Surreal, satiric, lightly erotic, and surprisingly spiritual, A Cigar at the Beach is a modern tale starring the male psyche, as a married man escapes the demands of domestic life through fantasy. High-octane bikinis! A Gypsy Siren! Adventure on the high seas—until The Wave washes everything clean.
On a family trip to Florida to visit his sick father, The Smoker (Billy Gillespie) leaves his napping, pregnant wife (Stephanie Nash) and his iPod-addicted step-son (Charlie Schmidt) in the motel room for a cigar at the beach. As a storm approaches, The Smoker pulls up a chair to the water’s edge, smokes his cigar, and begins to pretend. At once, two high-octane Bikini-clad Asian tourists (Cathy Shim, Rumi Bunya) catch him off-guard and on-camera as they play and pose for the drugstore Kodaks they carry. As they begin to undress, The Smoker conjures up a more mature romance, The Woman in White (Svetlana Efremova) for an exotic and erotic encounter. As they begin to make love, The Smoker gets the call from a distant Freighter and is instantly playing poker in the ship’s belly with four Mariners from distant lands (Martin Clark, William Joseph Hill, Jermaine Jackson, Radu Vlad). The insight that their obsession with women echoes his own and has rendered them all quite mad drives The Smoker from the game. He quickly retreats into a fleeting fantasy of his own family and then he sees—The Wave. Huge, swelling, mystifying, the wave grips The Smoker in a wish for release. The Smoker walks into the towering wave which crashes over him. The sea becomes calm. The Smoker’s chair is empty.
Year: 2006, Length: 15min., Format: 35mm, Origin: USA, CA
Producer: Daniel Dubiecki, Director/Writer: Stephen Keep Mills, Cinematographer: Michael Alba, Editor: Tamera Martin, Composer: Milen Kirov, Art Director: Ron Pereira, Costumer: Jessica Torok, Sound Designer: Gerald Albright, Cast: Billy Gillespie, Svetlana Efremova, Cathy Shim, Rumi Bunya, Martin Clark, William Joseph Hill, Jermaine Jackson, Radu Vlad, Stephanie Nash, Charlie Schmidt
“We are on film!”
The screenplay is adapted from Writer-Director Stephen Keep Mills’ award-winning stage play (same title). The LA Press called it: “A gem. Mills’ script is succulent and vivid with imagery and deposits silent, delicate jewels with the audience.” (Drama-Logue). “Mills takes us on a funny and wistful saunter through the male psyche. He succeeds as a writer with beguiling, wry wit and ultimate gentleness.” (Los Angeles Theatres Magazine)
Mills wrote this piece over the span of two late nights twenty-five years ago in Delray Beach, Florida, when he took his family there to visit his aging father who was suffering from depression. Ping-ponging between the needs of his pregnant wife, his step-son, and his dad, Mills took a close look at his own roles of husband, son, father, and the issue of mortality. Out of a yellow note-pad full of scribbles, erasures, and diagrams, A Cigar at the Beach was born.
Its first life was as a “curtain raiser” at The Flight Theatre on LA’s Theatre Row where it premiered in 1994. Though the reviews were raves, Mills was not satisfied: “One of the main characters was missing,” he says, “the storm. The story has very cinematic needs, from the self-talking, almost voyeuristic nature of the narration to the visual expanse of the sky, the beach, the water. Its presence on stage was partial, representational. Now, it feels complete.”
A Cigar at the Beach was completed in January, 2006. It was shot over a span of 11 days in Ormond Beach, CA (30 miles north of Los Angeles) and in Delray Beach, FL, using 35mm Kodak film and Arriflex cameras. All casting was the result of postings on Now Casting and LA Casting websites, the contract is SAG Limited Exhibition.
Here's my version of the mid-life male with a surprise spiritual component lurking beneath the apparent eroticism of the fantasies. None of the fantasies are strong enough to complete or to satisfy, driving The Smoker (protagonist) off the mainland and onto the high seas in search of distant horizons. What he finds aboard, however, is his own reflection, enacted by four Mariners who voice The Smoker's own compulsions from a madness he will soon acquire if he doesn't jump ship, which he does. And what catches him? What answers his quest for fulfillment? The great Mother Sea which comes to snatch him up and purify him and rinse him clean and restore him. The old life recedes and loses its grip, while a new birth comes upon him unawares and takes hold.
I've been told (from the formula-driven folks) that this is not a drama because there is no conflict and no action. Here's my answer: what is Hamlet doing in the "To be" speech? What is his action? He's alone, away from the drama of the castle, and so removed from all conflict, too. He is without action because he doesn't know what to do. At that moment, the conflict is so great OUTSIDE him that his INSIDE is paralyzed. My main character is in the same condition. He is subject to storms, the one gathering out across the water and the one welling up inside. So his action becomes to break the paralysis and find an action with which to address the conflict. I believe that drama exists in moments of stasis, those in-between times where we are fogged and uninformed. Mine is the drama of privacy.
There is, too, the “Odysseus” element. The hero is grounded or as unemployed Merchant Mariners put it: "on the beach". The modern domestic man, engaged as Kazantzakis’ Zorba would say in the "full catastrophe" of wife, children, house--must find a new goal. The Sirens are no longer an option. The horizon is for others to explore. Here in this moment and on this earth with these people—wife, son, father—what is the hero's response? Perhaps it's the Hero Imago itself which must be washed out by the monster wave.