Another Surprise from My Pal Robyn

Robyn Schon at her day job.

I consider myself extremely fortunate for many different reasons, foremost among them that I have friends who are a constant source of delight and surprise.

One of those friends is Robyn Schon, who runs the Roanoke Civic Center and is technically, therefore, a bureaucrat. We don’t generally expect a lot of creativity from that particular segment of our society. Then, along comes Robyn, a former rock singer who in 2017 released her delightful book of her poetry and artwork called Portrait of the Wind.

The other day, Robyn asked if I would read her NEW PLAY, for heaven’s sake. People often ask me to read their new works–some of them pretty good, most not so much–but I am often reluctant to read and give my opinion because I’m no expert. It can be quite consuming to invest in a book or play that isn’t much good. And I tend to be honest in giving my opinions.

I said, “Of course,” without the slightest hesitation because I love surprises, and what is Robyn if not a source of constant surprise?

I was not disappointed. I’m a slow reader, but I finished her screenplay “The Meaning of Tears” (alternately titled “Troubles Can Cause”) in two quick sittings.

The screenplay is based upon a case of murder in rural North Carolina in 1929. I won’t tell you any more than that lest I spoil it for you (when it finally hits the screen, which I believe it will).

My first surprise was the simple structure of the manuscript, which was a brief seminar on how to do it. It was clean, virtually error-free (a couple of misplaced apostrophes), structured for a quick read, and thoroughly professional. That made it easier to read because the construction was uniform.

The story built a bit slowly for its first third and then moved rapidly and nervously for the final two thirds. Robyn masterfully built the tension to a virtual explosion, then slowly moved through an anti-climax that wrapped up loose ends.

There were “Oh, wow!” moments, and her understanding and description of the pre- and post-Stock Market Crash Southern America was precise and enriching.

Robyn obviously did a great deal of research on the core of this story (telling me the story of finding Chicago Tribune and New York Times front-page articles on the central event the day after it happened). I’ve always known her to be a bulldog when she wants to get something done (how else would you run a 10,000-seat civic center?) and that stubborn persistence pays off handsomely in “The Meaning of Tears.”

I discovered later that this screenplay is not her first. She has a backup and a couple of TV situation comedy scripts waiting in the wings.

I hope “The Meaning of Tears” makes the screen soon. It’s a heck of a screenplay. And Robyn is a heck of a writer … in addition to everything else.

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Dan Smith is an award-winning journalist in Roanoke, Va., and a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He is an author, photographer, essayist, father and grandfather. Co-founder of Valley Business FRONT magazine and founder of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. On Advisory Board of New River Voice.

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