A.C.T. announced 11 winners this week. Many of the 45 entries were about Sarah Palin (really, could you resist?); others were about Rod Blagojevich, the Hamilton-Burr duel and Reagan's invasion of Grenada, or maybe Granada. Palo Alto's Ellen Cassidy, the one local winner, took a different historical path.
She dug for a moment in history when "there was lots of wheeling and dealing," and pulled up the 1824 election. It was a tight race between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, with the election thrown to the House of Representatives.
House speaker Henry Clay ultimately decided the contest by giving his vote to Adams. Reportedly, this was after Clay offered his vote to Jackson in return for being appointed Secretary of State, and Jackson said no.
In her scene, Cassidy imagines the conversation between Jackson and Clay, which reads in part (without the hyphens):
JACKSON: Look, it's time to make a f---ing deal.
CLAY: Well, s--t! I didn't know you wanted to talk politics ... I thought we'd go for a f---ing picn-
JACKSON: Do you want the money or not?
CLAY: What do I want? What does a man ... a one, Henry Clay, want?
There's a lot of history packed into Cassidy's short scene. At one point, a fan barges into Jackson's office to sing a song to the former war hero, "Hunters of Kentucky." (Jackson responds, "Lady, I will shoot you.")
The song was a real campaign jingle that Cassidy found online. "You have to listen to it," she said, laughing. "It's the most absurd song."
Cassidy, 22, a recent Stanford University graduate, said she'd never tried to write in another writer's style before. She is, however, a fan of Mamet's satirical political play "November." (The play is running at A.C.T., just in time for the contest.)
"Mamet's style is so not my style at all. I do drop the F-bomb with some frequency, but I do it in a much younger, more vernacular-type way," Cassidy said. "When I reread my Mamet play, I thought, 'God, I sound like a guy.'"
The winning entries will be performed this weekend as staged readings at A.C.T., something Cassidy is excited about as a budding playwright. She's currently A.C.T.'s dramaturgy intern — staffers had to enter the Mamet contest under a pseudonym — and hopes to get a master of fine arts in playwriting.
Cassidy, who comes from Philadelphia, was focused on acting until she took a class at Stanford from playwright Octavio Solis. "I knew that was it for me," she said. "There was nothing that would make me as whole as that would."
She subsequently founded her own theater company at Stanford and put on her play "Single Gay Man." It's about a man and woman who start to become romantically involved, but he still identifies as gay.
The experience was an adventure. "We had a cast of seven, and I went through six recasts," Cassidy said. "I ended up playing the female lead." But she remains devoted to her theater career. "If you can get through this, you can get through anything."
Info: Ellen Cassidy's scene "The Corrupt Bargain" will be performed as a staged reading with four other scenes tonight, Nov. 13, at Fred's Columbia Room in the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. The other six winners will be read on Nov. 14.
Readings are free and held after the end of the 8 p.m. performance of Mamet's "November." Go to www.act-sf.org/mametcontest.
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