From the Playwright – Next Act Theatre

From the Playwright

From The Playwright

By Bill Cain

(I asked playwright Bill Cain for his thoughts on 9 CIRCLES, with particular focus on how he came to write it. Having been asked for about 500 words, Bill’s penchant for exactitude produced this enumerated and enlightening essay. —David C.)

Fact fiction crime punishment salvation damnation dante hell heaven purgatory.

10 words.

A story about a war crime appears in the paper.

I ignore it. Too painful. Turn the page.

The story develops.

The man who committed the atrocity is 18 and got baptized during basic.

“Baptized” interests me. Why?

He is condemned by the president who started the atrocity of the war.

The story develops.

The soldier went to see a psychiatrist before the killing trying to stop himself.

I start to write about the story. Absolute fiction. I do not know the man. But there is something here – a story trying to tell itself. A young man in a war machine tries to stop the national killing impulse by stopping himself – something the president should have done and didn’t.

How many words is that?


I follow the event. I read the hometown papers of all the men involved. Hardscrabble stories. Oil riggers. Drop outs.

I read about the love for a beloved sergeant who was killed.

I watch a movie based on the events. It portrays the solider as a monster. The solider. Not the men financing the war. Profiting from the war. The film wins an award at Cannes.

I write more fictional circles trying to understand – sure I can never understand.

More stories. Soldiers killed, decapitated. The brutality of the enemy. But it turns out that that brutality was revenge for the atrocity of the 18 year old.

Violence concatenates.

Who will stop it?

Who even tried?

The solider.

How can the violent criminal be the sanest person in the scenario?

He pays for his crime.

Life in prison.

The men who started the war retire in luxury. The president becomes a painter and paints pictures of soldiers wounded in the senseless war he started. How can he paint and still not see?

The solider serves life.

Hangs himself.

What was he doing?

Despairing? Atoning?

Did he ever come to an understanding of what he did?

He converted to Catholicism in prison so he was working on it somehow.

What was the journey? What was the destination?

I grieve his death in the death of my fictional character going through 9 circles.

And a future president pardons criminals who (witnesses say) did the same and the president proclaims them heroes.

And suddenly the painter president seems benign by comparison.

Is there a word for something worse than atrocity?

But the soldier is dead.

His victims are dead.

9 circles in Dante yield to 9 more and 9 more after that.

You eventually arrive at love that moves the universe.

May the solider and his victims and the country – both countries – find their way to the journey’s end.


Close enough.

Years after writing 9 Circles – still trying to understand –

Bill Cain

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