminist topical monologues express her particular view of the world as she sees it (see interview and excerpt). She has done both stand-up and theatrical topical monologues. Mario Cantone's Laugh Whore allows him to express his acerbic point of view on current events and the world of celebrities.

STORYTELLING MONOLOGUES

These are fictional stories performed by the actor/writer. They are generally written in narrative form, in which the actor serves as storyteller. During the telling of the story, the actor will occasionally break the narrative form to momentarily become one of the characters, and then immediately return to the narrator/storyteller role. St. Nicholas by Conor McPherson is an excellent example of this form. In this monologue play, a fictitious character tells an intriguing imaginary tale of vampires and late-night debauchery.

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Responses

  • Kristian Saijonmaa
    What is monlogue and tyoes of monopogue?
    16 days ago

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