Archive for August, 2004

My Roast Of Steve and Deb

Saturday, August 28th, 2004

Steve began losing his hair right about the same time he started putting on weight. I promised myself I wouldn’t make fun of him for his hair loss or weight gain, so please believe me when I tell you that I mention this only as a point of reference in time, not to mock or point out any kind of shortcomings. It was just strange that his baldness and weight gain would happen at the same time, as if he was given only so much skin and the more it slipped toward his gut, the more stretched out it was on his head.

His pitifully few close friends began to panic, knowing full well that Steve’s method of courting girls was to sit in his bedroom and hope someone cute moved in to his house, and with him moving swiftly out of his “awkwardly cute boy” phase and into his full blown “Holy crap, that poor unfortunate man” phase, we knew we had to do something or he would grow old and alone with only his belly to keep him warm at night.

I had begun dating a girl in New York, whom I honestly believed had recently escaped from an institution, and who, I thought at the time, was living in a half-way house with another spaz from the loonie bin. I’m not sure what it says about me that I sincerely wanted to date a woman I was pretty sure was insane, but it does explain why I wanted to introduce my friend Steve to her room-mate. Surely this poor girl who lived with what I thought were nearly thirty cats and hid dirty dishes under the couch instead of washing them wouldn’t mind the bald fat man that Steve was becoming.

I have a copy of their first emails to one another right here. Please allow me to read…


July 1, 1999

Dear Deb,

This is Steve. I like sharks. And anacondas. But sharks are awesome.



July 1, 1999

Dear Steve,

Ohmygod. Okay, seriously, I like sharks too. Except for water sharks. Actually I love all animals, always, except for sloths, because they are lazy, and that’s just not right. I don’t care what anyone says, sloths should get jobs, all of them. Why should sloths just live in zoos and let their trainers feed them? Don’t get me started on sloths.

I think I love you,



July 2, 1999

Dear Deb,

Please send a picture.



July 3, 1999

Dear Steve,

Here’s a recent headshot of me. I’m an actress. No, seriously, I am. I live for the craft. Although, secretly, a part of me wants more than anything to be a veterinarian. Anyway, enjoy the picture!



July 3, 1999

Dear Deb,

Yowza. I’ve got a ticket to New York on the tenth. I would come earlier but I can’t bring myself to pay full fare. Find out from your doctor if it’s okay to meet with me. Wait, I’m a doctor. Um, it’s okay to meet me!

I think I love you,



And that’s how this whole sordid thing began.

All kidding aside, what happened next was like something out of a movie. A romantic movie. Steve showed up in New York and, from the second their eyes met, their love was deep and intimate and awe inspiring. Steve spent every moment trying to figure out how to be more entertaining, more resourceful, more romantic, and Amos, of course, responded in kind. (Amos is Deb’s cat). Oh sure, Deb was there and was witness to this borderline illegal relationship, but she had just entered a severe diet designed to shed the extra pounds she carried around her ankles and she was too hungry to protest.

Eventually, Deb and Steve’s devotion to the same animal became a devotion to one another and they decided to take the big step. Moving in to… separate apartments in the same time zone. After all, they might both be crazy, but they aren’t foolish.

After some time, and much prodding from Amos, they threw caution to the wind and moved in together. The apartment had a functioning fireplace into which things were thrown with regularity. I’ll never forget arbitrating for the two of them in those early years, Steve claiming that certain things were “trash” and Deb trying to explain to him that, even if they didn’t work, large electronics weren’t meant to be burned inside the home. But they worked their way through all of that and now here we are today, at the eve of their wedding. Naturally, they wanted their nearest and dearest to be involved, so they decided to ask Mac Rogers to marry them.

Mac Rogers.

A playwright who specializes in brutality to his main characters, about whom respected theater critics have said “who?”, a man who hates children, dogs and minorities, a man about whom my mother said “I just wish he’d keep his damned pants on”, a man who told me that Steve didn’t deserve a girl as foxy as Deb, and then asked me if he could borrow ten bucks. For their reverend they picked total irreverence, combined with an advanced drinking problem and, I’m not making this up, rickets.

I would have been honored to do their wedding, especially since I actually graduated from divinity school and have my own church in Soho that caters mostly to immigrant street walkers, but I guess I understand their decision. And don’t worry guys, Mac told me this morning that he *totally* has some good ideas for the wedding on Sunday.

Am I concerned about their future? No. Not a bit. I know these guys love each other. Am I concerned about their children? No. I’ll be on hand to make sure they wash the dishes and that Steve gives them equal time to play with their own toys. Is it strange that a fat guy would be mentioning how fat Steve is? No. My weight has nothing to do with the fact that Steve is fat. Again, I’m not mocking here, this is strictly informational.

Am I worried that Steve will actually buy a monkey with the money he should be saving for his kids’ college? Yes. Yes, I am.

So please join me in toasting Steve and Deb, Steve for somehow lucking into a lovely woman who adores him and Deb for gut-wrenching bravery. Here’s to you guys.

Love, Up Again

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

The hard part about loving someone is that it basically almost always sucks. It seems to me that married love is the easiest kind, but the love you have for your friends and your family is just endlessly complicated. You are always desperate in your love for the people you can’t be intimate with, you suffer when they suffer, you feel pain when they don’t understand you, it’s just a pain in the ass.

My mom called last night terribly depressed because her sight is failing her in a number of ways, and I was up untill really late worrying about her. My guess is that what has her depressed is as much her eyesight as it is the inevitability of our failing bodies, the fact that we will return to dust at some point in the future, and she feels like these are the first awkward steps down that spiral. She thinks that way because she’s like me, (or rather I’m like her), we’re both incapable of looking at a situation and not assigning the most desperate drama to it that we can conjure. Not because we want to, it’s just something we do, like a horse bolting when it’s flank is whipped.

My mother’s eyesight is important to her because she writes music, and, strangely, your eyesight is more important to writing music than your hearing, as Beethoven proved. She already can hear all of the mistakes in her head, she writes on the airplane as much as anywhere else, she just needs to see the barlines and the flags to know the pitches and rhythms.

But, truth be told, if she was losing her hearing it would be this epic depression about a loss of music, about the tragedy that she can write the music but still not experience it. I’m not saying this to tease her, I just know me, I know that with each little problem, and even the big ones, I find a way for it to become a massive effect on my life and art. I hurt my knee and suddenly choreography was terrible, I tore my rotator cuff and I am trapped in a body that won’t function as my instrument for stagecraft…

The fact is, my mom is in her seventies and, unlike her siblings, she has no signs of heart problems, no signs of cancer, no signs of diabetes and, for a woman who has been overweight and an expert at orange rolls and bananas foster for the last twenty years, almost no health problems. I’ve said over and over in this blog that I don’t believe in God, that there is simply a cruel hand of fate dolling out undeserved punishment, but that hand has actually been kind to her for years and years.

And, Jesus Christ, what a life. She gets pissed because she has no home, she gets pissed because she has no money, she gets pissed because she never knows where her shit is, but when I describe my mom, people don’t believe me, and when they finally meet her they are blown away. Sure, her joints hurt sometimes, and yeah, her vision’s going a little bit nutty. But she lives her life the way that my friends only dream of. The path less travelled doesn’t begin to describe it, her life almost doesn’t make any sense. Where does her mail get delivered? Who is her doctor? How much is in her pension? These are questions that can’t even begin to be answered.

They can’t because she is an actual bohemian, she’s an actual musician. She isn’t a downtown beatnick, she’s not a joiner, she’s never been part of a celebrity culture or a member of a collective. She is a whirlwind, a force of nature, she drives people fucking *CRAZY*. The more rules you have for your life, the more desperate you are to show that the world functions in an orderly system, the more *INSANE* this woman will drive you. She will wander in to your room and ask you for a ride to the airport when you had no idea she was leaving, she’ll put a tape in your car stereo when you’re sitting in a drive through and you’ll be crying too hard to order, she’ll show up at dinner with bread flower on her pants, a loaf of fresh bread and a huge smile.

Her pension?

People work and then they retire, but she has written music and taken care of children from the time she was a child until now, and she will continue to do so. If you listen to her music and pay her she will be a little bit happier than if you don’t, and if you listen to her parenting and heed her, you will be a little bit happier than if you don’t. She’s never going to be celebrated the way she should, but it hardly matters.

She drives me nuts sometimes. The thing we hate most in ourselves is the thing we despise in other people, and I got my penchant for navel gazing, ranting and railing and heightened self importance from her. Actually, the heightened self importance was from both parents, and all of us kids got it, we suffer in broad declarative strokes, and we *freak the fuck out* if you don’t respect our obvious and voluminous pain. But my mom can’t be dismissed in this way. When she chose to write music instead of becoming a concert pianist, she was making the choice to be a quiet force in the world. When she buried her first husband and had six failed pregnancies, she probably railed and ranted the way I imagine I would have, but she also learned. And now, she’s bitching about her eyes and I’m not sleeping (because I’m trying to make it about *me*), but when her eyes slip to wherever they’re going, she’s still going to write music and she’s still going to be the voice I hear when I feel lost, because that’s who she’s been, always, whether it’s recognized or not, whether she’s paid or not, whether she knows it or not.

I imagine her at 97, still struggling to see, bent over a piano and speaking over her shoulder to her grandchildren and Sean Patrick’s children and saying, “you don’t want to double the seventh or the fifth, because… listen…”

Now is not the time

Wednesday, August 25th, 2004

I was feeling kind of lousy until I spoke with some friends who shut me the goddam up. It’s a tough road, the one we’ve all chosen, and, y’know, it is actually a tough road. I suppose people who become doctors have their own road, their own concerns about roads less travelled and lives not lived… except that my friends who are doctors or lawyers or computer specialists don’t seem to have the same tough road thoughts.

Actually, I’m sure they do, they just don’t talk about them to casual passers-by the way I do.

The Fringe show closes this afternoon, which is the end of a journey that began last year about this time. I knew I had Lucretia, Christmas, As You Like It, Wedding, Lucretia Redux, Lady and the Ladle and then Suicide/Joke. Now the future is a little murkier. I’ve got some vacation time after my doctor friend gets married this weekend, and then I’ve got recordings and a *possible* tour. But I’m pretty wide open.

And it makes one look back on what one has accomplished in a year and wonder how it all stacks together. I had a good boiling rant going in my head that was cut off at the quick by just a few sensible comments from my producing partners. The truth is, the world around us will come to know who we are slowly and over time, we just have to continue to make the product that we know we can make. If it were cookies, we would have to have faith in the fact that we love the way they taste, they taste different than most other cookies out there, and we just have to keep making them and selling them to our friends and *believe* that some fat guy somewhere will try them, love them, and get addicted to them.

But this is not the time for ennui. If this tour happens and Gideon is a little more flush, the past few months have established all three of us in people’s minds as People You Want To Work With, and that’s got to be enough.

On a personal note, as if it’s possible to differentiate in this blog between personal and public, the people that I have had the priveledge of spending time with over the last six months are a class of people I wouldn’t trade for any other time in my life. Each show has had a lovely cast, top to bottom, each time I sit down to write something with Ian & Tessa or Mac & Jordana, every time I’m on stage with Matthew Kinney, I realize I have no right to feel anything other than enormously grateful. My life has slowly drifted from scattered spasms of talent and kindness to solid positivity and possibility, and that alone has to be considered a good thing.

Rock and Roll

Tuesday, August 24th, 2004

I went and saw a show written by my best friend and directed by my wife, so to say I thought it was great won’t really do much for you. To say that the show sold out, that the run is sold out, and that every person who was there swarmed Jordana to offer congratulations on her uncanny knack for handling the wickedest of theatrical cicumstances might tell you more. If you need notoriety, New York directors Anthony King and Boris Kievsky ranted on and on about how great the show was.

If you really need celebrity, Micheal Mastro grabbed Jordana and wouldn’t let her leave.

Maybe the best, though, is all of the actors in the show who came up to me afterwards to tell me what a wonderful job Jordana did, that it was so great to have someone brilliant at stagecraft who still thought from an actor’s point of view, who knew both what she wanted and how to communicate it.

The script was originally done several years ago, and Jordana and I played the leads in it. I’m sure Mac didn’t think that this would be the script of his that was mounted and re-mounted every six months, but it’s such a fantastic piece of writing, and the characters are so rewarding, that everyone wants to produce it. I can tell you this, it’s not possible for me to watch anything Mac’s written and not wish I was playing all the roles, but this is one play where I feel very proprietary. That being said, the man who played my role was FANTASTIC.

It’s an interesting point that all three of us have reached. I think it’s becoming clear to us that we can work for free in the off-off world as long as we want, but at a certain point we need to see if something bigger might be out there. It’s like a coin collector who one day realizes that his collection is only worth something if he’s willing to sell it. Are we willing to stop doing these small pieces over which we have quite a bit of control?

In order to answer that question, we may be forced to decide who we are, each of us. Yes, we are all producers, and there’s no reason that producing would preclude anything else, but it’s a really tough call to be a director one day and to be on the other side of the casting table the next, to be a writer who is going to go to casting calls every day, to hone your skills as an actor and to still be trying to present yourself as a director.

At our level, we can do it all. At the next level, we need to be better than good at it. All three of us are competent at a number of things, but if we decide to work only on jobs that pay well and are satisfying artistically, we’re going to have to focus on the things at which we are brilliant. My friend Jon once said to me, “There’s no point in being a good poet”, and at the time I found it sad, but I’m realizing he’s right.

Ellen Craft

Sunday, August 22nd, 2004

There are four shows that I was supposed to see because of personal connections, which may sound like I think I’m awesome, but actually it’s pathetic that I only know four companies in the Fringe this year. I’ve decided not to try to see “Armless” as it’s already selling fine without me, but “Ellen Craft” was something I absolutely couldn’t miss. The woman who created the piece, Sherry Boone, was a high school friend of my brother’s when I was in junior high, and, since she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen, I had to go see her opera. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but that’s how I *do*.

Ellen Craft is billed as an opera about a woman escaping slavery by posing as a white man. The main difference any more between Opera and Musical Theater is the amount of dialogue and the style of singing. Operas generally have no dialogue at all and the singing is more legit. But, of course, “Secret Garden” has almost no dialogue and the singing is legit, so who knows what counts any more.

I was still cautious. I sat down and prayed that the show would be good. A friend of mine runs the space and I’d seen Sherry before the show, I was gonna have to tell them what I thought, and in person. As the lights went down, I hoped I would have something good to say.

From the beginning electrifying moments, this play knocked me out of my seat. Horrible screams and drums as a woman wrapped in a kanga is chased across stage until finally caught, the spirit of the African-American incarnate, segues immediately into the plantation life, where ten year old Ellen is given to the white mistress as a gift. “You will love her” the master promises his wife, even as she discovers that Ellen is her husband’s daughter, presumably by rape. “You will love her” is either a promise or an order, and it isn’t made clear. And as he tells her the difference between the slaves he impregnates (which is “economy”) and the life he has with her, he uses the word “love”.

(A quick music lesson from a guy who barely knows what he’s talking about. There are notes that people call “leading tones” and “suspensions”, and these have, y’know, real meanings, but I find that when I use them the way I like to, everyone understands what I mean. These are notes that don’t fit in perfectly into the chord, notes that sound wrong (suspensions) or one step away from the note you want them to go to (leading tones). This isn’t what the words actually mean (suspensions are usually the 2 or 4 played with the triad, and the leading tone is usually the 7 or something that is just *dying* to go to the 1, but just bear with me…)

When the master sings the word “love” he hits this leading tone, sustains it, and finally slides into the note that the audience wants to hear. As soon as I heard that, I knew this was going to be wonderful, and I relaxed a little. I ended up seeing the most rewarding evening of theater I’ve had in months.

Most of the cast spends the show on stage, white actors and black actors, watching the story unfold, like witnesses at a mob scene. The director understood the limitations of the Fringe, even being in arguably its best venue, and used four boxes and a large piece of muslin as the only set pieces. The muslin held on its side for a field of cotton, used as a wave when they are near the ocean, and always the cast watching the action, to reinforce to the audience that the horror of slavery happened in front of everyone. It was not some silent crime, it was accepted by everyone, everywhere.

The music was tuneful, but not song-ful, if that makes sense. The love song between Ellen and her lover in act one is incredible, both in lyric and in melody. The spiritual sung by the innocent holy man is a brilliant example of how to write a song you can hang your hat on without re-writing a song that’s been done a million times before. And the end of the first act, as Ellen is leaving and all of the themes of the opera begin weaving together, is transporting. I left for intermission breathless.

The second act is wonderful, but not quite as charged. There are two journeys in the play, Ellen’s life as a slave and her finding the inner strength to fight against incredible odds and seemingly the whole world to gain her freedom, and the physical journey of traveling across the United States. You can see that the second act would be slightly less charged, but they still keep the stakes high. When she reaches the last slave state and they say they will allow her to go, but not her “boy”, she passes out and we see the entire cast of black men hanging from nooses. To say there is no drama is a misunderstanding, but the real battle is the battle of the mind, which she makes clear at the end by begging her man, and us, to forgive America for this crime and to move on.

The music is lush and rhapsodic, the lyrics are spare, poignant, pointed and *useful*, the characters are well drawn and compelling and the staging is deft and effective. Yes, it is a deconstruction of a moment in our nation’s history, and sure, it is preaching to us about the ills of this period, but art is useless unless it instructs. This is what an evening of theater is supposed to give you.

I’m not going to say much about Jonestown, The Musical . I was expecting that the slaughter of innocents in a power fueled rage in the jungles of Guyana by a messiah like cult leader would be handled with at least a modicum of respect, but this was a straw hat and cane musical in the vein of the worst of what’s out there now. The music was trite, the characters ridiculous, the cast chosen for their apparent gym work-ethic and the plot seemingly picked out of “Our Dumb Century” at random. However, it’s possible that after the first forty five minutes the show became bearable. My disbelief in God was, for a moment, turned on its head when the fire alarm went off and I was allowed to leave the theater, thus answering a prayer I was too furious to know I was making.

Day Five…

Friday, August 20th, 2004

I saw three shows yesterday, and it was definitely a good day.

I had a couple of lovely stretches between shows when no-one was available on the phone for business, so I got to stroll. I mean, these were half hour strolls, so it shouldn’t really count, but still, strolling is not something people generally do in Manhattan. We’re head-down fast walkers. So, strolling first the West Side Highway at Houston and then the City Hall area at 9 o’clock at night were both real treats.

Anyway, I realized that I had some time earlier in the day than I had planned so I scanned the Fringe Guide for shows that might start early enough for me to still be able to see the two shows I had planned, and I cross-referenced it with a set of reviews and decided to go check out Barrymore’s Body.

Several things drew me to Barrymore’s Body. I love movies from this period, (I think everyone who does stage work wishes to God we could go back to movies that read like plays and asked their actors to act) and I wanted to see how they handled the impersonations of Bogart and, especially, Peter Lorre, one of my favorite actors of all time.

What these guys did was not so much impersonations as distillation and channelling. I didn’t talk to any of the actors, but it seems like they watched all the movies and thought “Okay, if these guys act like this in movies, how would they act when they’re just being normal”. It was transporting. Christian Baskous was perfect as Bogey, slightly less sneering and cool than he is in the movies, slightly more human, and incredible. Dan Truman played Peter Lorre with such affection and precision that I am sure every review of the show is gonna shit themselves over his performance. He’s so perfect, you wonder how he does anything else. Gregory Steinbrunner may have a harder time wowing people with his Paul Henreid, it is a slightly more thankless role and it’s not a character that people have been impersonating forever, but his acting is wonderful. People make too much of accents when talking about actors, thanks to fucking Meryl Streep , but he had to have the accent of an Austrian who is convinced he sounds completely American, and he pulls it off wonderfully.

The play did expose the limitations of stage craft, it was impossible for them to change the sets fast enough to keep pace with the story and, in the second act, once a few larger set pieces were on stage and you knew you had met the entire cast, a lot fo the tension was gone. It shouldn’t be this way, but the fact is, you don’t worry about the cops coming if you’ve already met all the actors in the program.

But these are top notch performances in a play that is an actual *story*, which is hard to find in the theater sometimes. It’s worth it just to hear Lorre and Bogart talk shit about the piece of crap they’re working on right now. I would definitely say to go see this show.

Then I went down to my theater where I saw Bitches Funny Presents “Cows Gone Wild” and I had a good laugh. No, I didn’t really, I had a laugh, not really a good one. But I’m a prick, what do I know. They did about thirty sketches and only a few of them were tailored to my sense of humor. I don’t really find funny stuff all that funny. I liked it when someone did bad stand up, I liked it when they came out dressed in robes and did a chant for two minutes that made no sense, only to show us later on that the asses of their dresses were cut out, I like the sorta surreal stuff. But an interview with Karen Carpenter? (Hint: there’s a joke there about how she should have eaten more). Beating the shit out of that Six Flags guy? Arabs who own Dunkin’ Donuts aren’t to be trusted? I know it’s all funny, it just isn’t funny to me. Because, like I said, I’m a grouchy old prick.

I did see my friend Matthew Kinney on the street before the show and we compared notes on the rest of the Fringe and on our own show, and then I ran into Matthew Brookshire (he did some choreography for The Bitches) who I had produced during Gideon’s Indivisible Festival and it was cool to see him. It’s fun to realize there is a spinning connection that we all have, Mr. Brookshire working with a company, founded by Missi Pyle , who worked, in Cincinatti, with Jordanai, who produced a festival in which Mr. Brookshire performed… it’s nice.

But it got weirder as the night went on. Next is the best show I’ve seen yet at The Fringe and the twilight zone I ended up in…

Fringe Audience, Day Four

Thursday, August 19th, 2004

I’m a grouchy old prick, and if you don’t know that by now, you haven’t been reading my blog.

Is it fair for me to review other people’s shows and say nothing of my own? I don’t know. I could write a blog that was either heavily critical or heavily celebratory, but the reason that actors don’t write their own reviews is that they have no way of knowing how good the show is. And you can’t go by what people tell you. For a show you hated, have you ever hung around to tell the cast? No, you only hang around if you are touched, and people can be touched by almost anything.

I can give you some facts about the show. They nearly sold out an 80 seat theater. We had massive technical problems, last minute changes to the set and last second cue shifts. Most of us do not know our lines, there were a *lot* of dropped lines and, in my opinion, even worse, dropped moments. Because we weren’t saying what the script had written, we were left to improvise totally different moments in order for the action to happen. The audience loved our show and laughed all the way through. Many people told me afterwards that they loved my performance.

So, those are the facts. The above is not interpretation of an artistic expression, that’s simply what happened. I’ll leave it to the audience to decide what was good and what was bad about this piece.

I’m willing to posit this opinion. I don’t like the fact that everyone seems to think flip-flops are acceptable foot wear. New Yorkers have some ugly damn feet, and when you go into and out of a subway, you are making your actual *feet* dirty. God, the variations on the pinkie toe alone are enough to make your head swim when your looking around a crowded train. Ugh, it makes me shudder just to think about it.

Fringe Audience, Day Three

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

After I wrote yesterday’s post at a Starbucks in far downtown Manhattan (right across from my brother Ian’s favorite building) while drinking a large vanilla something or other, and then went to go see Comedeus, which might be the best way to see it.

Comedeus, also known as “The Andy Ross Experience” is one of those theater/comedy pieces that walks right up to the line of what you can stand, but Mr. Ross has the decency not to step over that line. His piece is organized with sound cues and a couple of props, but really he’s just telling a story and he tries to make it funny for you. And it works. He makes it funny.

Here’s the thing. It’s not a coherent show, it isn’t presented as a piece of articulate art whatsoever. And usually that pisses me off. But the story he is telling is about two characters, Comedeus (God of Comedy, I think, I don’t know he was humping the stage half the time) and Tutheus (God of realism). Trutheus wants the world to be orderly, organized, disciplined and, y’know, he wants everyone to be off book by the performance. But Mr. Ross is on the side of Comedeus, so he just makes shit up. And almost all of it was either pretty funny, or really inspired and hilarious.

At one point, there was a noise from the theater next door that sounded exactly like horses. So, Ross decided that the character he was playing was on horseback. When we came back to that character, he remembered that it was supposed to be on a horse, but there was no noise from next door, so, on a whim, he asked us to bang on our chairs to make the horse noise for him. “Now you’re in the show!” he hollered. “I’ll pay you what I’m paying them!” he pointed to the stage manager with a huge smile that snapped into a scowl as he yelled “SUCKERS!”

Full disclosure, this guy is from the Carolinas, and as soon as I heard his accent and met his wife (the stage manager) I was totally on their side. I have friends that would have hated this, I know Jordana would have eaten her own tongue. But she has a heart of ice, as I’ve said before.

The second show was a bit of a mixed bag. Sound Of The Estate is one of the shows that makes legit theater people cringe. Uncle Vanya set in a harlem recording studio? But, of course, I’m a homer and anything with recording studios or hip-hop and I’ll give it a shot.

The play was updated masterfully, and the cast was wonderful. Most of the people are either hip-hop artists or singers, and Chekov in the mouths of musicians is just magical. Singers and rappers are used to communicating with word combinations they wouldn’t necessarily casually use, and the cast handled it really well. I loved the script, full of the same horrible feelings of inertia, the same horrible struggles between class and the unfairness of beauty and love.

If the playwright, Jehriko Turner had simply updated it and then given it to a director (he’s listed as doing both), he would have done the project a huge favor. For those of you wondering what a stage director does, believe me you know it when he or she hasn’t done it. If actors are unsure of their place on stage, if actors aren’t off-book, if scene changes are over-long or awkward, if set pieces don’t seem to belong, then you know the director didn’t know how to run rehearsals.

Also, it was a great idea to set it in a studio, but no-one on stage seemed to know what happens in a studio. There was a mixer, a keyboard, a computer and a booth on stage, and occasionally someone would press a button on the mixer to make sound happen, or would ask someone in the booth to play something back. In fact, they constantly asked people in the booth to play something back, and they would yell through the glass to talk to each other. I’m just saying, it was a cool idea, and a theater director, a nuts and bolts woman or man, would have taken this wonderful script and amazing actors and turned it into a theater piece.

Tonight, our show opens, and then I might be getting drunk. Or I might go see another show at ten, I’m not sure.

Fringe Audience, Day Two

Tuesday, August 17th, 2004

I’m in the curious position of having a little bit of time free. I was supposed to go see the Bigfoot musical, but they’ve sold out. Their entire run. So what the hell do they care about my opinion? I don’t even care about my opinion of a show that’s doing just fine without me.

With that in mind, that my opinion really shouldn’t mean that much, I’m treading into unfortunate territory. I understand that everyone who does a play thinks they have worked really hard at it, and I understand that for most people, speaking in front of people is their number one fear, (more than death, research has shown, leading to the inevitable joke that people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy), but when your show gets in to the Fringe festival and you run it along side so many other wonderful performances, you need to know when you’ve fallen way short of expectations.

I saw two shows yesterday, The Dead Sea and Mimi LeDuc. The Dead Sea is one of the worst plays I’ve sat through in a long history of sitting through terrible plays. I went and saw plays in Los Angeles that were better than this, honest to God, *Los Angeles*.

The ways in which this show failed are so many and so persistent that to list them one by one does a disservice to the effect the entire show has on a person. The performances were, at best, self indulgent and average, at their worst it was the dregs of college acting, people miscast for their age, guys not knowing their lines covering for other guys, self hypnotic meaningless speeches to dead mothers, all wrapped up in what I have to guess was meant to be a naturalistic piece.

At one point a character goes off stage to make some food, and there is no accompanying sound cues. Fine. But then a character goes off stage to take a shower, and there is a sound of a shower running the whole time. And then the shower had nothing to do with the plot of the show.

Two characters get into a fistfight, a third tells them to stop, they do, and nothing else happens. A character has the line, “I’ll never forget that day again”, about a day he has not yet forgotten.

Do you see what I mean? I have a thousand examples in my head, burned in there like spots of missing sunscreen, but to list them misses the point. They turned on a TV and left it on Mute for five minutes and I missed everything that was happening in the play while I watched Tom and Jerry, and yet I didn’t miss a second of plot development.

I saw a production of Fiddler on the Roof in 1994, where Tevya was drunk, Perchik was gay, Hodel was tone-deaf and Yente missed her entrance at the beginning. That play was worse than this one, only because the material was good and the worked to wreck it. This play should never be produced again.

I apologize. I know they worked hard on it, but it was god-awful.

Mimi LeDuc was wonderful. I am going to try to bring Mac and Jordana to it if we can get tickets. It is a great show and I will discuss it a little longer once we’ve all seen it again, but there were two small criticisms. Three or four of the songs didn’t quite end well, they didn’t know exactly how they wanted to dismount, so to speak.

That’s stupid. I feel like an ass for saying that because this show was so great. If I devote two paragraphs to the show, one should be about the amazing execution, the fantastic orchestration, the producerial dedication to every possible detail, the simplicity of the choices and the deftness of the shepherds that brought this great piece in to the Fringe. The performances were INCREDIBLE, with the possible exception of the Mormon husband of the main character, who was simply quite good.

And that leads to my only real criticism. From the far outside, and perhaps from the deep inside, the Mormons look like a group of people who have a stranglehold patriarchy, simply because men hold the priesthood and are the heads of their households and stuff. But, man, from a slight distance, knowing the Mormons well but not being one, I tell you, this is a group of people led by women. The strongest, meanest, no bullshit-taking, hard as nail bitches in the world are making baked goods right now for their families. To imply that Mormon women are somehow in need of liberation more than, I don’t know, Baptists or something is not in line with my experience. It didn’t wreck the show for me, and I like the “pioneer stock” jokes littered throughout, but I don’t think that aspect of it is true.

Go see Mimi LeDuc, though, it is out-of-sight good. Actually, don’t go, because I need to get tickets for me and my producers.

Fringe Audience, Day One

Monday, August 16th, 2004

Last night I saw “Gork! The Retard Always Wins”, a one woman show about a midwestern family dealing with their retarded brother, (although even that description undermines the show somewhat). Autumn Terrill, the writer and performer of the piece, tells the true story of her brother Adam, who, like most kids with learning disabilities, goes through a series of diagnoses and medications while privately thrilling and terrifying his family.

As I talk about the Fringe, I want to say something about why I go to each of the shows I’m going to. There is at least one show I’m gonna go see that I am *dragging* myself to because the description sounds terrible and the title sucks, but I know one of the performers and Mac saw the last show these people did and said it was great. But a lot of these shows have their own private ways of getting me to come see them.

Gork got me for several reasons. I can smell affection from a mile away, and it was obvious in all the press stuff about this show that the producers *love* the material. Mostly because they love the subject, but you can also smell when someone is making a show that is a life’s passion. That sock puppet showgirls thing? That sounds like hollow hatred. If they decided to remake a great movie with sock puppets, I would want to go, or if you could tell that they were remaking a movie that everyone else hated, but that they loved, I would go. But they hate the material.

I have to admit that it was subject material… plus the mention of “Iowa”. Maybe that doesn’t help anyone else sell their show, but if you’re from Iowa, I’ll come see your shit. Actually, the guy with the stillborn one man show was passing out flyers in line, and when I realized he was from the midwest and only in town for a little bit to do his show, it made me want to see it. So, I guess, feature your ethnicity whenever possible, even if that ethnicity is “Iowan”.

Autumn Terrill and her producers and directors love the show and love the guy it’s based on. And man, did they deliver. At no point during the show did Autumn ever make it seem as if living with Adam was anything other than *awesome*. She tells a story that contains almost no touchy-feely family love, which is the way our lives actually *are*. She walks that tightrope of describing a real fucked-up disfunctional family as it functions, not only normally, but normally with the addition of an ADHD Autistic Retard band marching through their lives wearing KISS make-up, and she describes it so well that you feel like it’s your family. Most of our parents live lives of desperate hostility and mild affection, both with each other and with us, their kids and when you see someone portray that on stage, it’s really an amazing revelation.

She also walks the fine line between theater and advocacy. You leave with a better understanding of the parameters of disorder, or rather the lack of distinction therein, but you also, y’know, laugh and laugh and want to know what happens. She plays each member of her family only with distinct physical cues. it’s a lesson in simplicity and economy that would be good for anyone doing a one person show. Her mom folded her hands, her dad rounded his shoulders, her brother had one hand on his jock, and that’s it.

Man, as an aside, I hate one person shows. There’s nothing worse than one character saying something that the other character is surprised by, only to have the same actor play both characters. And there’s nothing more boring in drama than *not* having one character tell the other characters something surprising. Also, I usually don’t care about your story. Sure, yeah, you discovered you were gay and no-one understood, okay, you were at the Twin Towers when they came down, all right, your grandfather got cancer and you really miss him. If you’re not going to spend an hour doing an impersonation of your retarded brother, I don’t want to go.

And, actually, that’s my only mild criticism of the show. It doesn’t feed seemlessly between the stand-up, talking to the audience as Autumn sections and the act-’em-out, this is my family on vacation sections. She seemed to be really comfortable being herself, and really comfortable being her family, but not so comfortable making the transition from one to the other. In situations like this I blame the director, who’s work besides this was remarkable, because it is problems like this that a director is supposed to fix.

But, the playing space was about 12 by 12, the audience space was about 13 by 13 and the ceilings were lower than my apartment. The director made the show work in these ridiculous circumstances, so I wouldn’t dare want to criticize more than that. If you’re in New York, go see the show. You won’t cry, I promise, you won’t need to. You’ll just think it’s awesome. It’s fun and empowering and a *great* way to spend an hour.

Today, The Dead Sea, and maybe The Jammer. Reviews tomorrow probably won’t be this extensive unless I really like them.