THE PLAY’S THE THING: Crisis, Climax and Resolution

November 29, 2010
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Authorlink welcomes award-winning playwright Dale Griffiths Stamos as a regular monthly columnist.

THE PLAY’S THE THING
Part 2: First Draft
Crisis, Climax and Resolution

By Dale Griffiths Stamos
December 2010

". . . called the 'obligatory scene' is essential to good playwriting."
—STAMOS

In past columns, I have mentioned the terms Climax and Resolution. I would like to explore these story elements in more detail along with Crisis, another important element. In my column on Rising Action, I explained how each scene builds incrementally and logically to a climactic scene. That scene, often called the “obligatory scene” is essential to good playwriting. It is the moment that the audience consciously or unconsciously is waiting for. It is the final confrontation between the protagonist(s) and the antagonist or antagonistic forces; it is the high point, or peak of the play.

As you may recall, every play asks a question: Will Blanche find peace? Will Romeo and Juliet be able to live happily ever after? Will Willy Loman learn self-acceptance despite his lack of success? In the climactic scene, all the forces of the play converge to move the play toward a definitive answer to this question. When Blanche is raped by Stanley, the audience knows any chance for peace for her has been shattered. When Romeo discovers his beloved Juliet asleep, but, presuming her dead, takes his own life, all chance of their happiness is destroyed. When Willy has the final argument with his sons, followed by the fantasy scene with “Uncle Ben,” the idea of suicide enters his mind and all hope of self-acceptance is gone.

"The climactic scene is also the highest emotional point of the play."
—STAMOS

The climactic scene is also the highest emotional point of the play. It should be the moment that feels the most dramatic and the most intense. It also should feel inevitable, in the sense that all scenes have led up to it, and it could not have turned out otherwise. But before this climactic scene, a Crisis may arise in the play. A crisis, different from a climax, is a critical moment, a moment of decision, or turning point in the play. It is often what leads directly to the climax. Such a moment, for example, occurs in Death of a Salesman, when Willy’s sons decide to leave him in the bathroom of the restaurant – when in other words, they cruelly abandon him. This crisis leads inevitably to the final confrontation/climax, that in turn leads to his suicide.

"The essential role of resolution is to say, yes, as the climactic scene portended, this is how things have turned out. "
—STAMOS

His suicide is the Resolution of the play. Resolution (sometimes called “falling action” to mirror “rising action”) can be just a brief moment at the end of the climactic scene or be one or more scenes that follow the climax. Juliet’s suicide and the discovery of her and Romeo’s death by their families is the resolution. Blanche being taken away to the mental hospital is the resolution. The essential role of resolution is to say, yes, as the climactic scene portended, this is how things have turned out. During the resolution of the play you may also have Denouement. Literally meaning “untying,” it is where the tight bonds of the plot now loosen, unanswered questions are answered, characters come together for a last time. The denouement in Death of a Salesman is the funeral scene; the denouement in Romeo and Juliet is when Escalus stands up and tells everyone their feuds are the cause of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. In A Streetcar Named Desire, although the resolution ends with Blanche’s line: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” there are a few moments of denouement where we see Stella’s grief at her sister’s fate, and Stanley’s attempt to soothe her.

So, as you tackle that important first draft, remember: Crisis, climax, and resolution, like the other elements of story already discussed: premise, inciting incident, rising conflict, and character arc, all contribute to the creation of a compelling piece of theatre that will keep audiences in their seats, and allow them to leave the theater feeling satisfied.

Next time, we will begin on Part III: The Rewriting Process.

About the Author

Dale Griffiths Stamos is an award-winning playwright whose work has been produced and published in the United States and abroad. She is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and has been a guest artist at Cal Arts, where she taught the workshop, Finding Your Story. For more information, go to her website at: www.dalegriffithsstamos.com For information on Dale’s private consulting (all genres), go to: www.manuscriptconsultant.com .

 

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