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Analysing a dramatic scene (1)


Task

Analyse how Richard’s situation and ways of thinking are presented. Focus on the relationship between the stage directions and the spoken text passages as well as the relevance of the other scenes.

Solution

Richard is introduced via a scene from his work place. He is a 45-year old man who teaches at a community college, where he is just finishing up a lecture about his “Refuse to Lose” program. The audience sees him standing in a typical classroom environment of cinderblock walls and industrial carpeting, and his Powerpoint is being projected behind him. His appearance is rather classic, since he is wearing khaki shorts and a golf shirt, yet the way he moves around also hints at a past in sports (l. 14f.). Richard is very enthusiastic about the topic he is teaching, but also seems to be unable to hide his slight lack of confidence and his exasperation with the situation (l. 16f.). Of course, the audience does not know the reason behind this yet.

The stage directions clarify that music (l.17) is playing in the background, accentuating his teacher’s monologue wrapping up the 9-week lecture cycle. Richard breaks the topic down to the most important key points, and emphasizes that there is one thing that his students are supposed to remember from what they have learned. The importance of this thought is stressed by the underlined words within the script. Furthermore, to summarize his concept, Richard juxtaposes “Winners” and “Losers” (l. 19). Whereas the former’s positive attitude towards life gets them anything they desire, the latter generally has very bad prospects. This is manifested in the way they handle situations — whether they hesitate, complain, make excuses or surrender easily. Here, the parallel phrase structure of the comparison highlights the contrast of the two lifestyles even more.

Richard wants his students to realize that there is a “Winner” at the core of every person, and his program is the key to finding this feature of their character. This would enable them to successfully change their attitude, and ultimately make their dreams come true. He finishes making his point with a big smile, showing confidence in his theory and anticipating a reaction from his students. After Richard’s dramatic finale, however, the camera turns to the classroom (reverse angle) and the audience finds out that the auditorium is sparsely filled with students who, on top of that, are not very intrigued by their teacher’s performance, and clap unenthusiastically. Therefore, the scene concludes rather anti-climactically, with a bit of an ironic twist.

This classroom scene stands in stark contrast to the content of the lecture. The audience might suspect that, although Richard’s proposition shows how easy it is to be a “Winner”, he might not be one himself — hence, his theory is proven invalid. The students’ indifferent reaction suggests that he actually might be a loser in the dichotomous world view he has created.

This way of thinking has obviously influenced his daughter Olive immensely. Even at her young age, she shows a massive preoccupation with winning. Her almost hypnotic captivation with the beauty pageant, and especially with the moment of the announcement of the victor, clearly shows this predilection. This becomes even more apparent when she rewinds the tape repeatedly to re-watch the final scene, absent-mindedly practicing the gestures of the winning candidate. The girl’s appearance, however, contrasts the show’s contenders on the screen: She has frizzy hair, black-rimmed glasses, and has a slightly plump figure (l. 3f.), and is therefore a complete opposite of the fully-grown women who were elected on grounds of their outstanding physical beauty. The audience has to wonder if Robert’s “Refuse To Lose” program will extend to his daughter, since it proclaims that dreams come true if one only puts in enough hard work, does not hesitate, and refuses to complain or quit.

Robert’s brother-in-law, Frank, is another person in his immediate environment who is not on the winning side. To put it bluntly, he has given up on life in its entirety, and has tried to end it by cutting his wrists. In the hospital, he sits apathetically in his wheelchair and does not actively partake in the scene.

This leads to the conclusion that, in the opening scenes of the script, Robert’s way of thinking does not keep what it promises, and the supposedly reasonably easy achievement of one’s dreams and desires is actually more difficult than he tells his students. One might even go so far as to say that in the exposition, Olive, her father and her uncle all start out as losers, according to Robert’s view.

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