Dots and Dashes

I’m a bit behind in my act-by-act review of language, so I apologize if this information arrives late in your memorization process. On March 2nd, when we reviewed Act Two, I started noticing how the play uses ellipses […] and dashes [—]. And like with my previous “you know …” post, I thought it might be worthwhile to review when/how these punctuation marks appear and how they function and might reveal character state of mind. While I noticed them particularly in Act Two, these marks appear throughout the piece and, I think, can signal some of the same kind of pauses/breaks as those I’m describing here.

Jeff hit on one characteristic of ellipses when we were working the “Seeing Matthew” Moment (pgs. 51-54), particularly in the section where Reggie and Marge are talking about Reggie’s HIV exposure. When the three dots of the ellipsis appear in Reggie’s dialogue,

One of the things that happened when I got to the fence …

NARRATOR: Reggie Fluty:

… It was just such an overwhelming amount of blood …

they leave just enough time for the Narrator to squeeze in the introduction. Reggie speaks at her own pace with the ellipsis indicating a pause but not a lingering one. “Just a breath,” Jeff suggested. So you always want to see your character’s punctuation in relationship to the other characters’ in the same scene.

Just a moment later Marge has an ellipsis but the speech of Reggie’s that comes between Marge’s first thought and her second is very long. So in that case, it seems to me the ellipsis is more of a trailing off. An unfinished or unthinkable thought that hangs over the scene until another question is asked or Marge’s feeling has passed. Sgt. Hing and Jeffrey Lockwood have ellipses that seem to trail off  in this way in the “Live and Let Live” Moment (45-46).

Catherine Connolly has a kind of ellipsis that falls somewhere in the middle of this during “The Essential Fact” Moment (44-45). Like Marge, there is an ellipsis but the lines that follow are too long to indicate that it’s just a short intake or change of breath. However, when we come back to Catherine, it’s almost as if very little time has passed between what she was saying earlier and where she picks up. It’s the theatrical equivalent of continuity editing. The scene shifts and then returns almost as if the Judge’s reading was being filtered through Catherine’s perspective even though the theater audience sees/hears the Judge for themselves. So connecting those two thoughts would be slightly different for Naomi in that scene than for Afftene in her scene with Emma (Reggie).

Dashes signify slightly different types of pauses than ellipses. In the script we have “em dashes” which are longer (—) than “en dashes” (-). The shorter dashes are mostly used to designate a numeric relationship (e.g., “Duke beat Carolina 67-64”) or to designate two or more terms as equivalent (e.g. “The mother-daughter bond” or Doc’s line “H-O-P-E.”)

“Em dashes” indicate a cut or discernible break in thought.

Oftentimes the break is made to insert another piece of information, as is typical with Matt Galloway’s speeches (he’s got a rather staggering mix of dashes and ellipses in his monologues):

If I had—amazing hindsight of 20/20—to have stopped—what occurred … (52)

Or that of Jedadiah in “Live and Let Live” as he searches to clearly articulate himself:

When you’ve been raised your whole life that it’s wrong—and right now, I would say that I don’t agree with it—yeah, that I don’t agree with it but–maybe that’s just because I couldn’t do it—and speaking in religious terms—I don’t think that’s how God intended it to happen. But I don’t hate homosexuals and, I mean—I’m not going to persecute them or anything like that. At all–I mean, that’s not going to be getting in the way between me and the other person at all. (57).

Sometimes the dash indicates a conscious break, a desire to cut yourself off, to signal you are actively choosing your words very carefully. As with the Baptist Minister:

And let me tell you—uh—I don’t know that I really want to talk to anyone about any of this incident—uh—I am somewhat involved and I just don’t think— (67)

I hope that Matthew Shepard as he was tied to that fence, that he had time to reflect on a moment when someone had spoken the word of the Lord to him–and that before he slipped into a coma he had a chance to reflect on his lifestyle. (69)

Or that you don’t know quite what to say next. As with Catherine Connolly:

So that was the arraignment, and my response—was pretty catatonic—not sleeping, not eating. Don’t—you know, don’t leave me alone right now. (46)

Or what you’ve planned to say isn’t the most important detail. As with Rulon Stacey:

She called me about ten after—he just died. (69)

Sometimes those little pauses allow someone the opportunity to jump in and respond to, finish your thought, or change the subject. As Amanda Gronich does with the minister:

—I am somewhat involved and I just don’t think—

AMANDA: Yes, I completely understand and I don’t blame you. You know, I went to your service on Sunday. (67-68)

All of this nitpicking to say that there are speech patterns written into this dialogue from which you can draw upon when building your characters. It also means that you want to take particular care in memorization not to embellish what’s given with extra pauses, dashes, ellipses, or extraneous “uhs” and “ums”. As always, the standard practice is to think of your lines as coming in response to a question. Looking at the punctuation of a monologue might give you clues on what kind of question (how direct, personal, intrusive, or casual) you’ve just been posed.

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