Can you believe it has been 4 years since Terri Schiavo died? I can’t. The actual anniversary was last week, March 31, but I didn’t manage to commemorate it on time. Anyway, I am fascinated by main stream media headlines. One of the most offensive perpetrators is CNN, although the following headline from the Guardian certainly grabbed my attention: “Italy faces constitutional crisis over coma woman.” One thing that amazes me is that CNN has begun offering to sell you their headlines printed up on a beefy T. It’s absurd. So you can get things like Cops yank suspect out van window or Octomom dismisses help or Natasha Richardson falls, dies or Robbed at gunpoint for fried chicken printed right on the front of your t-shirt. Just what I’ve always wanted. Anyway, with a little imagination these headlines also double nicely as song titles.
Four years ago I had a vision. As Terri Schiavo’s story was being blasted around every news outlet in the world and George Bush pulled his morals out of his butthole and started rubbing them around all over the place, I got mad. And I started to think, you know, her case has been dragged all over tarnation — throughout the domestic and international community via news and net, to the courts, the halls of Congress, even to the White House — so why not drag it just a bit further? Next stop: Broadway!
I named my musical Pinellas Park. I envisioned it opening with a skinny yet still vibrant Terri pushing some food around her plate. At the end of the first scene she collapses, and her husband Michael sings a desperate, dark, resonant number entitled “PVS: Persistent Vegetative State.” The curtain falls, only to rise again on the Terri Schiavo we have all come to know, in her hospital bed, stage center. After her collapse PVS becomes an alternate physical reality in the play, thereby giving Terri the voice she lost, granting her an opportunity to respond, somehow, to the madness. (At the time I envisioned this place, PVS, existing off to one side of the stage or other, where PVS Terri would appear every now and then at the center of a spotlight to sing a song, or make a comment or two.) For example, while PVS Terri sings “Let Me Die Already” Pope John Paul II arrives on the scene in his bullet-proof golf cart and drives himself to the stricken, comatose Terri’s bedside. He shuffles toward her, slowly pulling his own feeding tube from his nose and trying to force it into the dying woman. (This image is particularly dear to me because of my affection for the Catholic Church’s inconsistencies and hypocrisies, e.g. the Vatican came out against letting Terri Schiavo die, saying that any means necessary should be used to save her life and that her death would be tantamount to euthanasia (read: murder); yet here we’ll see the ailing Pope offering himself sacrificially by giving Terri his own feeding tube, and in the process effectively committing suicide — which the Church also doesn’t tolerate!)
Taking cues from previous great musicals, I drew inspiration from both Annie Get Your Gun and Chicago. For my number “She Looks Darn Good/I beg to Differ,” I pit Terri’s father and husband against one another in an angst-filled duet reminiscent of “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).” Both lines were direct quotes from CNN’s coverage of the debacle, one from Terri’s father, Bob Schindler, and the other from her husband, Michael Schiavo. The drama of this number would be rivaled only by the melancholic “Wake Up Dammit” that Mary Schindler sings, smiling through her teeth, while embracing her daughter and making Terri’s arm wave for the camera in an effort to support her thesis of brain activity. With a hat tip to Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger, I even thought about making this song much like their brilliant scene in the film version of Chicago, when Zellweger sits and sings Charley McCarthy-like on Richard Gere’s lap. Likewise, I would have Mary Schindler propping up poor Terri as a puppet for the cameras (the reality of the whole thing was just about as absurd).
Along the way I was advised that having both a comatose Terri and a conscious Terri (in PVS) could create a problem. I did not in any way want to imply, through PVS Terri, that I thought she was — ever at all after that tragic day in 1990 — conscious. In order to avoid such an implication, I decided that PVS Terri should sing a song that laid to rest any myth of cerebral awareness (no matter what Bill Frist may have concluded via camera phone). Thus, while I toyed with the idea of a ballad entitled “My Brain is Full of Water,” I ended up falling in love with a friend’s suggestion to call Terri’s solo “This Smile Doesn’t Mean I’m Happy.” Incidentally, so as not to be too morose, this would be followed by the full chorus anthem, “A Culture of Life,” set to the tune of Elton John’s “Circle of Life” from another musical great, The Lion King.
After her corporeal death I planned to stage a dramatic and lavish funeral scene reminiscent of Eva Peron’s funeral march in the film version of Evita. Finally, the epilogue to Pinellas Park was to be set several month’s after the funeral. It featured a dirge by the entire chorus. Having just read a news release reporting the results of Terri’s autopsy, which focused predominantly and not unexpectedly on her brain, the orchestra would strike the opening note of the final number, “Only Half The Size” — another of CNN’s ridiculous headlines that I would love to see on a shirt.