Winner of the International Larry Corse Prize, The Gravedigger's Tango explores three relationships whose nexus is a graveyard. The first is between the Patrick "Trick" Bulifant, a scrappy young trailer-trash boy who has been hired to exhume a handful of graves and Laszlo, the cemetary's caretaker who has been threatening to club anyone who does so with a shovel. The second relationship is between Trick-- who in reality is a scrappy young trailer trash girl-- and her boyfriend, the real Trick Bulifant who had been hired to dig up the graves, but broke his arm. Desperately in need of cash, Claire dons her boyfriend's clothes, picks up a shovel, and trudges out to do battle with Laszlo. Their role-reversal places them on divergent paths-- Claire's world is expanding as she interacts with the world of the dead, and his shrinking. Her expansion happens largely at the telling of the third "story" in the play,that of the woman who's grave is scheduled to be exhumed. Isabella's tale is a love story between an idealistic young doctor and a young woman trapped in an impossible relationship. It begins on the English Moors and ends beneath a cemetery tree. Through her story, Claire's world begins to grow.

In truth, The Gravedigger's Tango can be very simply distilled: a young, wayward person meets an older hermit who spins a tale that inspires and enlightens. But that simplification misses the mark in so many ways. Gravedigger's confronts our tendency to view death as not just undesireable but unnatural. As medical science eradicates disease and lengthens life expectancy, how can we find meaning in a world without death. Can we understand water without thirst? peace without conflict? love without emptiness? If we live to be 150 years old, will our lives lose or gain meaning? The Gravedigger's Tango explores two topical issues: how the advancing technology of medicine is extending life, and reversely, the morality of physician-assisted suicide.

Leslie Katz ofThe San Francisco Examiner called Gravedigger's "a cool literary thriller... Walker explores fascinating philosophical themes and imbues his characters with passion and points of view." The San Francisco Weekly writes, "The tropes seem unmistakably Shakespearean, what with the intertwining tales, graveyard revelations, and gender-bending, but Walker's keen sensitivity to relationships and the powerful manner in which he excavates issues like mortality and euthanasia ground the play in the realm of the distinctly modern." It utilizes nine actors (6M, 3F) and a single, multi-use set.

Performance History:

[Mar, 2007] Columbus State University (Georgia) World Premiere, International Larry Corse Prize

[Jul, 2007] Second Wind Productions (San Francisco) West Coast Premiere

Format: A full length play in two acts; total playing time 115 minutes

Read the first 20 Pages

Performance rights and royalties: Rights and Contact

Playwright's Notes:

For many years I wondered whether my own view of death was similar to other people's. It's not something we speak of often, or with much candor. My sense, from the way society and the media view death, was that my own relationship was quite different from the norm. My growing sense was that as Americans we viewed death not just as unwanted, but as unnatural and something not to be discussed. I began hearing news stories about how advances not only in medicine, but in our ability to work with genetics was extending life. Children born today might well live to be 150 years old, and this was considered a good thing. With advancments in health, cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, we would not only avoid death but the signs of its approach. My grandfather's passing, in 2006, made me realize it was time to explore my own thoughts more closely.

From a dramatic point of view I was also interested in the idea of a permeable fourth wall. While we typically think of the fourth wall as something that exists until it is broken-- usually be the actor suddenly addressing the audience; sometimes by the actors moving through the audience to the stage-- I had begun to notice that the fourth wall wasn't an "off/on" phenomenon. When the fourth wall is broken, the audience becomes aware of itself. Audience members are reminded that they are witnessing a play, that the actors can see them, and perhaps that the ideas and events occuring onstage are not "over there", but relate to their lives. When the fourth wall disappears, it usually immediate, jarring, and apparent. So I began to play with how this wall is held. I noticed that certain occurances onstage broke the fourth wall without drawing attention to itself. When a joke is too funny, the same "awareness" occurs; when a reference is very current; when fire, water, or earth is brought onstage; a baby's cry; a live animal. Each creates its own degree of awareness, from subtle to gross. And I began to play with the idea that if an audience-- without its knowing it-- became facile at manipulating the fourth wall, the work would become even more affecting because the suspension of disbelief would remain while the sense of "over there" would disintegrate. The Gravedigger's Tango the chief elements